The economy has been tough for most people. But according to some employment figures, young adults are having an especially hard time. Census data from September shows that employment for people ages 16 to 29 is now at 55.3 percent, down from 67.3 percent in 2000. This is the lowest level since World War II. But the numbers get worse: Nearly one out of five people in this age group is at risk of living in poverty, and the number of people ages 25 to 34 living with their parents is 5.9 million — a 25 percent increase since before the recession. We talked to Rebecca Rapple, a 20-something resume consultant and career coach specializing in members of Generation Y. Every day, she helps young adults overcome the challenges of obtaining their dream careers.
Q: What challenges do today's young adults face that previous generations of recent grads did not?
A: Young job seekers are entering the market in a time of major economic downturn while facing a sea of fellow applicants of unparalleled size. Much of this stems from the fact that applying to companies has gotten so much easier. With a few clicks of a button you can send in your resume through email or an online form. When you add to these trends the fact that young people today are willing to relocate across the country or world for a job, employers literally receive hundreds of applications for each opening. This means that more than ever before, young applicants have to stand out — both to computer-sorting systems and their human counterparts.
Q: What are common mistakes young adults make when job hunting?
A: I see two common mistakes from young job seekers:
One, they don't know what they want. Even if you don't know what you want to do for your life (very few people do!), employers want to be confident that you want their job. This means that you need to be specific and targeted about your desires, and frame the story of your experience and resume around pursuing the thing you are applying for. For example, if you are applying for a marketing position, you could position the art history classes you took in college as supporting your desire to understand the history of visual communication, even if you really just happen to like art history.
The other mistake younger people make is opting for quantity over quality. Sending out 100 resumes rarely works, especially when you are young and have few quantifiable skills. Blasting out mass quantities of resumes is not a path to success. It is much more effective to target a handful of high-value opportunities and invest your time and resources in customizing your application process. This means taking time to research the company to find out how you can help them achieve their goals. Target and personalize your resume for that particular position and organization and build relationships there. Targeting a few places with a lot of effort is more likely to pay off.
Q: What advice do you offer to this group regarding resume writing and other aspects of job searching and career development?
A: I have so many pieces of advice for this group! Here are four quick ones to start:
1. It's not about you; it's about them. This means thinking about your resume from the perspective of "What would be most valuable for them?" rather than, "What is most impressive about me?" It also means that you need to be very clear about what success looks like for your employer and make sure to emphasize how you will help them achieve that success.
2. Stand out effectively. When competing with hundreds of other applicants, you need to identify how you are — or could be — unique. This might include highlighting your ability to build relationships at the company or showcasing a unique experience that will help you be more effective at work. One of my clients got hired as a sales guy because on his resume he wrote, "Ask me how I double a bill," under his experience as a waiter. The hiring manager was curious, and he sealed the deal in the interview.
3. What's your story? Just like the art history class example, it's important to craft a compelling anecdote for each item on your resume, and state how each item contributes to an overarching story about why you are the best candidate for the job.
4. Showcase your knowledge and ability to adapt to technology. Gen Y has a major leg up on older generations in that we are digital natives. Embrace this aspect of your youth and use it to your advantage.