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Some time ago a client asked me to speak to his adult son who was still living at home and unable to find work, despite an excellent university degree.
I have been an executive search consultant for almost 20 years and the desperate parent was hopeful that I could give his well-educated, unemployed child some advice.
The frustrated job hunter told me that he had submitted more than 250 online applications, mainly to large, well-known firms. He received exactly zero responses.
I looked into his pained and perplexed face and explained that all his applications had disappeared into a black hole because in each case there was almost certainly someone ahead of him in line –someone who had built the proper network to make herself known within the organization.
Millennials have easy access to more information than any generation in human history and yet many of the best educated remain shockingly ignorant of how to search for work and to execute a job strategy.
I now counsel young people on how to find a job and find that many of them have been making the same seven mistakes.
1. No Self-Knowledge
For someone to hire you, it is essential that they understand what you have to offer and that it fits with what they need. Job hunters often fail to define their personal brand.
2. Ignorance of the job market
Most jobs are created by smaller businesses. Do not start with Scotiabank or Google. Use your research skills to identify smaller, more accessible firms in need of real talent.
3. Rotten resumes
Yes, resumes still matter. But research shows that if the reader is not captured within seven seconds, you have lost him. So many resumes I have seen are poorly constructed, with spelling errors and lack of pertinent, specific information about transferrable skills, where you have worked, what you did, what you achieved in those positions and how that experience would be attractive to a potential employer. Your resume is your print ad – it must be visually appealing and create the right impression.
4. Lackadaisical LinkedIn
I find that young people, so obsessively conversant with Snapchat or Instragram, have not a clue about how to exploit the tremendous platform offered by LinkedIn. They often post casual, inappropriate profile shots. Use a picture of yourself that looks professional and wear clothing that fits the kind of workplace where you hope to land. As with your resume, give careful thought to creating a profile that tells the story of why someone should hire you.
5. Networking no-nothings
Some people lampoon networking – people who work as baristas. It works. Employers have to learn about you and the most effective way is via recommendations from people they already know and trust.
Here is the job hunt sequence: resumes and/or LinkedIn get you informational meetings, informational meetings get you interviews and interviews get you jobs. Think about who in your existing network of friends and acquaintances might know someone who knows someone. Meet them to earn their trust and have them introduce you to others in their network.
You are not applying for a job with them, you are trying to get referred to hiring managers.
Put yourself in the shoes of the hiring manager facing a boatload of online applications. Suppose her colleague from the next office knocks on the door and says, "Hey, I had a coffee with an old school friend the other day and she might be perfect." Who do you think gets the job?
6. Interviewing incompetence
When you land a job interview, prepare. Eighty per cent of the questions you will be asked can be anticipated. Prepare answers. Research the company and prepare questions for them. Body language is critical – it communicates more than the words you speak. Shake hands firmly, sit straight, lean slightly forward, maintain eye contact and don't twitch. It seems obvious, but manners matter. Be polite to the receptionist when you arrive (the boss may well ask his impression, too).
7. Paucity of Persistence
A job search can easily involve scores of informational meetings and dozens of interviews. But remember: it only takes one to succeed.
As for the frustrated young man with the 250 non-responses: he embraced networking and is now happily employed.
Peter Caven is the managing director of Caven and Associates, an executive search firm, and the founder of Launched, a counselling service for young job hunters.