Much has been written about the struggles that members of Generation Y are having in the job market. Even so, at least half of new college graduates are landing good jobs. Research for my new book, Graduate to a Great Job, produced important insights about what works—and what doesn’t—in navigating today’s job market. Although older job seekers face some different challenges, they can learn from the experiences of Gen-Ys who are successfully launching careers.
Here are four keys to success:
1. Keep clarifying how you are going to add value. That’s all employers care about today. Job seekers waste tremendous time and effort describing their personal qualifications for a job—e.g. organized, team-oriented. Lily, an art history major from the University of California at Santa Barbara, recalls:
“After graduation I started applying for jobs with no focus except to work at a place that was young and fun. I just told companies I wanted to work hard and learn. But I got no response 99% of the time.”
New college graduates often learn the hard way that focus is everything when looking for a job today. The same rule applies to more experienced candidates. Instead of pursing openings that “look interesting,” concentrate on identifying specific positions where you can clearly add value. Then dive in and educate yourself about the employer’s challenges and identify solutions that will make you a stronger candidate.
2. Applicant tracking systems: Welcome to the black hole of the job search. The most startling lesson from my research was that no matter how old you are, if you don’t understand how an applicant tracking system (ATS) works, you’re wasting your time applying for jobs. An ATS is software used by recruiters in all but the smallest organizations today. These systems include automated-screening tools that scan and score your resume, looking for the right job-related key words in the right places. If you have too little—or too much—experience you will be screened out by the computer and never considered for the job.
Preptel.com offers a cool tool called Resumeter that will analyze how your resume will be scored by an ATS for a specific job. Resumeter has a quirky interface, but it’s free, and it shows how to reformat your resume so it will be scored more favorably. This is essential to be considered for an interview.
3. Forget “spraying and praying” as a job search strategy. Submitting a standard resume electronically to a random set of job postings is a mistake lots of young job seekers make. This approach is equally fruitless for older job seekers. Employers are looking for specific skills and experience levels, and there’s too much competition for a generic resume to command attention. Remember, hope is not a job search method. You’ve got a better chance buying a lottery ticket.
Your mantra should be “connect and customize.” Given the volume of applications employers receive, you’re better off applying only to organizations where you can develop a personal relationship with someone who can advocate for you and give you insights into the company’s culture. With dozens or even hundreds of people applying for each job, you must find situations where connecting with an insider gives you an edge and helps you stand out. Even then, the language in your resume must match the skills and capabilities cited in the job description, or you won’t get an interview.
4. Practice resilience and stay positive. Zoey became an event planner after graduating from Central Michigan University. After an arduous search, she observed:
“My ego and expectations were a lot higher when I started looking after college. Now I’d be more humble. You have to have the ability to get knocked over a few times and just get back up, and not be fazed by rejection. It’s an exhausting process.”
Staying positive in the face of continual rejection and disappointment is a huge challenge. You must expect lots of rejections. You might apply for 50 or even 100 jobs over time. Given the uncertainties and the unfavorable odds for all job seekers, one key to staying positive is knowing you are using a solid networking and job- search process—one that helps you position yourself as the strongest possible candidate. That’s the hard lesson learned by Carl, a young economics graduate who spent more than a year looking for a job in finance. He recalls:
“I thought I was a hotshot. I had a good resume. But I was delusional about what employers were looking for. People wanted experience, and all I could give them was a motivated smart recruit. I didn’t even know how to prepare for an interview!”
When he finally landed a good job offer more than a year after he started looking, he says:
“I was speechless. It had been such a long time. I accepted the offer immediately and began thinking about all the people I’d have to thank. I know now the networking will never stop.”
No matter what your age, learning what does and doesn’t work in the job market is the critical first step to increase the odds that eventually you’ll find a job you want. For more insight into what young people have to teach us about this click here.