Some people would consider themselves, upon graduating college or soon thereafter, fortunate enough just to find a job. But Kevin O’Connell, founder of the Niche Movement, doesn’t want you to settle for that.
To be sure, the statistics on job satisfaction don’t paint the rosiest of pictures. Back in 2010, Deloitte’s Shift Index survey indicated that 80 percent of workers were dissatisfied with their jobs. In 2013, the Shift Index showed that the number had increased to 89 percent. Yes, that’s roughly 9 out of 10 workers.
O’Connell — who works at Rutgers University as marketing and social media director in the campus recreation department — has done a lot of mentoring of college students and recent graduates. He’s not much older himself, at age 31. But he believes he’s cracked the code to finding lasting happiness in the working world, which is what the Niche Movement is all about.
“You can make a living doing anything you love these days,” O’Connell says. “If you are 23, 24, 25 years old, and all you have are student loans, you can go all in on a project and do something you’re passionate about. Students may only concentrate on their degree, but they may have skill sets that apply to other industries.”
To that end, O’Connell has started a Kickstarter campaign, which will help fund the publication of a book on the Niche Movement and its principles. To date, he’s raised more than $2,000 of his $3,000 goal, which he must reach by Aug. 12. So he’s getting the word out by any and all means possible — because he believes that for many workers under 35, his movement could prove a game changer.
“There’s this term ‘boutique career’ coming up more,” O’Connell says. “Maybe late at night you’re blogging or interviewing people; that’s a way you can make a name for yourself outside of the 9-to-5 job.” He adds that it’s also a good way to network, especially if you’re talking to people who can help you make the leap into a more rewarding career.
But when O’Connell says “boutique career,” he’s not just talking about a single job. As the above example illustrates, you can work a day job during your normal 40-hour week, while setting aside extra time to pursue your dreams. The latter may not earn you any money at first, but O’Connell strongly believes it will mark an investment on your future.
While he’s happy with his job, O’Connell’s also walking the talk of the Niche Movement. He’s so passionate about passing on his wisdom and advice to young workers that it’s often hard to contain his enthusiasm.
“Other than my inner voice telling me that entrepreneurship was the move for me, starting the Niche Movement was really a passion-turned-project,” he says. “After eight years in the business, I’ve personally mentored more than 200 students. I’ve seen the bad advice and I’ve heard their complaints and their fears about graduation.”
To hear O’Connell tell it, the Niche Movement works in a few different ways. Started in January 2013, this movement has now spread nationwide. “We have cohort classes where students will go through a Niche Discovery process to learn how to network in person and online,” he says. “We have a curated Niche List where we summarize all the best jobs at companies twenty-somethings actually want to work for into one, weekly email. We also have a blog that features posts by myself as well as other successful young professionals who offer real-life advice.”
O’Connell plans to run “unconventional career nights and bring in companies that are hiring talent,” supplemented by workshops and keynotes with career centers and student leaders on campus. And while the Niche Movement is still a work in progress, it’s much like the startups that O’Connell points to as a source of hope.
“There are so many options for young adults,” he says. “We hear about the Facebooks and Googles, but there are so many great new companies that are starting up, and I don’t think people in higher education are always exposing students to this sort of career path. I’m trying to come up with new strategies in the job search other than just the ‘spray and pray’ method.”
To that end, O’Connell offers these tips for people stuck in an unsatisfying job, or struggling with the job market:
1. Take a step back.
When you reflect on your job and work experience, be honest about your level of satisfaction. “Even if you aren’t fulfilled by your current job, extract the skills you’re learning and projects you’ve enjoyed that you can use to identify another job or career field you’re interested in.”
2. If bad grades come in, it’s time to begin.
“As soon as you realize you’re unhappy, it’s time to start the job search,” O’Connell notes. “Try to talk to your employer to see if there are options to change your work environment or rearrange some working conditions, such as projects, co-workers or schedule. But if that doesn’t work, it’s time to leave.”
3. Be specific in your job goal.
“Think of it as scuba diving; you want to go deeper and deeper into the organizations you want to work for to find out what they do, who you can connect with, and how you can start meeting with people.”
4. Learn or earn via the Internet.
“You can take in-depth, quality classes on places like Skillshare or Udemy, or create an account on oDesk or Elance where you can offer your skills to organizations that need part time work,” he points out. “Whatever your passion is, with today’s digital tools and limitless social connection, you can still find time outside of your job to work on it, build it, and share your message.”
We at Money Under 30 certainly agree with Kevin — having praised the virtues of earning money on the side and spending time perfecting a side hustle that may one day turn into a full-time niche career that you love.