The labor market is as bright as it has been in years for young workers, whether recent college graduates looking to break into their first job or those a few years removed from campus advancing to their next one.
But as millennials, born roughly from 1981 to 1996, climb the career ladder, they will have to contend with an employment market different than the one their parents negotiated, requiring a blend of old and new job-hunting skills, techniques, and outlooks to get ahead, career specialists and economists said.
They can expect a labor market that is more mobile and competitive, where the boundaries between personal and professional life, already blurring, will grow increasingly fluid. They will need to continuously update skills and education. And they will need early on to consider retirement plans in the calculus of job offers, given the disappearance of traditional pensions that previous generations counted on.
Paul Harrington, director of the Center for Labor Markets and Policy at Drexel University in Philadelphia, said the average worker today changes jobs 11 times between the ages of 18 and 45, and millennials are likely to make those changes — whether voluntarily or involuntarily — even more frequently.
The average millennial will switch jobs every two years, Harrington said, meaning that every 24 months or so, he or she will jump back into a crowded pool of job seekers.
So what’s a millennial to do?
First, the good news. Economists and recruiters say the job market is the best since before the recession, and by all indications, it is going to get better. Companies are hiring. The unemployment rate among 18- to 34-year-olds in Massachusetts has averaged about 7.3 percent over the past 18 months, higher than the 5.5 percent for all workers, but well below the 11.2 percent for young workers during the worst of the recession in 2009 and 2010, according to Drexel’s Center for Labor Markets and Policy.
If millennials have degrees in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, finance, or accounting, they’re likely to get scooped up quickly by companies. But prospects also are good for liberal arts majors, although they’re unlikely to command the salaries of those with science or technical degrees, economists said.
Michael Koulopoulos graduated from St. Anselm College in Manchester, N.H., in 2013 with a communications degree and interest in public relations and marketing. After graduation, he entered a management-training program at Enterprise Rent-a-Car. But after 10 months, Koulopoulos said, he realized what he really wanted was a sales position that would prepare him for a variety of corporate jobs.
“I’d stepped into a role that wasn’t for me,” he said. “I realized it wasn’t going to get me to the next step.”
After leaving Enterprise, Koulopoulos looked for a job for a couple months, without luck. Eventually, he hired a career coach, who helped him map out a search strategy and encouraged him to keep going when applications went unanswered and interviews didn’t lead to offers. Koulopoulos did.
For the past seven months, he has been happily employed in a sales position at Telerik, a software company in Waltham and a subisdiary of Progress Software Corp. of Bedford.
“It’s important to stay motivated and not to take anything too personally,” the 24-year-old Koulopoulos said.
Whether you hire a career coach, which can cost $3,000 to $4,000, succeeding in the modern job market still requires old-fashioned values, such as effort, persistence, and heart, career specialists said.
“Getting a job is a job in itself. Don’t get up, surf the net for a half hour, and say, ‘I’m done,’” said Bob Kustka, who runs the Norwell career coaching service Career Bound and advised Koulopoulos. “It’s three to four hours a day, [working on] your résumé, doing research, writing cover letters.”
Dan Schawbel is the 32-year-old founder of Millennial Branding, a New York consulting firm that helps companies recruit, retain, and promote millennial employees. He recommends that young job seekers focus on companies and industries in which they are interested, and jobs for which they are qualified.
Then they should take steps to raise their profiles and establish their expertise, such as writing for an industry magazine, speaking at professional conferences, and starting a blog. “Build a bridge,” Schwabel said.
Greg Denon, assistant dean of student affairs for career development at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, urges young job seekers to take internships, talk with people in the field, and keep LinkedIn profiles updated. Before interviews, he said, they should develop a list of questions and make sure they understand what the job entails.
“Be observant,” Denon said. “Ask good questions: ‘What is my real job? What’s not on the job description? What’s important to my supervisor?’ ”
Kustka also urges clients to join LinkedIn and emphasizes the crucial role the social media site plays in making connections for first — and future — jobs. Almost all employers use LinkedIn to find and screen candidates, he said.
Networking, both online and in-person, is critical, Kustka added, estimating that 80 percent of job seekers find positions this way.
“You never know,” he said. “The mechanic who works on your car may also work on the car of the CEO at the company where you want to work.”
Monica Galizzi, a professor of economics at the UMass Lowell, said millennials will face workplace pressures that, if not different than previous generations, will probably be more intense. Growing up in a 24/7 culture, millennials are comfortable answering texts from the boss at 11 p.m. or working from home. But as they begin to start families, Galizzi said, they may feel more stress and less comfort in arrangements that could compromise personal lives.
They also will face more pressure to keep skills current, as technology advances ever more quickly and job changes become more frequent.
“You have to try to be very smart,” Galizzi said. “Skills become obsolete so quickly. You have to continue your education. Their parents didn’t have to think about these things.”
Correction: An earlier of this version misidentified the ownership of Telerik. It is a subisdiary of Progress Software Corp. of Bedford.