Recession-Proof Yourself: Four Tips For Twentysomethings

Harvard Business Review

November 11, 2009

by Marshall Goldsmith

Marshall: Many young people are understandably concerned about their futures today. Allow me to direct your question to speaker/author/consultant Eric Chester, President and founder of Generation Why, Inc. Eric works primarily with companies and organizations that employ teens and young adults. His background as an invited speaker on career success strategies to more than 1,500 high school and colleges makes him the perfect coach to field this question.

Eric: Those over 30 know from experience that our economy is not in a perpetual growth cycle. If you’re under 30, however, a market that goes into free fall is something out of a textbook — not something out of your life.

Three of my four adult children, now ranging in age from 23 to 29, have shared their concerns with me regarding their jobs and careers. Each of them seeks a perspective (dare I call it “advice”?) on what they should or shouldn’t be doing. Here’s what I suggested to them:

1. The sky isn’t falling. Things are pretty wild right now, and lots of Chicken Littles are telling you to be afraid. The truth is that events are bound to bring more changes than you like. You may watch some of your peers lose their jobs, while others will end up with cut wages. But we’re not going to unplug the sun and live in the dark. Things will get better, and we will get through this just as we have in the past. You are, however, going to have to be mentally tougher than you’ve had to be in the past.

2. Don’t take your job lightly. You’ve always had the upper hand in the employment equation. You could likely name your hours, salary, and title, and take days off if you felt like it. Those days are over, at least for the foreseeable future. Your boss is in the driver’s seat, and you will have to reapply for your job every day. How? Pay attention to the things that may tick him or her off: showing up late, calling in sick, turning in shoddy work, and being anything less than a first-rate professional. Bring your “A Game” to work; focus on what you’re giving, not what you’re getting. There are others who have lost their jobs, and they want yours.

3. Save like a maniac. You’ve been cautioned to save for a rainy day, right? It’s raining! If you’ve been living from check to check and maxing out your credit cards, things are going to turn very ugly for you. Save a minimum of 10% from every paycheck – until the day you retire. Make sacrifices wherever you can; live within your means. Downsize your apartment, your car, and your addiction to shoes and video games. Learn the difference between your needs and your wants. The closer you get to being debt-free, the better you will sleep each night, and the easier it will be for you to make a career move if an opportunity presents itself.

4. This is the time to shine … so shine! The key to success is to notice what everyone else is doing and do the opposite. When your coworkers are dragging, hustle. When everyone in the cafeteria is moaning and complaining, smile like you’ve just found the Hope Diamond. The bad news is the economy looks grim, and people are worried. The good news is that it doesn’t take much to stand out above the crowd. Be stronger, tougher, and more determined. Keep positive, stay focused, do your very best.

If you keep your head, you can come out the other side of this storm stronger and in a better position than you think. When the dust settles, and this crisis is in your rear view mirror, you will have more than survived. You’ll be on the top of the heap, in high demand, and you’ll have solid credit and some bucks in the bank.

Marshall: Thank you, Eric.