If you’re reading this, you’ve probably graduated from university and have landed, or are in the process of finding, a job. As such, you may be familiar with the eerie silence that descends once you’ve received your diploma: The professors, friends and smiling mentors are gone, the late nights and even later mornings laid to rest, and the only thing you see is a computer screen with increasingly unromantic employment options. The graduation hat is in storage, the diploma is framed and ready to collect dust, and you’ve moved out of your dorm. It’s like dying, only you’re alive. Dramatic, yes, but you find yourself wishing you could go back.
There is nothing wrong with higher education and, for a lot of people, that’s right where they belong. But if you decide to graduate and stay that way, at least for now, that puts us in the same boat. If you’re at the dawn of your post-university life, you might find what I learned to be helpful.
1. Getting a job is a job. I graduated in December 2011, was hired in March 2012, started work in April. That may seem like a precipitous job search, but the week after I graduated, I began pouring over job ads and was churning out applications and very few were in my specialty. By the end of February, I had gotten a grand total of 3 hits. One was a part-time secretarial position at a business that had smelly, roving lap dogs. One was a fun internship, but an internship nonetheless. One was a full-time, salaried sales position. I estimated that for about every 25 applications, I got 1 interview. Perhaps you had a different experience, but please know that I was an excellent student and graduated with a near-perfect GPA. I couldn’t believe it.
So if you’re not getting a job, look at how many applications you’re completing. If you’re figuring how many in the ‘per week’ category, my guess is it won’t be enough and your lack of employment has less to do with skills and more to do with the fact that this is a numbers game. Get accounts on job search sites, build templates for efficiency, copy/paste, develop a pithy resume and don’t ignore less than glamorous opportunities. Do you think I ever wanted to or expected that I would ever do sales? Not as the sun rises in the east. But when I discovered that sales wasn’t for me, to put it kindly, I moved over to my employer’s sister company to do logistics. Did I have a degree that matched the position? Not remotely. But it was easier to hire and train someone already in than out. Location is everything.
2. Dress to impress. Yes, really. In my preparation to interview, I found a worrisome number of articles suggesting that the interview process was getting less formal–that, somehow, wearing jeans or khakis suggests you’ll make a better employee than wearing ties, slacks and shiny shoes. It certainly is cheaper but, other than that, all I have to say is don’t do it. Better to be over dressed than underdressed, especially if you are a millenial and everyone gives you the benefit of the doubt–not. Look too nice and you’re traditional or a little rigid. Wear jeans and you’re an unemployed kid. Next!
3. Don’t take every piece of written advice. An ironic demand, considering the fact that I’m writing an advice post, but I’m not joking. Ask your own questions and don’t run with what your gut tells you isn’t true, or that you can’t pull off. To give perspective, a letter containing the best pieces of advice I’ve found would sound something like this:
Dear young job seeker: As a millenial, you are probably either spoiled or lacking in work ethic, or a mixture of the two. As such, we don’t want you. We want your youth and inexperience, to mold you for our company. Go for the internship. Don’t go for the internship. Get more education if you can’t find a job. Don’t get more education–you’ll incur more debt. Travel while you’re young, child. Invest that would-be travel money while you’re young. Buy a new car as quickly as possible, but drive a clunker, even if you can afford something better. Move out because you don’t want to be dependent. Move back home because you want to save. Hope this helps! Sincerely, Pop Culture and Talking Heads
All this is to say that the list of contradicting claims, promises and assumptions regarding our age group in the workforce is literally infinite. Not all advice is bad, but in seeking replacements for those smiling mentors you had in college, be aware that people are very dramatic for views and forget that our lives hang in the balance. I quickly realized that finding the latest was of little use, and didn’t religiously research anything but job ads, because the rest cluttered my brain and sent me into a tail spin.
Apart from these thoughts, there is the very relevant, stock advice of making yourself absolutely indispensable to your company once you’re in. The good news is that, as the bottom line becomes necessarily more important in a flailing economy, so does producing. If you’re good at what you do and work efficiently, the company won’t care that you’re young, inexperienced or lack a college degree, in some cases. I was 20 years old when I was hired. So, in a sense, this breaks the market wide open. The bad news? Two years in, you can’t assume that you’re safe, based on your tenure. I don’t care if you and the boss have great rapport. It’s ultimately business.
Keep your eyes open and take note of what works, and what doesn’t. It’s your life and only you can live it.