The job market has been tough for just about everybody, but for certain segments of the population—including Generation Y—it has been particularly unwelcoming. According to the Pew Research Center, 37 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds have been unemployed or underemployed since the recession began in December 2007. Members of this generation—also called "Millennials"—are sometimes a hard sell to employers, who see them as needy, entitled, and not loyal. Gen Yers are cheaper for companies to employ, of course, but they're also competing with far more experienced candidates for entry-level jobs. "If you're at the bottom of the totem pole, you can get squeezed off of it," says Dion Lim, president and chief operating officer of job-search engine SimplyHired.com.
Still, companies are evolving in ways that benefit Generation Y, says Jenny Floren, founder and CEO of Experience.com, a site that aims to help college students transition into the working world. In her new book, The Innovation Generation: The Gen Y Way & How New Thinking Can Reclaim the American Dream, Floren lays out the unique skills and characteristics Millennials bring to the workplace, including a global perspective, collaborativeness, and a "why not?" attitude. "For the most part, employers need a huge wake-up call on this topic. We're still looking at the entry-level talent pool as a cost, as something we have to invest in, as an expense," Floren says. " But this new type of talent is the key to innovation." With that in mind, here's some advice from the experts about how Gen Yers can best present themselves to prospective employers:
Remember, it's not all about you. Of course you'll want to showcase your skills and talents on your resume, cover letter, and in an interview, but it's vital that you don't stop there. Even more important is showing a prospective employer how your unique skills match their needs. "One of the worst things you can say in your cover letter is, 'I want to learn,'" because companies are more interested in how you can help them achieve success, says Lindsey Pollak, corporate consultant, public speaker, and author of Getting from College to Career: 90 Things to Do Before You Join the Real World. "I often tell students to cut as many 'I's out their resumes as possible." Research the company to which you're applying, and use the information to position yourself as a good match for the job.
Learn how to interpret job postings. These days, many job postings suffer from information overload, particularly in the "requirements" section of the posting, says Floren. "It is extremely common to see postings that list so many requirements that your odds of finding all of them in one person are slim to none." For example, she says, an employer might ask for both an "excellent team player" and "independent self-starter," or "strong leadership skills" and "meticulous attention to detail." The takeaway: Sometimes, a company's slate of requirements for a position is more of a wish list. So don't automatically dismiss a job posting, for example, just because it says candidates should have three years of experience in the field (and you don't). "It's not the elapsed time that employers really want, it's proficiency—and the lazy way to identify proficiency is by counting the years of experience," she says. On the other hand, if the posting says candidates must have three years of experience, "it's a sign that this particular employer is likely to screen you out ... which is unfortunate and nonsensical on many levels, but true," says Floren.
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Stress your ability to multitask and communicate efficiently. Employers want candidates who are adept in juggling various projects and quick to respond to feedback, and as a Gen Yer, these skills probably come naturally. One way to communicate this to employers is to describe yourself as being "incredibly responsive," says Lim. "You've grown up in a way in that you expect and are expected to respond quickly, and [are] able to be reached via phone, IM, status updates." You might also demonstrate how you share information, perhaps by showing an employer 10 or 15 articles you've broadcasted via Twitter or Facebook (perhaps about the industry you're hoping to work in).
Make social media a selling point. Depending on the type of jobs you're applying for, your knowledge of social media could be the thing that sets you apart from other, more experienced candidates. "A nice approach would be to present ideas to the people you're interviewing with about how the company could leverage social networking and use new technologies," says Lim. "Many companies right now still do not know how to take advantage of the 500 million people on Facebook. This is a clear way to differentiate yourself." If your prospective employer is already savvy in social media, Pollak suggests subscribing to its Twitter feed to "find out what they're talking about; what's important to them," and use this knowledge in the interview. "Companies don't want to train you—they want you to hit the ground running. It really puts you in a position of almost looking like a colleague already," she says.
Be creative in articulating your skills. "A lot of times, Millennials entering the working world don't know how to translate what they've done into what employers are look for," says Floren. For example, if a job posting calls for leadership skills, think beyond the obvious. You may have never been the president of anything, but "maybe you were a camp counselor or you're the oldest child," she says. "There are a lot of ways leadership can be expressed." Employers aren't necessarily looking for someone who's managed a department—sometimes they're just looking for potential.
Don't forget etiquette. Seemingly little things, like leaving your cell phone on the table, can hurt you in an interview, says Pollak. Follow interview etiquette to the letter. Be prompt—but don't go overboard. "A lot of recruiters say it's annoying when candidates show up too early," she says. Thank-you notes are still very important, and Pollak says within today's corporate culture, E-mail is acceptable: "I'm a big fan of sending it the same day. If the interview was at 10:00, I would love to see a note before 5:00."