I have been there once, in the 1980s, facing the worst economic recession, with no credentials, no experience, and little skills. What should a newly minted graduate job seeker do to boost possibilities today?
Those of you in my age category might remember this. In the 1980s, we faced one of the worst (if not the worst) economic recession. Jobs were hard to come by, and governments told people to tighten their belts and get realistic.
I applied for hundreds of jobs, most of them cold calls, others scoured through pages and pages of recruitment advertisements in the newspapers. I have applied for jobs ranging from trainee chefs, hotel frontline staff, back-office roles, cleanroom work, couriers, administrative work, and so on. I finally landed a job in a quasi-government agency, a laboratory assistant job that paid around US$300/month. It was a pay that allowed me very little room to wriggle, but hey, I was elated I landed a job. I reported to work happily every day, and started attending night school at the local polytechnic. My eventual career took dramatic turns that exploited my skills and talents to the maximum, but I appreciated my first real job in a laboratory right up to today.
I have traversed through careers in digital publishing, interactive media, training and development in manufacturing to finance, professional services, consulting, production management in advertising, local and international marketing, before founding a consulting business in the 1990s. I have been a consultant ever since, and enjoy it every day.
Having been in human capital development for quite a bit throughout my career, I understand what employment means. With the social and mobile media becoming the new frontiers of communication today, what should young job seekers freshly out of college do to boost their chances with employment, especially when we face yet another rehash of the worsening economy?
1) Language. One of the fundamental reasons why a candidate is not chosen, or even considered, is language. In many of the applications that I have read (for ourselves or for clients), poor spelling was a dead giveaway. With modern computing software from email clients to office productivity applications, automatic spell-checking can alleviate spelling errors. Therefore, if a candidate sends in an application littered with spelling errors, it would mean this candidate fails on both language and the ability to handle simple computer applications - a no-no in today's tech-savvy world.
2) Expectations. Quite a few of the applications I have observed showed no knowledge of the job the candidates applied for, and yet their expectations of remuneration was higher than what they could demonstrate (with no historical performance). It is best to leave salary expectations out of your application. If an employer must have you join his organization, he will pay you with a respectful remuneration commensurate with your background and expected deliverables.
3) Relevance. From my own experience in my younger years, apply for jobs that you can do, and will like to do. There is no point trying to apply for every job under the sun just because you need a job in the interim, hoping to land a job at the expense of an employer. If you are trained for a particular field, apply for jobs in those areas. If you intend to switch career tracks or do something completely different from what you studied for, be prepared to intern or start at the rock bottom with little expectations, and learn from the ground up with humility and persistence. Your earnest hard work and passion for learning will eventually pay off - but not just yet.
4) Branding. Social media has changed our world. In our time, an employee only finds visibility if they are frequently seen physically, whether in the frontline roles, or at trade expositions, or seminars and conferences. Today, anyone can have an online presence through social media or their own websites. For career seekers, build your online presence in a consistent and professional manner. You can use a public hosted system such as wordpress.com, or host with an affordable web host for your own website, to showcase your aspirations, your credentials, your portfolio, and your expressions (writings, photography, creative expressions, music compositions, videos, etc). However, remember that social media is a double-edged sword, and anything you put online will be almost eternal, archived somewhere in the world. If you banter a lot on social media platforms with frivolous talk or even contentious talk, that may bite you back later. Not having a social media presence or having "locked" presence may work against you too. Remember, you are your own personal brand. Build it consistently and wisely.
5) Courage. There are many jobs out there that some people may not like to do. For example, quite many people shy away from sales or performance-driven jobs. And yet, who isn't in sales really? As a public relations practitioner, I "sell" everyday. In all my previous jobs, every single one of them required me to "sell" something - whether it be tangible products, intangible services, or even an idea to peers within the companies. There are also jobs that seem mundane to some young people, but have good upside if you can stay the course and keep going. For example, field or frontline jobs are scorned at by some, but can bring you to the real battleground of business that will empower you later, and they can bring you up the career ladder. If you choose a particular job, know that the job would come with rules, advantages and disadvantages. If everyone is working long hours, you either fit in, or choose another job. If people extend courtesy to others, don't stick out by being the only glum face every day. There is no wrong job, just the wrong attitude.
6) Upgrade. The paper chase is escalating, and yet, skill sets keep changing. However, some skills are necessary and increasingly, mandatory. For example, in today's computing-centric world, if you learn coding skills, you would already put yourself ahead of your peers who do not code. If you know how to present and communicate well, again, you have put yourself in a more useful position for your employers or would-be employers. And if you learn a few languages, or master your native languages, you would also become more useful in today's increasingly connected world. In short, don't simply chase paper credentials because they often mean very little in the real world. Rather, gain real and field knowledge and skills that employers can tap on, and you have a better chance for employment or promotion. Never stop learning, and never lose the child-like curiosity.
7) Prudence. Prudence refers to many things. For candidates, there is nothing that damages your chances at securing a job if you are brash, rude, and inconsiderate. In the business world today, whether online or in real life, people appreciate courteous and respectful people who are capable of managing at least themselves. Prudence also refers to mundane little things that can shut off your chances at even securing a reading of your curriculum vitae. For example, some young candidates imagine email to be the "perfect" medium to transmit multi-megabyte (even tens of megabytes) of attachments without any consideration or prudence. Files need to be properly optimized, graphics made web-friendly, and emails should never be a pain for your recruiter or potential bosses to retrieve. Save big files for yourself.
Everybody goes through the rite of passage of life, and in a microscopic manner, building a career. There is no shortcut in life, as much as there is no shortcut in building a career. Work hard, learn furiously, keep positive, and you have already assured yourself of a happier journey ahead.