By Joshua Mathieu
One of the most exciting accomplishments we can witness at the Peer Resource Center, a one-stop shop for transition-aged youth ages 16-25, is when a young adult gains employment. Whether our youth are seeking their first job ever (Wahoo!) or looking to try new things, it’s always a good idea to freshen them up on job-search techniques. Here are six helpful tips to get any youth looking for employment started:
- Know that the Resume is still King. Yes, you need a resume. Yes, it needs to look nice and be error-free. Yes, your contact information needs to be current; how else are potential employers going to get in touch with you? No, it doesn’t need to be five pages; one will be just fine. Yes, you should use action verbs in your descriptions, like “managed the checkout” instead of “was a cashier.” No, please don’t lie – ever. Yes, you should always have your resume in your email or cloud drive, saved for safekeeping and easy access anywhere.
- However, You’ll Have to Customize that Resume. Now that you just scribbled your entire life’s professional and personal experiences in under 500 words, instead of relying on a single resume, you should tailor your resume to the specific employer you are applying to. (The main resume is the template you work off of, so it is still crucial.) You want to match the new position as closely as possible so you can highlight your previous work that emphasizes why you would be a good fit. A common question I get is, “Do I have to put that job on my resume?” The answer is no. It is entirely up to you what job history you want to include on any resume, but be aware that excluding extended work experience may have an interviewer wondering about the gaps.
- Get Yourself Covered. You may be asking yourself, “Do I really need a cover letter?” or maybe even “What is a cover letter?” I’m glad you asked. A cover letter is…wait for it…a letter that covers your resume. It is a document that introduces you to the employer and lets them know why you are a great fit for the position. You don’t have to go crazy with it – it should only be about three paragraphs long. Remember that an employer is only going to spend a precious few seconds looking over your application, so you want to get right to the point. Now as to whether or not you need one, the answer is yes. Unless otherwise directed, you should include a cover letter because it is a way to quickly summarize and showcase your talents and skills and communicates to the employer that you are willing to take the time to apply to the job correctly.
- Think Quality, not Quantity, When Applying for Jobs. Common thinking may suggest that you need to complete as many applications as possible as fast as possible. And it’s easy to see why one might think this strategy would work — “I applied to 387 jobs; I have to get at least one of them.” In reality, you will have much better luck if you do a focused job search on positions most relevant to you and match your qualifications more fully. You won’t be wasting your time applying to jobs you are only half-interested in or may not be qualified for.
- Follow up After Every Job Application. In a survey of human resource managers, what percentage recommend following up an application with either an email or phone call? One hundred percent, even though they differ on how long to wait, with 43% stating one – two weeks is best. Go ahead and write that email (46% prefer this method) or make that phone call (39% prefer this method). (By the way, only two percent of human resources say they prefer text messages, which are seen as unprofessional.) When drafting an email or calling, keep in mind, you don’t want to seem pushy or rude. A sample script: “Hello, My name is ____ and I applied for the position of _____ a week ago. I am still very interested in the position and am checking in to see if interviews are available. Do you need any additional information from me? Thank you very much for your time.” When you do get an answer, no matter the outcome – even if it’s a rejection — be respectful in your response.
- Once You Get an Interview, Prep for the Trip. If you do get a job interview, guess what is one of the most common mistakes a job seeker can make? Arriving late. People fail to research the logistics of getting to an interview, and wind up behind time. If possible, I suggest making a visit to your interview location in the days leading up to your interview. Map out your bus route or street directions ahead of time. (Did you know you can use Google Maps “arrive at” feature to estimate travel times for specific dates and time of day?) Are there any special instructions to note such as a suite number, using the elevator, signing in at the front desk, or a secret knock pattern or passcode needed to get in? (Just joking on this last part). If you are unable to visit in person, you can do so virtually, again using Google Maps, this time their “street view” feature (I promise this tip isn’t sponsored by Google!). Recognizing the appearance of the exterior entrance will let you know you are exactly where you need to be.
- Follow This Number One Rule During the Interview: Have a positive outlook and willingness to work hard because these traits will go a long way toward landing you that job. I talk to managers all the time who say they are willing to train and teach all the skills. Lack of skills is not the problem. If you are willing to learn and work hard, make sure you express that. Let the employer know you will do whatever it takes, that you have passion, and that you will do the absolute best you can. That doesn’t mean you have to lie or be fake. Just be yourself and be confident.
These tips are just a start. There is a world of information out there ready to help youth become the best applicant, candidate, and employee. (A few websites to visit: www.cacareerzone.org/, www.careeronestop.org/GetMyFuture/default.aspx or www.apprenticeship.gov/apprenticeship-finder/listings.) And at the Peer Resource Center, we are ready to help them explore that world. Our job is not only to help get youth jobs, but to help them realize they had the ability within them all along.
Joshua Mathieu serves as a workforce development specialist at Hillsides’ Youth Moving On (YMO) program in Pasadena, California. As a Transitional-Aged Youth (TAY) Collaborative master facilitator, Joshua facilitates a job readiness curriculum and workshops at community centers, colleges, high schools, and libraries as well as provides training. While managing YMO’s Internship Program, Joshua matches youth to community business partners and oversees their progress and development of employment skills. Joshua began at Hillsides in 2010 and has a bachelor of science in International and Community Development from Indiana Wesleyan University.