Attention Millennials: The Most Important Thing You Can Do For Your Career

Published: Jun 04, 2012

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It's a tough time to be a young person thinking about a career. On one side, you've got a lousy job market that guarantees success for no one. On another, you're being assailed by talking heads pontificating that you've got no chance of making it any, what being among the most entitled, skill-lacking bunch to ever darken your nation's colleges. And let's not even get into the ways that technology is upending the marketplace—once you start worrying about your entire career field being outsourced or replaced by a machine, you're done for.

Yep, with all of that going on, it can seem at times like the only thing left to do is throw your hands up and accept defeat—at least until the election is over.

With thousands of fresh graduates entering the market right now—a market offering some of the worst employment prospects for young people in generations—it might seem that all the years and dollars involved in furthering your education could be put to better use.

Now, it's true that the most recent jobs report doesn't make pretty reading. All the evidence is indeed there to suggest that jobs are not growing at anything like the rate we need even to keep up with population growth, let alone to bring unemployment back to a sustainable level.

But that's no reason to give up. In fact, the one thing that all of the recent jobs reports have underlined is that giving up is the worst thing you can do for your career. Because no matter what the talking heads say, the evidence is clear: the more you do to prepare for a career, the more likely you are to prosper in one.

 As obvious as that might sound, it's a crucial point to keep in mind when trying to drown out the drumbeat of despair coming from the media—especially if you're at a point in your life if you're wondering whether the next step is worth it. Whether that next step involves heading off to college for the first time, or deciding whether or not to drop out, get more schooling or invest in yourself in another way, the stats are quite clear: investment has a way of paying off in the job market.

The same jobs report that was the source of so much hand-wringing these past few days had a fascinating table tucked away at the end of it: one that demonstrates just how important educational attainment is to your lifelong employment prospects.

The key takeaway: those over 25 with college degrees or higher are half as likely to be unemployed as the national average. Just 3.9 percent of those who have completed a bachelor's degree or more are currently out of work; that stacks up against an average of 8.2 percent nationally, and 8.1 percent for those with just a high school education. And for all those who question the value of the piece of paper you get when you graduate? Unemployment rates for people with "some college" or an associate's degree are currently at 7.9 percent—double the rate for those who go on to grab that "worthless" diploma.

Of course, there's no guarantee that those grads are doing the level or type of work that they're qualified for. And the cost of getting that degree is another story altogether. But when it comes down to plain old employability, the numbers don't lie: those with degrees are more likely to be working than those without.

So it turns out your parents were right: staying in school is the way to go, at least if you want to maximize your future employability. And "future" may well be the operative word right now—for as bad as the market is, it has to turn around at some point. And when it does, those with the appropriate skills and qualifications will be poised to take advantage.


--Phil Stott,