Throughout my college years and the search for my first job out of school, I have been repeatedly complimented “Layston, you’re young and smart, you’ll have no problem landing a job.”
Albeit well intentioned, the compliment did not mitigate the sting of the next rejection email or hiring managers’ ghosting; nor did it build my confidence when entry level positions required three to five years of experience and specialization in niche industries.
It took nearly two years of searching and hustling to finally (and luckily) transition into my first full-time job out of school.
My onerous experience of being young in the job search during difficult times is certainly not unique to me. Many millennials graduated into a great recession and now early Gen-Zers graduated into the COVID-19 Era. I thought youth would be an asset, but with time, it felt more like a hindrance when COVID added so many talented, highly experienced unemployed individuals into the job search pool. Several of my friends who recently graduated have landed; however, some are still on the hunt and facing these same issues.
Here are two major obstacles that most young job seekers’ face and how I personally overcame them. Please consider how these might help you.
Companies Want Certainty.
In the face of unprecedented change, companies’ risk tolerance plummeted: hiring froze, layoffs sent people into the job search competition in droves, and job application requirements skyrocketed.
I was abroad when COVID hit. When I returned home, I found myself unemployed. During my search, I found hiring managers cared little about how I graduated magna cum laude because I wasn’t already established in any field. It didn’t matter how many internships I had because these were considered as “real” experiences very rarely. It didn’t matter what skills I was currently building because I was never as highly skilled as the competing candidate that had three-plus years of “real world” experience for an entry level position.
It felt like I was never enough for these companies. I received feedback that my experience was too diverse. I came across as a “Jack of All Trades, Master of None.” I was not a “safe” choice compared to other interviewees.
How am I supposed to know where I see myself in five years when a global pandemic flipped my
life upside down in the matter of two months?
I’ll never get that answer, but I did find two things that worked in my favor:
- I got a stable part-time job, and
- I found the people and job opportunities that saw my strengths and experience as assets and not as liabilities.
The part-time job did several wonders for me: I used my free time to explore my career path options, definitively brand myself, and hone my career specific and job search skills. I also found myself less desperate for the next application or interview to be “the one” that lands me in my next role.
It only takes one yes amongst the hundreds of “no’s.” My part-time job gave me the momentum, confidence, and clarity that developed me into a more certain choice for someone to say “yes” to me.
My current boss recognizes my unique experiences, love for learning, and my resourcefulness as all positives. For an established startup company, my “Jack of All Trades” is seen as an asset.
Building a Network from Nothing
This is a particular issue for younger people. Job seekers with more experience and fully-developed skills can rely on their professional connections, community relationships, or long-lasting friendships. Young job seekers’ networks are mostly rooted in school and family.
It may not be starting with nothing, but it can feel that way.
When I returned home unexpectedly, I felt inexplicably lost. I was continuously reminded how important networking was, but never given advice on how to start. In business school I was always told the hackneyed adage, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” Networking seemed like a tool used amongst salesmen and sororities. I always felt that these people knew something that I didn’t.
Eventually, I found my grounding and started small to build my network to what it is today by:
- Joining online networking groups
- Starting with family and close friends
- Branching out to former classmates, LinkedIn connections, family friends, and then
- Extending to alumni, people working in my target companies, and anyone of interest
Ultimately, it took continuous practice for networking to feel less foreign. Networking proved to be simply forming new relationships and developing a true connection – not a sales pitch.
As a young job seeker, I found there were so many people willing to help, I just had to ask. Older people enjoy imparting their wisdom or sharing how they got started in their career. Younger and employed people react well when you have a LinkedIn connection or hobby in common, while other job seekers love to support you in your journey in any way they can.
My current job was one of the 70 percent of jobs that go unpublished (CNBC). I learned about it through a past member of a networking group we both attended. We had caught up two or three times since first connecting in early 2020 and I had introduced him with one of my own LinkedIn connections that worked out well.
I had successfully fulfilled the final steps of networking: continuing the relationship and leaving a positive, lasting impression.
The job search is grueling. It’s hard to know how much age affects young job seekers in the hunt and interview process. Rejections could be the result of timing, luck, skill level and cultural fit, interview performance, or discrimination. It’s nearly impossible to parse out, especially if it’s a mix of reasons.
All we can do as young job seekers is work with what we can control. Defining our brand and building our network are two major ways to maximize our chances at finding the right fit.
There are always options to enter the gig economy, start a business, monetize a hobby, or continue the search for a 9-5. In the end, we define what success looks like to us. Instead of defeating ourselves to the challenges we face, we can take the reins and charge ahead in what feels like the best path forward.
For me, right now it’s exploring this new job and I’m excited to see where it takes me. I hope you find ways to enjoy your own journey.
About The Author
Layston Badham is the innovation operations manager for a boutique innovation workshop and consulting firm. A globe-trotter and experienced marketing a business consultant for scale-up organizations, she has worked in the U.S., Asia, and Africa. During the 2020 lockdown, she co-founded the “Young Job Seekers Club,” a biweekly support group for first time and early career job seekers. She recently relocated to Brooklyn, N.Y.