“What’s the one thing I need to do to stand out among so many applicants?”
Of course, I rarely know the person asking the question (their passions, chosen major, career goals, etc.) so I usually answer the question with questions. I then present a response for that person based on the information collected from that person.
From this point forward, though… I’m going to change my answer. I’m going to change the way I answer.
Why? Because many young careerists are “woefully unprepared” to enter the workforce. They still believe all they need to find work is a decent resume. They absolutely do not put enough effort into the new basics as dictated by our new economy.
The good news: those willing to work hard can take advantage of a sad trend. By hustling just a little bit, and by dedicating a little time each week to career development fundamentals, they can easily surpass their job-seeking competition.
What are those basics? Let’s run down the list – and include how many candidates, based on both formal and anecdotal experience, actually put in the effort to reach these minimum requirements…
Complete an Internship… or Six (2 in 5)
We know that 9 out of 10 direct-from-college hires go to those with internship experience on their resumes. We know that to even be considered for an internship (let alone a job) at many high-profile companies (Google and AOL, for example) an applicant must already have 3 or 4 internships under their belt. We know that employers look for entry-level talent with real-world experience. But only 40% of candidates bother to get even one internship?
The One Thing: Lose the “internships are not mandatory” attitude. If you want a real job, at a real company, within your chosen career field… complete at least one high-impact internship for every year you’re in college.
Complete a LinkedIn Profile (1 in 3)
According to a recent survey by Millennial Branding, less than 40% of recent graduates have a profile on LinkedIn. Granted, at less than 200 respondents, the survey size was quite small. However, there is real-world evidence to suggest the percentage of recent grads on LinkedIn is even lower. This includes a recent workshop YouTern completed at a university where I asked the 100+ students (95% of whom were seniors) how many were on LinkedIn. Only 4 – four – raised their hands.
The One Thing: Over 90% of recruiters use LinkedIn to source and research candidates. If you aren’t on LinkedIn… you don’t exist.
Join a Professional or Industry Association (1 in 5)
That same survey by Millennial Branding said that about 78% of respondents had not yet joined a professional development or industry-related association. From this, we can infer that those young careerists are behind on not just networking skills, but also are far less likely to have established a mentor relationship with an influencer – or gained any hands-on experience in their industry.
The One Thing: After doing some research (LinkedIn Groups and Googling keywords <Industry or Job Title> is a great place to start): Get involved! Network with influencers. Become known.
Discover a Unique Value Proposition (1 in 10)
Few young careerists know what they are really good at, right now. They don’t know specifically how they’ll help a company grow. They don’t know how to sell… themselves. They come across as clones of every other applicant; they give off the “I’ll take anything” scent that destroys recruiters’ confidence in them.
The One Thing: Take some quiet time and write down the 5 words – just five words – that describe your unique value proposition. Avoid phrases like “hard worker” or “detail oriented” – anyone can say that crap (and they do). Instead, focus your mini-elevator-pitch on your best professional skills. Then try that 5-word phrase on a mentor, professor or objective friend. Rinse and repeat until you get that “a-ha, that’s it!” moment. You’ll know when you’re done.
Schedule Informational Interviews (1 in 40)
Informational interviews are amazing. Amazing networking. Amazing industry research. Amazing confidence builders. And yet maybe 2.5% of all careerists take advantage of the opportunity to sit down for 15 minutes with an influencer already working within their career choice.
The One Thing: Through the professional association you joined, or maybe through social media or LinkedIn, find a professional you respect… and ask for a 15 minute coffee meeting or Skype call. Does this work? Yes! Just ask Ben Paul.
Exhibit Expertise and/or Passion (1 in 50)
Employers – including some who would wholeheartedly agree that young careerists are “woeful” as they enter the workforce – and are universally impressed by a candidate who already walks the walk and talks the talk. They may have read a blog post by the candidate. They might have retweeted a candidate’s clever comment during a Twitter chat. Or, they may remember them from their industry’s annual conference. Point is: they already know the candidate from their work or demonstrated passion. Guess who gets the interview?
The One Thing: Be seen! Through blogging (not a writer?… then comment!), social media (LinkedIn Groups are gold!) or in-person… show that you’re already thinking about your career – and are a do-er and contributor.
Deliver Thank You Notes (1 in 100)
This may seem silly in our digital age; but “old school” is new again, at least when it comes to thank you notes. Why? Because a hand-written note can have a significant impact on recruiters. I’ve probably interviewed 1,000 applicants in the last few years. About 10 of them sent thank you notes. About 5 of those were offered the job. NOT because of the thank you note themselves; there were many other factors involved with each decision. However, those applicants knew how the game was played… and they knew how to win.
The One Thing: Go to Office Depot, buy a box of thank you cards and execute!
The data (and some objective experiential anecdotes) don’t lie: many young careerists don’t complete the “new job search basics” Their job hunt will undoubtedly be long and difficult.
By completing just one of these minimal-effort-required “One Thing” fundamentals, however, you’ll quickly race ahead of your would-be competition. Take the time to do all seven, and do them well… and you’ll have little trouble being employed in 2013.
About the Author: CEO and Founder of YouTern, Mark Babbitt is a serial entrepreneur and mentor. Mark has been quoted in the Wall Street Journal, Mashable, Forbes and Under30CEO.com regarding job search, career development, internships and higher education’s role in preparing emerging talent for the workforce. A keynote speaker and blogger, Mark’s contributions include Huffington Post, 12Most.com, The Daily Muse, Alltop, PRDaily, StudentBranding.com and Intern Advocate.
Mark has been honored to be named to GenJuice’s list of “Top 100 Most Desirable Mentors” and was recently featured on HR Examiner’s “Top 25 Trendspotters in HR” and several top blogger lists, including JobMob’s “Top Career Bloggers of 2011”. Contact Mark via email or on Twitter!