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Career Coach

Goodbye corporate ladder

About the author

Elizabeth is a freelance writer in California and a former Career Q&A columnist for the Wall Street Journal.

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

With today’s roller coaster economy, many new graduates are eschewing the corporate ladder in favour of temporary positions or the chance to be their own boss.

“The world of big business would have been the first port of call for ambitious new graduates,” wrote Maite Baron, chief executive officer at The Corporate Escape, a London-based career-transition consultancy that helps disillusioned employees become business owners.

“Now, however, not only has the corporate sector far fewer jobs to offer, but they also look increasingly unattractive – tarnished as they are by bad practice, and with salaries, pensions and perks that seem inadequate compensation for the high stress and long hours required,” Baron said.

In Europe, the numbers for self-employment are quite high: In the UK, roughly 15%of workers are self-employed while in Greece, that number jumps to 30%, according to the European Working Conditions Observatory (EWCO). In the US, the number is 6.6%, according to a recent report from CareerBuilder.

Striking out on your own

There are very few times in one’s life or career when unconventional moves are actually feasible. Right after college or grad school is one,” wrote Bernd Schoner, author of The Tech Entrepreneur’s Survival Guide: How to Bootstrap Your Startup, Lead Through Tough Times, and Cash In for Success. 

There are a number of reasons why new graduates make great entrepreneurs, according to Schoner. One of the big ones is “the blessing of poverty,” he wrote. “Students and graduates are used to a student lifestyle. [They] typically don’t have a large family to feed, they don’t fly business class, and they don’t pay interest on mortgages.”

Therefore, they can live on little or no salary and have “financial flexibility” as a new business ramps up. 

Another reason is what Schoner calls “the innocent enthusiasm” of new graduates. “Many a young graduate entrepreneur founds a company without too much concern about how much work it will be, how long it will take to make it successful or how risky it may be,” he wrote. “Sometimes it helps to just stumble into a big undertaking like founding a tech company before you can grasp the full implications of it.”

Building a ‘dream team’

Just because you don’t have all of the skills necessary for the new business doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go for it, wrote The Corporate Escape’s Baron. “You can make up for any shortfall in your skills and experience by around you building a ‘dream team’ of supporters, experts, mentors, and advisers who do have the knowledge that’s needed. Attract them to you through your enthusiasm, passion and vision.”

Baron suggested using freelance experts as one way to add to the skills base of your business without breaking your budget.

Why stop with one?

Increasingly common are “portfolio working” graduates who gain their income from several different sources, according to Bruce Woodcock, a careers adviser at University of Kent in Canterbury, England.

“If one job disappears, you still have another source of income,” he wrote.  “Graduates often embrace the freedom offered to them by short-term contracts, changing employers and abandoning the linear career in favour of portfolio working or combining employment with setting up their own business.”

A test run

Ross Johnson, branch manager of staffing firm Addison Group’s Healthcare Practice in Dallas, Texas, wrote that he has seen an increase in millennials leveraging temporary positions as opportunities to explore different fields, companies and roles.

“A majority don’t know exactly what they want to do for a career,” wrote Johnson. “Taking a temporary position is a great way to gain experience and get a feel for the industry or specific company before making a firm commitment.” 

Just don’t job hop too quickly, advised Johnson. Try to give the position at least a year.

“A year provides a candidate a good sense of what they liked and didn’t like about a position or company, and helps them better understand what to look for in their next role,” he wrote. “It can also help recent graduates get in the mindset of a ‘real-world’ routine and corporate environment.”

Career Coach is a twice-monthly column on BBC Capital in which we consider the career turning points and questions many professionals face. We welcome questions from readers at careercoach@bbc.com.

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