For Gen Z, the 2-year plan is the new 5-year plan in an economy where a dream job doesn’t exist

December 6, 2022, 6:44 PM UTC
A young woman talks to co-workers at a desk
Today's career coaches are scrapping the five-year plan in favor of a much shorter one.
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Job stability: It’s a difficult thing to find these days, but that’s exactly what young job seekers are looking for. 

So finds early career network Handshake in a survey of 1,400 new college grads and soon-to-be college grads, in which 73% said they wanted stability. Despite 263,000 jobs added last month and a nearly 53-year-low unemployment rate, recession predictions and recent layoffs have instilled a sense of work anxiety in Gen Z, reports the New York Times’ Emma Goldberg

This uncertainty has some career coaches throwing the traditional five-year plan out the window, she wrote. Instead, they’re advising young adults to opt for a two- or three-year plan. Historically, five-year plans were meant to help young professionals lay the groundwork for a career they wanted, but pandemic upheaval has shown the importance of going with the flow.

Flash back to 2020, and you can see where insecurities regarding the future began. Tim Pietz, a college senior at the time, told Fortune about how his dream internship at publisher HarperCollins was taken away when the pandemic first hit and the company tabled the program. At the time, unemployment had surged to 14.7%—the highest rate since the Great Depression. “It just makes me very uncertain about where I might be going now professionally,” he said. “And I feel like I can’t really actively pin down any jobs because everyone else is so uncertain they don’t want to hire.” 

While the classes of 2021 and 2022 fared better amid a hotter job market that spurred the Great Resignation, recent graduates are still feeling worried over a new set of economic problems. A majority (78%) of workers are anxious about their job security should a recession hit, according to a survey this past summer from Insight Global. And Gen Z adults are preparing for a recession more than anyone else, curtailing spending, delaying big expenses, working longer, and taking more jobs than any other generation.

“Gen Z is more likely to be prepping for a potential recession because this would be the first recession they experience as an adult in the workforce,” Jovan Johnson, certified financial planner and co-owner of Piece of Wealth Planning firm, told Fortune. “Gen Z has a greater fear of the recession because they have never experienced one firsthand as a working adult. They don’t know what to expect.”

Younger generations have certainly been getting the shorter end of the stick since millennials graduated in the wake of the Great Recession—only to find that the American Dream, of a house and the financial stability a secure career promised to bring, would be almost impossible to achieve in a rocky job market and with massive student loan debt.

“We were sold this myth and it didn’t pan out and we’re left holding the bag,” Travis Rapoza, 31, told Fortune in November. “Can someone please give us a hand? Can you not see how bad we are hit?” 

Gen Zers, unwilling to fall into a similar path, have been trying to take matters into their own hands, job-hopping at higher rates than other generations to land a better salary (although many millennials did this early in their careers as well). 

As younger generations become more disillusioned with the traditional career trajectory, and industries continue to evolve, a five-year plan becomes less and less helpful, making the idea of the dream job just that—a dream.

As Tiffany Dyba, a recruiter, told Goldberg, “Now people are like, ‘Is this job remote?’ And ‘I need to know the compensation right now.’ It’s not about the dream job anymore.”

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