06/04/2012 01:01 pm ET Updated Aug 04, 2012

5 Steps for a Strong Career Launch

Congratulations on the diploma you're receiving this month, young graduate. Now it's time to get to work... if you can.

Yes, some experts are already warning that you may be a part of a Lost Generation, because of the lack of steady jobs awaiting new graduates.

But it's actually an incredible moment for certain types of young leaders with the right set of skills and priorities.

There's been enough talk about the 1 percent and the 99 percent. Within this generation, it's about the 10 percent and the 90 percent, because about 10 percent of your generation has the right combination of skills and priorities to succeed in the kind of fast-changing biz environment that you're inheriting.

What about the other 90 percent? They'll need to develop those skills -- fast -- or risk being a part of that lost generation.

1. Don't move home unless you have to. About three-quarters of college grads are moving home. This is a huge risk; going back to helicopter parents and the comfort of home means you may not work as hard at launching your career. Even though your career will change many times, early momentum still counts.

If you do move home, then by all means make it count. Not having to pay rent means you can take on the sort of unpaid internships that increasingly offer young persons meaningful responsibilities at name-brand companies. Yes, you're being "used" by them for free labor, but you can make this work for you, rather than taking a paying job that may be far removed from your career path.

2. Get ready to play the lottery... over and over. Business journalist Adam Davidson has noted that more industries are becoming "lotteries" like Hollywood. This means that they have more talent than they need, so they can pay most of that talent pennies while a few privileged ones hit the jackpot.

All the more reason that you'll need every possible edge over your peers. Leaders of this millennial generation will need to be more like entrepreneurs and start-ups than conventional companies -- able to try and fail and try again and fail again and try some more.

3. Be the tortoise and the hare. You need to understand that you're in a world of tortoises and hares. The older people, who do most of the hiring, see themselves as slow and steady tortoises. You see them as stiff and conventional. You see yourself as fast-paced and spontaneous. To your faces, the older tortoises will agree with you, but behind your backs, they will dismiss you as flakey, or unreliable, or entitled.

The tortoises are linear, and you're not. You're fluid and all over the place, thanks to the million distractions and technologies you've comfortably grown up with. But not enough of your elders appreciate how your generation is always "on" and connected 24/7. You're able to move in a world that's becoming more fluid and nonlinear. You're more comfortable multi-tasking than older people. You're more comfortable jumping from one ladder to another one. That can work to your advantage.

A savvy hare will learn to do the slow and steady work that the tortoise does -- returning calls promptly, avoiding typos, confirming appointments instead of suddenly cancelling them, showing up on time, not skipping a big company event because your friends are dragging you off on a road trip for your birthday. But what will set you apart is that you can do what the tortoise can't or won't. You'll be sending your boss great ideas while your older peers are shutting off their cell phones after 6 p.m. You'll be checking in while on vacation. You'll be more available and more reliable than the rest.

As a hare-tortoise hybrid, you can race past not only your own generation, you can topple the older ones too (especially because many of them will freeze up as old industries dry up).

4. Volunteer. Due to the birth pangs of a new global economy, your resume will have more gaps than the resume of someone older. Cram those gaps full with meaningful community-service and cultural and educational activities that show you're dedicated and reliable. The best part is that volunteer organizations are the easiest place to build your leadership muscles; those organizations are so desperate for leadership that anyone who can fog a mirror will end up in charge of something.

5. Focus on doing, not being. Spend more time dreaming about what you'd love to do and less time worrying about who you'd love to be in the eyes of the world. This will bring more passion into your life and get you out of the trap of fighting for mere prestige or reputation or salary, none of which will make you happy over the long haul. Also remember that balance is a myth. Many millennials believe they're brilliant enough (and deserving enough) to have a successful career while working 35-hour weeks, and they're encouraged in this by tortoises who feel guilt for ignoring their own children. But most true successes are happily obsessed with their career. This is another reason to focus on your passions above all else.

The coming years could well be a long purgatory for tens of thousands of college graduates. But they can be a gold rush for that 10 percent of the crowd who are able to capitalize on existing opportunities -- and who can create new ones.