The following article ran in the August 12, 2009 issue of Westport News.
Recent high school and college graduates don't need to be told that this is the toughest time in memory to find a job. They are bombarded with the news and they face that fact daily as they pour over the job ads on Craig's List or they are told by the manager of the local Starbucks, “No, we're sorry, but we're not hiring.”
What is a young person to do? Everybody has a different suggestion: use this time to focus on determining your career goals; stay out of the job market and continue your education; take the first job that comes along; wait until you find something you’re passionate about.
Take a Deep Breath
My suggestion: take a deep breath, take a step back, and take stock of the situation, both yours and on the job front. And keep the following considerations in mind to help guide you.
1. Demonstrate that you will add value to the business from day one. This year, you're not just competing with other recent graduates, you're also competing with last year’s class, candidates with more experience who lost their jobs and are prepared to accept entry level positions, and from those who haven’t been able to move up from their first entry level job.
You’re first objective is to show that you can be as valuable to a business as these more experienced applicants. For example, you can do this by showing how you have the ability, with minimal instruction or training, to ease the burden of the person you’re working for, enabling him or her to devote their energies for more productive pursuits.
2. Emphasize your skills. As a new entrant into the workforce, you’re most likely not going to have significant business experience, but you are going to have skills that can be employed in a business setting.
If you were an Economics major, you know how to use Excel and how to build spreadsheets for financial modeling or budgeting. If you were a dorm RA, you know how to deal with any number of difficult social or interpersonal situations. If your summer jobs were in retail, you have sales skills that are applicable to a wide range of businesses where customer contact is important. You want to lead with those skills.
Clean Up Your Facebook Page!
3. Remember that you’re in the business world now! That means demonstrating that you are an adult many subtle ways. Your body language sends a message about your maturity: always maintain eye contact; watch your language (limit your “you know”s and “like”s) and no street talk or profanity. Make sure that you know the dress code of the work environment and then dress one step up for your interview or a networking meeting. Make sure that your Facebook page is free of any pictures or comments that might not reflect well on you. If there’s any question about whether something is appropriate, err on the side of caution and delete it.
Pluses from Taking the “Not Perfect” Job
4. Take the job! There are positive reasons beyond an income stream for being employed. You’ll be in a business environment, learning how businesses operate. You’ll be learning how to deal with people and situations in a new way. Significantly, it’s much easier for find a job when you have a job: businesses have a preference for hiring those who are employed (you’ll have a current reference and you’ll have real experience). Finally, even if the job is in a function or an industry that you didn’t think you were interested in, you might find it something that really suits you. Good recruiters often have an intuitive sense of a candidate’s aptitude for a particular position or field. And even if it turns out that you really don’t like the job, you will have learned from the experience why it wasn’t right for you.
Understand that the job hunt may be a lengthy one but don’t lose focus. Make sure that you stay in contact with friends and peers who are in the same situation as you and share your positive experiences; learn from each other. You will find a position, but right now your job is finding a job—so treat it as such.