Job hunting isn’t an innate skill. You’re expected to learn how to find a job by experience.
This is how it’s always been: in high school you get a part-time job and make a ton of mistakes, and once you’re ready for a career path you know how to look for something. How to interview. How to shake hands (avoiding the dreaded “limp fish” syndrome), how to manage your eye contact, how to network. You’re never taught this stuff in school. You learn by doing.
Which is great. The “monkey-see-monkey-do” mentality of the job hunt has worked well for thousands of years, since the first zitty caveman tagged along next to a well-established hunter and emulated his leadership skills. From apprenticeships to internships, this has worked well.
So here’s the problem: we’re breaking that system, and it’s not working any more.
The economy is in shambles. It’s no secret that college students are now doing the jobs high schoolers used to take. And it’s no secret that high school students are under more pressure than ever: the pressure of college admission shames anyone with less than a 4.0 GPA. And since that 4.0 is no longer enough to get into a school on its own, extracurricular activities (plural) are an absolute necessity.
School is full-time work and there aren’t any paying jobs available anyway. Side effect: high school students of certain demographics take fewer jobs.
Side effect: when that demographic graduates college, they don’t have that experience in the job hunt.
Side effect: not only is the market flooded with over-experienced graduates, it’s flooded with people who don’t know how to find jobs in the first place.
So here’s how I do it.
Assessing your skills
An overwhelming mindset among college graduates: you have to fit your resume and experience to whatever jobs you apply for. That’s only partly true: yes, you want to target your resume, but you also need to know how to apply for jobs you’re actually qualified to hold.
Before you even start looking for a job, sit down with your resume and do a thorough assessment of what you can actually do. Are you a good writer? Are you a talented designer? How’s your organization, your people skills? Don’t be humble about this: it doesn’t matter if someone else can do it better. If you can do it, it counts.
After that, sit down and see what skills you want to learn. Or what skills you know a little bit about, but aren’t confident in. These are what you’ll work on when you’re unemployed, or in your spare time: two hours every weekend to learn a little Spanish, or to play around in Python, is better than watching Family Guy for the thousandth time. A lot of people in my demographic may have more undeveloped skills than confident ones. That’s OK.
If you don’t have any skills– which is becoming more and more of a common problem– apply to flexible jobs. Apply to jobs that give you the time to build the skills you want to build. And then pick something– just one thing– and devote a month to it. If you like it, stick with it. If you hate it, devote the next month to something new.
But never stop learning.
Finding something that fits
Once you have an idea of what you can do, look at listings. Online, in a newspaper, whatever. Don’t narrow it down just yet: look at everything. See what jobs need what skills you have, particularly unexpected ones. Make note of them. Set the titles aside for later. Look for jobs that include the skills you want to learn: what other skills do those jobs require? Could you learn them? Do they appear in jobs you’re qualified for?
Ask your friends and family: “Hey, I’m looking for a job that involves [insert skill here], do you know of anyone I could talk to?”
Additionally: what do you need to be paid? Where do you actually want to work?
If you see anything you’re qualified for or something you really like, apply. But don’t stop looking.
Second, take the titles you set aside. Look for similar postings. Some you may be more qualified for than others; some may pay more. Apply to everything you have a chance of getting and think you’d like.
Then go back to the skills assessment and repeat.
Do your research
I’m not going to put a section in here on how to handle an interview: there is a ton of literature on that. Once you get a call back, you’re no longer on your own.
But be sure you do read that literature. Read up on how to make a good impression. Read up on the company that called you back. Read up on what you’ll be doing. Make sure you have questions to ask. And remember: an interview is not a job offer, so don’t stop looking elsewhere.
Here’s the hard part: it’s really easy to get lost in the preparatory steps and never actually apply. Work on your time management: how urgent is this? Should you be sending in an application a day? Two? Three? Or is one a week enough? How long will your assessment of yourself take? Then, before you sit back and say you’ll do it tomorrow: write yourself a schedule. If you suck at schedules, give yourself a to-do list.
If you’re really hurting for time management, there are tons of tools online. My favorite is Habit RPG, which turns your to-do list into a video game. But however you do it: make sure you actually get this done.
And what if I have no usable skills? Or have no idea what I want to do?
If you have no usable skills, get one. This advice goes for people who are already employed, too: if you aren’t where you want to be, use your spare time to build employable skills.
It doesn’t have to be your passion, it doesn’t have to be something you want to do for the rest of your life. Decent Excel skills take about ten minutes to learn and take you far. There’s no reason not to know a language: pick one that’s prominent in your area and give it an hour a day. Programming and math skills are about the same. There are a thousand articles out there about the up-and-coming skills of today: give “10 skills I need to know” a Google and see what you find.
Pick something and give it an hour a day for a month of your time.
Failing any of that, start searching for volunteer opportunities. This is a great way to get around the whole experience trap: you don’t need experience to be a volunteer and you only need a year or two to put on a resume.
Here’s the thing: sitting around complaining about how you have no skills and no experience is exactly the way to end up in a dead-end job forever. It’s also exactly the way to never find your passion. If you don’t know what you want to do, start trying stuff at random until you find something you like.
And failing that, an hour a day towards a lucrative skill is nothing to argue with. If you have no passions, hate the world, and want nothing out of life, you can at least work towards making money.
P.S.: If you have no passions, hate the world, and want nothing out of life, please give your insurance a call and see what therapists your policy covers. Depression doesn’t mean you’re sad all the time: it can also be an absence of happiness or enthusiasm, or an excess of anger. For a great description, please read this excellent blog post and it’s excellent part two.