To all my fellow twenty-something-year-olds out there, if you’re feeling a tad displaced and rudderless, hear me when I say: you are not alone! I work in human resources, and in my role, I do a lot of recruiting and interviewing, and a lot of listening, empathizing, and encouraging when peers in my age group aren’t quite where they’d like to be career-wise a few years after graduation.
The challenges gen Y-ers and millennials face in 1) getting a college and/or graduate school education, and 2) leveraging said education to procure fruitful means of employment are real and not to be underestimated. Still, there are opportunities to be had and it’s up to us to ensure that the grim prognostications of cable news talking heads—that the future we young people are headed toward is one that will deprive us of opportunity and leave us jaded and unfulfilled—do not become our fate. I’ve benefited from the wisdom of a lot of wonderful people, and so I’m happy to share with you three golden nuggets of advice that will help you stand out to recruiters and admissions counselors alike:
1.) Nail the resume, and be a good self-advocate. While this one might seem obvious, I’ve stumbled across too many poorly written resumes to make any assumptions about the average job- or higher education-seeker. While your resume isn’t the be-all and end-all of your application, it does provide a high-level summary of your qualifications and may weigh heavily on a recruiter’s mind when they’re determining which applicants they might call upon for interviews. Do yourself a couple favors: tailor your resume to the job (or school) you’re applying to (one-size-fits-all doesn’t apply here), and proofread. Then proofread again. Spelling and grammatical errors don’t represent your talents; so don’t give recruiters the opportunity to think otherwise.
2.) Build your network. Even if your resume is solid and you’ve submitted a strong application, there’s a good chance that you’re competing with dozens of other well-qualified applicants vying for the same position. Moreover, when you’re a young applicant, you’re faced with a frustrating conundrum: you need experience to get to where you need to be, but most available jobs are looking for people who already have experience! Fortunately, in the year 2016, humans are blessed with more ways to connect with one another than ever before. Provided you’re smart about how you use your social media accounts (remember, as soon as you’ve posted something online, it’s as good as tattooed to your face), they can be a huge boon to your career-building efforts. Keep your eyes and ears open: you never know who you’ll meet and what doors they’ll open.
3.) Show, don’t tell. When a hiring manager conducts an interview, he or she is operating with a limited amount of time, during which they have to try to get to know the interviewee as best as they can. Words are hollow; while you might be an eloquent speaker, that doesn’t necessarily indicate how effectively you would be able to meet the requirements of the position, and your interviewer knows it. Help them out by providing specific examples to substantiate your points. Bring a portfolio of your work! (Alums of Purdue’s MS of Communications program graduate with illustrative portfolios!)
Making the transition from aspiring student to graduate to full-fledged, self-sufficient adult isn’t easy. Be strategic about how you approach career opportunities that come your way - don’t lose hope. Even if you feel trapped in a job that makes you miserable or a career lacking clear trajectory, there’s opportunity to be had for those who know how to look and persevere.
David Rund is an alumni of Purdue’s online Master of Science in Communication degree program. The program can be completed in just 20 months and covers numerous topics critical for advancement in the communication industry, including crisis communication, social media engagement, focus group planning and implementation, survey design and survey analysis, public relations theory, professional writing, and communication ethics.
*The views and opinions expressed are of the author and do not represent the Brian Lamb School of Communication.