Finding a job is harder than ever. Millennials have a particularly difficult time getting employed. Being a mid-twenties college graduate today more often means that you're living with your parents or in a tiny apartment in a quickly gentrifying area and getting some help from your parents, than it does that you've entered the workforce and are making a comfortable salary. Today, you are competing not only with your contemporaries, but you are also most likely competing with an older generation of people who may still be unemployed, as well as people a bit older than you who could not find a job four years ago during the recession and went on to receive higher degrees.
Bottom line: someone, somewhere, is always looking for a job and that means more competition than ever! Admittedly, the first step is getting the interview and that is half the battle, but then once you do, another battle begins, and that is what my column is about today. If you're going to get a job you have to get an interview, and red state or blue state, New York or LA, Canada or Mexico, Mars or Venus, there is one thing we can know for sure: If you're late for the interview, you're not getting the job.
The secret to landing a job today (other than being on time), especially that first job, is distinguishing yourself from the competition, that is, from the other people interviewing for the same job. As I explain in my book, Bulletproof Your Job (HarperCollins), companies don't just hire a resume nor do they usually hire based on credentials alone, and even experience is often not the make or break issue. Rather, it is a combination of each of these characteristics with intangibles, such as chemistry and those little personal things that separates you from everyone else. Maybe you and your interviewer like the same sport, or went to the same school, or both haven't forgiven George R. R. Martin for The Red Wedding, or both vacationed in the same remote territory of the Congo. But even all of that might not be enough. In fact, I think you can save that money that you were planning to spend following your dream employer to Africa, and instead invest in something much smaller. Maybe, just maybe, you are the first of 20 candidates interviewed (and this is especially true when it is an entry level job for someone under 30) that is wearing a wristwatch! Yes, you read that right: Stephen Viscusi says that you could win a job just by wearing a wristwatch!
Recently, I made a guest appearance on NBC/Universal's nationally syndicated talk show "Steve Harvey." Harvey has had me on about a half dozen times as sort of his resident workplace expert. He calls me "America's Workplace Guru." On this last appearance Harvey had me help remake some young women out to find their first jobs. I noticed that every one of them had the same thing in common; they had to pull their cellphones from their pockets or purses to check the time. Not a single one of them had a wristwatch! Heck, if movie-director Nicolas Refn gave a watch to a 20-year-old, for each of Ryan Gosling's fifteen lines of dialogue in his newest movie, Only God Forgives, the percentage of 20-year-olds with watches would increase infinitely.
A few days after the Harvey taping, I was roaming around my office where we have a lot of interns (great cheap labor in the summer, just ask Fox Searchlight). I noticed that all of them kept pulling out their phones and fidgeting. I asked their supervisor what they were all doing on their phones. She told me that they were just checking the time -- using the phones, like my generation would use a wristwatch.
Is this what we have come to? PDAs are our cameras, our phones, and, yes, even our only timepieces. I appreciate that some people don't have landlines anymore, so it stands to reason the watch may soon go that same way. When I was in college I couldn't wait until I could afford to buy my first watch -- which I of course wanted to be a Rolex. Now, kids are saving up for iPhone 5's.
Millennials' use of their PDAs as timepieces, the way I may use a watch, is a dangerous pattern. Even though you may be thinking of it as a watch, I bet anyone, even others your own age, who sees you looking at your phone assumes you're texting or emailing, or even playing a game. As a headhunter, and someone who interviews hundreds of people all while wearing a wristwatch, if I came into my waiting room to greet the candidate I was about to interview and saw him or her checking out their phone, I would never assume they were checking the time. And, even if they told me they were just checking the time, I would still assume, whether I was right or wrong, that they were reading a text or email which is simply bad etiquette! Does that make sense to you?
Am I old-fashioned? Maybe. Out of touch? Possibly. But, either way, seeing a candidate buried in a phone, even if to them it's just a watch, is a bad first impression! So my advice to you millennials who use your phones as timepieces is simple: cut it out! Go buy a wristwatch! It doesn't have to be a very expensive one; in fact, wearing a luxury watch to an interview might be a bit curious, but anything is better than using the phone. A Timex, a SWATCH, even a watch that doesn't work -- like I've been known to say, fake it until you make it. Or if a watch is truly out of your budget borrow one from a sibling, or a parent, or a friend! I know that some style conventions are calling it old-fashioned, but there are tons of cool, funky watches in stores all over. It may be a gimmick, but believe me, it will separate you from everyone else your own age interviewing for the same job. Hey, the employer may even like the watch and use it as an easy icebreaker.
I would normally add a disclaimer to this that would say something about how maybe it is different if you are interviewing at Google, or Apple, or somewhere that sells PDAs -- but even then, the wristwatch is going to separate you from your competitors, and that is my secret tip to getting the job offer. Remember, the key is making yourself unique and more memorable to the potential employer, than the hundreds of equally qualified people you are interviewing against. It may sound too good to be true, but today's tip that I have seen get results is to wear a wristwatch.
Let me know what you think: those of you over-40s back me up here; you're not going to lose your wristwatches, are you?
Stephen Viscusi is the author of Bulletproof Your Job: 4 Simple Strategies to Ride out the Rough Times and Come Out on Top at Work (Harper Collins) and the CEO of the Viscusi Group (viscusigroup.com). You can follow him on Twitter @workplaceguru, connect with him on Facebook and LinkedIn, or send him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.