Of all the challenges facing us as we leave college, there are few more difficult or daunting than the prospect of finding a job. With unemployment rates among millennials at a staggering 15% (not counting those who are underemployed), it’s easy to feel stressed if not outright panicked.
With student debt threatening to crash down on you and leery looks from family members after yet another day of fruitless searching, it’s tempting to start blaming yourself. And while you might not have started the financial crisis, you can claw your way out of it.
Of course, that’s easier said than done. There are a lot of factors that contribute to unemployment among young people and by now we’re all painfully aware that many jobs are looking for the dreaded “one to two years’ experience”. We’ve learned that, for many sectors, a college degree simply doesn’t carry the same weight it once did. Competition with our peers and record numbers of workers all make for agonizingly tough competition, and it’s there where much of the problem lies. The issue isn’t that there are no jobs out there – it’s that everyone is pursuing the same jobs. An online job posting can have anywhere from a couple hundred to a couple thousand applicants; even if you’re skilled at what you do, that’s still a lot to go up against.
So why bother?
A job is, at the end of the day, a job. We can talk about career goals and life plans till the sun implodes, but none of that is going to change the fact that we need to get on our feet and start paying off our loans. How? Well, think of the job market like an iceberg, with only the tip visible above water. That ten percent is what most people are fighting over, and the only reason that they’re doing so is because they’re unaware of the other options they have. There are a whole lot of jobs beneath the surface, and these tips can help you to take the plunge you need to get to them.
Rule I: Avoid Major Sites
While sites like Indeed and Monster can get you work, they’re by far the most well-known and as such see the heaviest traffic. Unemployed, underemployed, high schoolers, college students, even folks just looking for a career change – they’re all going to be heading there first. These sites also tend to be comparatively expensive to post to (Indeed charges “$0.25 – $1.50” per click), meaning that they’re typically dominated by big companies and corporations. While big companies do offer great opportunities to advance yourself, they also tend to be far more impersonal, rigid, and difficult to get into without meeting their exact requirements.
Smaller sites, on the other hand, tend to cater to smaller, locally or family-owned businesses. While not providing the same benefits, smaller companies tend to provide much more flexibility and personal contact. A hiring manager at BigBoxMart might like you but be unable to hire you due to company policy; the owner of the little mom-and-pop shop down the street can bend the rules as much as they want.
Craigslist, in spite of its history as a place to get scammed, is actually a pretty decent alternative to larger sites. While you do still have to be careful what you apply for, Craigslist offers a host of jobs many people simply pass over, and has the added benefit of being easy to use as it generally requires you to simply e-mail your resume (rather than fill out a four-hour application).
Smaller sites with less traffic (such as ZipRecruiter, which I’ve had success with) likewise provide us a fighting chance to get noticed, and of course, it’s important to also be mindful of job boards specific to the field you’re looking to get into. A person interested in nonprofit work, for example, might benefit from checking out Idealist.org. Looking for a career in media and publishing? Try MediaBistro. Pharmaceuticals and healthcare? Try RXInsider. If there’s a sector you can think of, chances are there’s at least one site dedicated to posting jobs for it. Go looking in places that most folks don’t and you’ll already be miles ahead of the competition.
Rule II: Consider Government Work
One of the chief complaints that gets voiced by this generation is how seemingly useless our degrees are. In spite of being told that college was our only guarantee of a decent job, many of us have struggled to find any kind of work related to our field of study. More often than not, it seems that businesses value experience or technical training over higher education, and while that might feel frustrating there is a place where your credits and major matter.
Consider working for the government.
While no guarantee, many jobs posted to government sites require specific majors or a certain degree of experience, and will often hold education as being equal to experience. USAJobs.gov provides hundreds of job leads across a wide range of fields, and while they’ll take their time getting back to you (I had to wait a solid two months before I heard from them) the pay and benefits can make the wait well worth it. Beyond the financial rewards, the rigor and waiting-periods required by most government jobs often whittle away what little competition there is, increasing your odds of standing out even more. And don’t just stop at the federal level: A quick search can also show you recruitment at the state, county, and city level, all opportunities that even astute job hunters often miss.
Rule III: Try Individual Company Websites
Even with major job boards catering to larger companies, many companies will choose simply to hire directly from their own website. It’s here that you’ll find the vast majority of openings, and while it will take some extra effort on your part, you can find hundreds of positions most folks have no idea exist.
Take a look at whatever’s in arms reach of you right now. Whatever it may be – from a pen to the plaster on the walls – it had to come from somewhere. It had to be fabricated, shipped, stored, sold, and so on, and any number of companies along that single line may have been involved. What are the chances that at least one of them his hiring right now? There are opportunities out there, you just need to know where (and how) to hunt for them. Just for example, let’s say you have a degree in journalism. The obvious choice might be working for the local paper, but what if they don’t have any positions you qualify for? Plenty of people would simply move to something else, but with just a little digging you can discover the company or media group that owns the paper. Maybe they’re hiring, or if they aren’t, they might have a subsidiary company doing the same kind of work. It sounds obvious, but you would be amazed at how many people never stray from the beaten path when it comes to job searching.
Rule IV: It’s Easier to Move Up than In
The last thing you want to hear as a recent graduate is that you should take a job outside of what you majored in. And that’s perfectly understandable. You’ve committed the last four or more years of your life (and an unholy amount of money) to specializing in something, and the idea of having to settle for anything less can be crushingly disappointing. Understand, however, it doesn’t have to be.
Filling an open position is an expensive and time-consuming process. Getting a degree is one thing and putting it into action is something else entirely, and many companies won’t want to take a risk on you and chance having to start the process all over again if you don’t work out. For that reason, it’s easier to get the job you want not by applying for it, but by starting off at a lower position and working your way into it.
Say you’re looking to do some kind of elder-care. Try looking up companies that provide that service and get in at any level you qualify for. Even if you have to spend a few months working in the kitchens, you’ll be able to make connections inside that company, prove yourself, and eventually transfer into the job you wanted in the first place. Less experience aside, companies would rather hire the devil they know than the devil they don’t, and at the very worst you’ll have managed to get some experience and pay out of it.
Rule V: Always Be Thinking Outside the Box
Again, it’s going to come down to looking where other people aren’t, and some unconventional thinking will be needed on our parts. Let’s say that you majored or minored in something a bit more obscure – equestrian studies, for example. The obvious career choice there would be to work at a stable of some kind, or a veterinary office specializing in the care of horses. Neither of those options are something we have a plethora of, and it’d be easy to become discouraged after not finding any openings.
But are those really the only options out there?
Try looking for an organization providing Equine-Assisted Therapy, that is, treatment through exposure and experience with horses. Try looking for some local historical attraction offering horseback tours.
No matter how stiff the competition gets, there’s always another place to look. Don’t give up, and above all else understand…
Rule VI: There’s No Replacement For Personal Contact
No matter how much the job market changes, one rule will always remain true: It’s not what you know, it’s who you know. We’re probably all sick of our parents and grandparents telling us that in their day they just walked in some place and asked for a job, but it did, and does, work. The hard truth is that anybody can put anything on an application, and there’s no way of knowing if any of it is true until the employer actually gets to see you.
So why wait?
I’m not saying that you can just call up a company and sit down with the boss, but what you can do is show your face. That and that alone will again make you stand head and shoulders above the competition. You walk in there and suddenly you’re not just a name, you’re a human being. And of course you can’t just leave it at that, try getting in contact with someone there. Professional networking sites such as LinkedIn are designed explicitly for this purpose, and provide a wealth of resources not only for making contacts, but providing an arena where asking for inside advice is not only expected but encouraged. You don’t push for a job (unless doing so would get you the job), but just try to start up a conversation. Ask folks about the best ways to enter the field, or if you’re looking to quickly make a personal connection, how they got into the field (people rarely refuse an invitation to talk about themselves). If you can, invite them to a 15 minute coffee break (I’ve yet to see anyone to turn down free coffee) to learn more about how to get started when you don’t have a ton of experience. Spin the conversation right, and you can even lead them into giving you an interview on the spot; and make no mistake, an interview is an interview, no matter how informal.
That’s what it takes. You don’t need to have family in there or even a friend who’s known you for a long time. You just need to know a little bit more than everyone else.
And now, you do.
Go get ‘em.