The job market is a source of serious frustration for millions of people. Parents whose children have just graduated from college are as impacted as anyone. When I recently told a friend (a high-level executive at a major corporation) that 45 percent of 2013 college grads were either unemployed or underemployed, his take was “Only 45%!”
We all want to help but just don’t know how. We offer advice and we arrange meetings with people -- to no avail. I found out why through my daughter. We just don’t understand. She has struggled with the rest of her peers, but she actually did something about it. She wrote an excellent piece that could help either young adults get positions or parents to learn what the realities of getting a job is like and how to adapt in the current market. What follows is my daughter Hannah’s guide to getting a job today for most people starting out as well as some who are on the rebound.
Frequently, parents and college advisers will tell you to speak with professionals, who are much older than you and have been working for years to garner advice, about applying for jobs and internships early in your career. The problem with this is that most of these people haven't applied for a job in 20 years. The job market has changed dramatically since then. Here are some tips I have picked up after working closely with Human Resource (HR) professionals and from my own personal experience.
1) The internet is your friend.
Here is one big difference between us and the 35-40-plus-year-olds who haven't applied to a job in years. Pretty much everything is done over the internet when it comes to looking for applying to a job. Unless you have a direct connection to someone who could help you get the job, do what a particular website instructs you to do -- exactly what it says.
2) Be as specific as possible
When you apply for a job or internship online that asks you to submit a cover letter and resume via email, you NEED to put the exact position you are applying for in the subject line. If the company is large it is highly likely that they are looking for more than one position in different departments. I help to sort job and internship applications and I can't tell you how many are submitted with just "internship" or "assistant" in the subject line. Trust that those applications usually go directly into the trash. There are hundreds of people that apply for each position that is posted. Nobody is going to take the time to comb through your cover letter and resume for the particular position for which you meant to apply or figure out what will be the best fit for you. Be specific and follow instructions or you won't be given a chance.
3) Only apply for advertised positions; DON'T just send over your resume
Unless you know someone at a company, nobody is going to look at your resume when you randomly send it over. HR is not going to take the time to figure out where you would fit or make a place for you. They have too many other applicants. I have had people come into the office and hand me their resume at reception without a specific position. Just like the applications without subject lines, those resumes go into the trash. Doing this in person is even worse than doing it over the internet. It will be a big waste of your time and it will make people uncomfortable.
4) DON'T make calls or go to an office uninvited
I have had a lot of my parents’ friends tell me that I have to get out there, make calls, force my way in there. Again, unless you have a connection to someone, all you are going to do is annoy people. They have a lot of things to do and can't deal with random people calling them about getting a job. It doesn't help you in any way. Advice like this is usually given by people who haven't applied for a job in years. Maybe 15-20 years ago a person could show up to a company with their resume and maybe have a shot at getting a job. Today it is not going to happen.
5) DON'T follow up UNLESS you have had an interview
This goes along with making the unsolicited calls or visits. Your job as an applicant is to submit your best resume and cover letter and then wait. You will be contacted if they are interested. If you don't hear back, leave them alone and move on to the next position. Companies deal with too many applicants to respond to each person individually. It may be rude and inconsiderate and I have found it extremely frustrating at times, but it's the reality of the situation. If you end up annoying someone you might end up having your resume put in the trash before they even give you a shot. If you have had an interview with the company regarding the position then it is absolutely appropriate to follow up. The employer will agree with you that you deserve an update on progress made regarding filling the job if they have taken the time to meet with you. That kind of enthusiasm is good once the employer has shown interest in you.
6) DON’T call to ask why you didn’t get the job
This is mostly because it is a waste of time. Nobody is going to give you the answer to that one. Whether you are trying to get feedback and improve what you did wrong for the next interview or if you just want to know why they didn’t choose you, you aren’t going to get a response to that question. Employers are too concerned of what negative consequences may come with answering these questions. It can lead to verbal abuse from unhappy applicants who were rejected or even lawsuits if the wrong thing is said.
This advice has been pretty negative so here are some positive things you can do.
1) Exploit your contacts
Do it and don't feel bad about it, but use your common sense. Don't be a pest, especially with your family friends. Most of them will be just as willing to forward your resume. They will also likely know the people who have the power to help get you hired so they are very important. Meet them for coffee, lunch, dinner, to catch up, chat, talk about your career goals or develop career goals with them. Though their methods of applying for jobs might be outmoded, they are people in the working world who will have good insight. Many of these people may have their own children in the same situation as you; i.e., struggling to find a job. They will be sympathetic and helpful because -- as my dad once told me -- all parents have the same basic instinct: kids come first.
2) Put details in your cover letters for each position you are applying to
I, like many other people, have a standard cover letter and format that I send with every job application. It is important to add details into your cover letters that are specific to the job you are applying for so employers will know you are paying attention to what they are looking for and not just shouting into the void. The words they put on the job posting will stick out to them if you put them in your cover letter.
3) Keep your cover letters short and precise
You want to keep your cover letters around a half page, but no longer than a page. Unless the job posting asks otherwise, put it in the body of the email. When employers open up your email they like to take a quick scan of your cover letter to see the different points that will make them want to look at your resume. If the cover letter is too long, they might not want to put the effort into reading it. Conversely, a cover letter that is too short (1-3 sentences. Believe me, I've seen it) may appear as if you don't care.
4) Go on interviews even if you don't really want the job
Any interview experience is good experience. Eventually you are going to go on a really bad interview. It's inevitable and it will be your war story that you will look back on fondly one day. The more interviews you go on, the more prepared and confident you will feel about going on new ones. You can learn from each interview or at least get interview practice.
5) Always write a thank you note after an interview
If you really want the job this step is very important. It shows the employer that you care. You can recap some things that you went over in your interview as a way of showing you were paying attention and are thinking over what was said. Be sure to thank the person you met with for their time and consideration, even if you aren’t particularly interested in the job. It’s polite and you will likely be in the minority of applicants who took that extra step. A handwritten thank you note is especially good if you really want to stick out. Handwritten thank you notes aren’t that rare but they are still uncommon. Always, at the very least, send a thank you email.
6) Stay positive and keep going
You will hear the same few things from people over and over again. People who don't know what else to say will tell you "it's tough out there" and "something will come along eventually." You may wish you could punch these people in the face because what they are saying is repetitive and not at all helpful … but it is true. You just have to keep going and not judge yourself based on other people. It doesn't help. Things happen for different people at different times. Even though some people may be ahead of you now doesn't mean you won't find the right job and be happy in the end. Jealousy and bitterness weigh down on you. Your time will come. Keep trying and improving yourself and it will happen.
Good luck. And parents -- don’t drive your kids crazy.