Secrets of the Job Hunt


Sunday, November 05, 2006

Young job seekers facing 'quarterlife crisis'

Glum job seekers in 20s face a 'quarterlife crisis'

FORT LAUDERDALE - He thought he knew what he wanted to do with his life.

So Jamie Deitchman spent nearly four years and $30,000 to get a bachelor's degree in electronics engineering.

After school, he was hired to do tech support and congratulated himself on becoming an adult.

There was just one problem.

"I hated waking up in the morning," said Deitchman, 28. "In tech support, anyone who calls you has a problem and it's your fault. You spent the whole day talking to people having a bad day, and so you start having a bad day. I was miserable."

His sister Heather was having her own career meltdown. She graduated college with good grades and a bachelor's degree in marketing, but couldn't find an opening in her field and had to take a retail job at the mall.

"I had to move back in with my parents," Heather, now 25, recalled. "I was making $14,000 a year with a degree from a private university. I felt like I'd done all that work for nothing."

Neither imagined finding the right career would be such a problem. But career confusion and frustration are growing sentiments among twentysomethings - so much so that an entire crop of "quarterlife crisis" books has appeared in bookstores, offering life and job advice.

A recent study on aging and job satisfaction shows that workers ages 18 to 34 are more "extremely dissatisfied" with their jobs than any other age group, with nearly half feeling burned out and one in four seeking an entirely new career.

Robert Morison, co-author of the 7,700-person survey and executive vice president of the Texas-based business management Concours Group, said today's twentysomethings have unusually high expectations because of the way they grew up: during a time of economic prosperity, seeing young adults making easy fortunes during the tech bubble of the 1990s.

Since then, the bubble has burst, job and salary growth have slowed and positions have moved overseas.

Yet young workers still want high salaries, quick promotions and moderate work hours. And for good reason, he added: They have big student debts, face soaring housing costs and are suspicious of big corporations, which many associate with corruption and downsizing as much as their parents equated them with job security and good benefits.

The result, Morison said, is often a grumbling young worker and an equally annoyed Baby Boomer boss. The upside of this phenomenon: What makes this generation spoiled also makes it smart. Morison said these high expectations, when combined with a bit of patience, could eventually make today's young workers happier and healthier than generations before.

"They insist that the workplace be friendly and entertaining. They insist on learning and growing," he said. "I wish I'd been more insistent early on in my career for more learning opportunities."

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