When I scrolled through the unemployment data recently, one number stood out for me head-and-shoulders above all the rest. More than a quarter of our young people are out of work.
What young adults need to worry about is not how to shine on their first day on the job. It's about learning to excel your first day on the job market. If you're a young person entering today's job jungle, it's a little like suiting up for an episode of Survivor in the outer reaches of Borneo.
Here are some tips that can help drain the pain from your job market debut:
Mackay's Moral: You may not be after a sales job, but you have to be one great salesperson to sell yourself.
- Don't bulk e-mail your credentials or résumé to everyone and their cousin. In the e-mail age, a résumé is just another bunch of digital clutter. Every day, companies are using more and more sophisticated tools to block the inflow of unwanted applications.
- Intelligently use snail mail to differentiate yourself. I'm not just saying that because I'm in the envelope business. Make the letter you send as distinctive as you can. Address it to a particular person. Link your cover letter into the recipient's school affiliation, hobbies, or -- best of all -- an acquaintance you have in common.
- This is all about making the A Team. Maybe you had the valuable experience of playing a varsity sport in school. If you wanted to excel in athletics and make the academic grade, you learned pretty soon that the first skill to master is time management. Getting a job is a job. Plan out every precious day. When you climb out of the sack, commit yourself to making X number of calls and blocking out time to study business news on the Internet. When your head hits the pillow at night, you should think: "Clothes in shape? Appointments confirmed? Schedule set? Sign off. You've had a busy day."
- Don't waste time on the Internet, and don't upload stupid self-damaging information on social sites like Facebook. Stay away from game sites. They can addictively suck away valuable hours day after day. Will your instant recall of the latest dish about Lindsay Lohan or Justin Timberlake get you a job? The party animal photo you're keen to upload to Facebook may be fun for your pals . . . but eliminate you from a firm that is about to extend you an offer.
- Build human networks. What are your career goals for the next 1-2 years? Find people in your community and on the Internet who are already where you want to be. Learn exactly what it took to be where they are.
- Volunteer. Killing time is suicide. If you don't have a job, volunteer to help others. You'll feel good about the contribution you make. If you're asked to raise money for a good cause, you'll learn what kinds of salesmanship works . . . and, when it doesn't, how to accept being rejected. If you're a positive, high-energy volunteer; you might even impress a community leader who can help you find a paying job of the sort you're after.
- Learn specific credentials and get them. Find out what certification is required for the job you want and why it's important. Talk with people who have gone through the certification program and exams to learn the biggest challenges. Keep your credentials up-to-date. High tech fields upgrade their standards constantly.
- Give people good reasons to recommend you. Professional recruiters will tell you that your best assets in a job search are the enthusiastic recommendations of employed, well-respected experts in your field. Learn what skills and attitudes these people value and what they look for in an up-and-comer.
- Stay in shape. Being in top condition will keep you energized and improve your overall sense of discipline. Working out is also a great way to channel the frustration of being rejected into a positive result.
- Prepare for every job interview as though it were a trip to the Super Bowl. Research the firm inside out. Ready yourself with intelligent questions to ask. Be poised and on-time for your meeting. Debrief yourself and grade your performance immediately after the encounter.