For Your Kids, the Upside of Job Hunting in a Down Economy

The new wave of college grads plunging into the job search will confront a not-much-improved economy. If that wasn’t bad enough, these millennials – portrayed as the “Me, Me, Me Generation” - come to the marketplace with “spoiled” stamped on their résumés.

Female graduate unemployment New research by an Emory business school professor, however, indicates that the narcissistic stereotype might not fit current and recent grads. Using data from three studies that looked at older generations, Emily Bianchi found that those entering the workforce in hard times are less likely to be narcissistic later in life than those who come of age in more prosperous times.

One key point of the emerging adulthood theory is that through their 20s young people are influenced by several forces that shape attitudes. Indeed, the tough times might actually counteract some of the effects of helicopter parenting that supposedly helped create narcissists in the first place.

“Previous recessions were humbling to a lot of young people, especially about what kinds of jobs they might deserve and expect to get,” Bianchi tells me. “The humbling leaves a mark on the psyche.” That also translates to workers who are less “all about me” and more willing to be part of a team.

Working effectively on a team was one of the top three skills, along with the ability to prioritize work and a positive attitude, lauded by managers in another recent survey.

Bianchi, who graduated college into a robust economy in 2001, notes the marked difference in attitude between her fellow grads and her undergraduate students: “What a 22-year-old expected from the world then in terms of a job offers and signing bonuses is a lot different from what the current crop of students expects.”

Not only are her students generally happy and satisfied with their entry-level jobs, the impact of starting work in a recession can last decades. In another study, “The Bright Side of Bad Times,” Bianchi found that recession-era graduates were more satisfied later in their careers, even if they were earning less money than those who graduated in better economic times.

So as our adult children bemoan how hard is it to find a job, remind them that they are not the first generation to look for work in tough times, and the payoff might be positive long term.

Mary W. Quigley’s blog, Mothering21, tackles parenting of emerging adults and beyond.

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