It is truly the worst time to graduate. For one, any plan of having a Booksmart-inspired summer bash before leaving for college is shot, and so are the freshman year parties. For college graduates, the post-grad summer of soul-searching will happen from wherever they call home — no international travel or melancholic summer parties. And then there’s the tug and pull of whether or not campuses will open up, and if those that don’t will plan to reduce tuition or reimburse students for room and board. For those that have chosen to re-open, things are already off to a chaotic start.
In response to the mess that is starting college or graduating in the middle of a pandemic, many students are deferring, taking gap years, or pivoting altogether. Reddit chatter about deferring college has tripled since the onset of the pandemic. This year, 20% of Harvard University’s incoming class deferred. And in the age of TikTok and “OK Boomer,” it’s led some to the world of Gen Z consulting.
Gen Z consulting (or youth culture consulting or generational consulting) isn’t new, but some may think it’s just a trendy e-boy or e-girl hired to make brands look and feel younger simply by sharing their cool teen air and telling them about TikTok. But Maddie Bregman, the 21-year-old founder of a female-leaning Gen Z consulting agency, GirlZ, says it’s not like that at all. She tells Refinery29, “It’s a lot of hard work and, for me, it’s been a lot of hours of sending emails and following up with people and being persistent and patient and I think that the work itself is definitely fun but by no means is it this glamorous thing.”
Bregman says she’s seen an uptick in cold emails from high school and college graduates looking to get into Gen Z consulting, adding that now that it’s a more mainstream job, an increasing number of young people are looking into it in their time of need. “This is the most entrepreneurial generation the world has ever seen and people are getting more creative with what we’re looking to do, how we make money, and not wanting to work a traditional job.”
“Unfortunately, due to COVID happening, a lot of peoples’ offers got rescinded, a lot of people were thinking about taking a gap year because a lot of schools aren’t being very good about room and board,” says Maia Ervin, chief of staff at JUV Consulting. JUV is the biggest and most popular Gen Z consulting agency — it’s entirely run by people under 24 and it’s worked with brands like VSCO and Jansport. According to Ervin, the company got twice as many applicants this summer. “The interest was very high and I hate the fact that it was very high due to the pandemic.”
So, what kind of work is Gen Z consulting, actually? Ervin admits, “We get a lot of TikTok inquiries.” But mostly, JUV places consultants with brands, companies, and teams looking to understand Gen Z. They want insight into the data collected about young people, they want to know how to use certain social media platforms, and they want more information about Gen Z’s interests. Sandra Salvaterra, 20, works on JUV’s creative team and while her days have been full of meetings and emails, she feels confident she’s doing more than just giving big companies the tools they need to squeeze money out of her generational peers: “Not only do we want people to understand us, we want them to understand us so they can empower us, so they aren’t just using us as a marketing ploy or just another target audience. We’re people, at the end of the day, and people deserve to be understood.”
Part of the appeal for applicants is that Gen Z consulting is a good way to build a resume, because it’s an experience that’s likely to translate to a lot of different fields. It’s a great starting off point for someone taking a gap year or skipping college that wants to eventually become an entrepreneur or pursue any kind of creative career.
If there’s such a thing as a Gen Z consulting veteran, Connor Blakley is it: He started a Gen Z consulting agency, YouthLogic, when he was just 15 and says it’s a suitable career path for young people looking to become entrepreneurs. He’s gotten a lot of cold emails from people asking him about his work, especially now that COVID-19 has disrupted both the school year and post-graduate hiring cycle.
But Blakley warns against thinking the job is all glamour and boardrooms: “They definitely think you literally show up and just answer simple questions about your generation.” He says good Gen Z consulting is all about fighting stereotypes, starting with the stereotypes people have about youth in general. “Then they actually talk to me and realize there is so much more and realize that I’m actually smart.”
With TikTok under a magnifying glass and so many young leaders at the forefront of the fights against police brutality and climate change, plus with much-publicized virtual classes and canceled graduations, 2020 might just be Gen Z’s most visible year. But it’s also Gen Z’s most financially trying year. In that light, Gen Z consulting offers itself as a weird, unlikely helping hand that trades on the capital of youth. But most importantly, Gen Z consulting puts young people in the same room with leaders and executives — people who have the power to make big, necessary changes. It will give today’s youth a chance to see if the elders responsible for so many of today’s messes are willing to listen.