Tips for 20-something Job Seekers

Today's 20-somethings need to think beyond just their resume for ways to stand out to potential employers and compete in this challenging job market.
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Today's generation of young adults are especially challenged in getting their careers off the ground as they face high unemployment rates and a bleak job market. According to recent census data, employment among young adults ages 16-29 stood at 55.3 percent, down from 67.3 percent in 2000 and the lowest since the end of World War II. This is troubling news for 20-somethings who find themselves under or unemployed and at a loss for how to change things.

As a result, staggering numbers of 20-somethings are moving home with mom and dad and/or remaining financially dependent on their parents. The obstacles to employment and the inability to generate financial momentum are also delaying adult milestones like getting married, buying homes and having children.

A new Millennial Career study conducted online for American Express by Harris Interactive, reveals that two-thirds (68 percent) of recent grads and students are not working or working at a job that is not in their field. Additionally, almost half (47 percent) are receiving financial assistance from their parents. The study also revealed that hiring managers are placing more emphasis on soft skills like communication, critical thinking, and overall professionalism. Today's 20-somethings need to think beyond just their resume for ways to stand out to potential employers and compete in this challenging job market. Here are a few tips for job seekers to keep in mind based on the key findings from the survey:

Act like a professional even if you don't have a job
. Hiring pros point to professionalism and emotional maturity as skills recent graduates are lacking, so do not wait until you are hired to start acting like a polished, mature professional! Monitor your online and social networking behavior just like you would if you had a boss that could Google you at any moment. Dress and conduct yourself in a professional manner everywhere you go because you never know whom you'll meet. Triple proofread everything you send out, from cover letters to emails to thank you notes -- even Facebook status updates and tweets. Develop an "elevator pitch" that is a 30-second snapshot of your interests, experience and career goals. Practice your introduction, elevator pitch and handshake with a seasoned professional. The more you act like a professional when you are looking for a job, the more likely you are going to be seen as one.

Don't regress during the recession. Stop using the economy and job market as a scapegoat for stagnation and continue developing yourself personally and professionally. Fill your time and become more attractive to employers by furthering your education, obtaining certifications, or enrolling in specialized training programs. Take advantage of FREE online tools such as 10-day online financial and career bootcamp programs which cover a range of topics from setting career and financial goals to learning communication, networking and salary negotiation skills. The free Build Your Career and Take Control of Your Finances bootcamps are available at s. Instead of spending money on personal things, invest in professional things that make you smarter, skilled, and more self-aware. You are your best investment right now and far more valuable than the latest gadget or a new pair of shoes. Additionally, hiring pros report that communication skills, emotional maturity and a good attitude top the list of what makes a candidate attractive; consider enrolling in writing or speaking classes to improve your communication skills and/or explore working with a life coach or counselor to work through any issues impacting your overall attitude.

Treat finding a job like a job. Structure is an extremely important component in the job search. If you do not have a system in place for researching, networking and following up during your job search, you are missing an opportunity to develop your work ethic and organizational skills. Set aside a designated period of time each day to search for jobs, make phone calls, network online, write cover letters, conduct informational interviews, etc. Make yourself accountable to show up for yourself just like you would be accountable to show up for a job. Commit to a productivity ritual and practice it for at least 30 days in a row, as it takes that long for a practice to become a habit. Practice creates productivity, and productivity produces results. Research free and easy-to-use online tools that can support you in being more productive anytime, anywhere.

Avoid tunnel vision. There are various ways to work and network in your desired field before you are hired. If you cannot get a job in your chosen field, pursue intern or volunteer opportunities related to your field. Very often the types of opportunities and hands-on experience you can obtain at a non-profit organization or start-up are not available at entry or even mid-level jobs. Do not overlook the value of interning or volunteering because when looking at resumes, the majority of hiring pros believe any related hands on experience is very important. According to the Millennial Career survey commissioned by American Express, more than 60% of recent grads have not looked outside their field of study for work. Being open to applying for jobs outside of your chosen field is a good idea, as any experience you get is going to be useful in building career momentum and will prevent you from having huge gaps on your resume. In addition to looking outside your desired field for jobs, look beyond your zip code. Research cities where the economy is on the rise or major corporations are based-staying close to home may not be the most secure choice during this time.

Learn how to network effectively. Set a "wish list" of people you'd like to meet, and take steps to connect with them. Use online connections like Linked In and Facebook to find mutual friends, and ask for an introduction rather than relying on a cold connection request. If you request a connection without an introduction, be sure to personalize it; do not send an empty or template request such as LinkedIn's "I'd like to add you to my professional network." It is also an extremely valuable networking technique to pursue informational interviews. Research individuals with whom you'd like to speak to in various fields, and send them an email or letter requesting 15 minutes of their time to ask them about their career path. Be sure to mention you are NOT asking for a job. Remember that people love to talk about themselves, so in the interview, keep the focus on them, not you! If they ask about you, always be ready with your well-rehearsed and authentic elevator pitch. After you've established a connection, put a monthly reminder on your calendar to follow-up with them in some way to keep the relationship going. For instance, send an email sharing an article that would be of interest to them or quick update on any new experiences you have had. Finally, in-the-moment reminders create lasting networking ability, so whenever you receive a business card from someone, immediately take a minute to jot down notes on the back that will remind you of where and how you met the person and any topics you discussed that you can refer to when you follow up. Don't assume you will remember!

Personality and passion counts. The fact that hiring pros from the American Express Millennial Career survey say that personality counts almost twice as much as a candidate's skill set is good news for those who say your biggest challenge is not having enough work experience. Highlight your interests and passions, and let your personality come through in an interview. To deal with the "lack of experience" roadblock, demonstrate that you have experience and measured results in SOMETHING. For example, if you are going in for an interview or writing a cover letter where you cannot cite or show a lot of specifically related experience, show and itemize how you have progressed at a hobby or skill set. Brainstorm ways to "sell" yourself as a capable, innovative, self-motivated learner who can create things.

Break your social media habit. Half of hiring pros in the survey report that social media has improved recent grads ability to think out of the box, but has deteriorated writing skills, ability to focus on a task, and verbal communication skills. Additionally, spending a lot of time online can be extremely distracting. Consider limiting the time you spend on social media sites like Facebook to less than one hour per day to maximize the time you spend doing more productive things. Set designated times during the day where you can surf and use social media for social reasons so you can focus on particular tasks at all other times.

Don't fear failure or underemployment. Successful people report they learn more from their failures than their successes. Don't let your qualifications or concerns stop you from applying for a job or networking with someone. Many job requirements are preferred but not necessarily mandatory if you fit the description in many other ways. Unless a requirement is stated as a "must have," don't be discouraged if you don't meet all the requirements; apply anyway! Also if you find yourself applying for jobs you feel overqualified for, cut yourself some slack. In this market many people feel like they are happy to get a job, any job. Or perhaps you are moving into a different field and are beginning at a very entry-level position. Trust that every opportunity is a step to the next, even if it feels beneath you at the time. When you are interviewing for jobs you may be over-qualified for, be sure to keep an enthusiastic (but not desperate) attitude. Clearly explain that at this stage in your career, having a job is the most important thing or that you want to move into a different field and know that starting at a lower level is a requirement.

Perfect your resume and cover letter. The competition for jobs has made it even more important to stand out and make a great impression every step of the way. The days of mass submitting the same resume and cover letter are over. Tailor every cover letter to the job you are applying for. Mention something specific about the organization that you respect or recently learned about. Talk about how you would fit with the company rather than stating that you would like to learn something from them. In terms of your resume, don't bother with listing an "objective" on the top of your resume. Opt for a "qualifications summary" instead, and don't feel like you have to list everything you've done - think quality not quantity. When writing your bullet points, describe results and action items rather than summarizing your responsibilities. And have at least three people proofread your resume and cover letter. If you cannot get someone to do it, read it slowly out loud as you are more likely to catch errors that way.

Ace your interviews. Since hiring pros report professionalism and personality are key aspects of whether you get the job, acing an interview is a key ingredient to getting hired. Remember that you are being observed from the moment you step into the building. Be nice to everyone from the parking attendant to the assistant. It's crucial to be on time but not too early; often employers get annoyed if you are lingering there too soon, so wait in your car if you have to. Have a list of questions prepared that you can ask about the company or the job you are applying for, and be sure to turn OFF your cell phone before you even walk in the building. Keep an enthusiastic and positive attitude, don't come across as too eager or discuss the difficulty of the job market.

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