Job Hunting: 7 Things Every 20-Something Needs to Know

Last Updated Oct 19, 2011 8:32 AM EDT

The job market is bad for everyone, but for 20-somethings -- with high student loans and low levels of experience -- it's downright dismal. "The fact is that right now, young adults are facing historically high unemployment and one of the toughest job markets since the end of World War II," says Paul T. Conway, President of Generation Opportunity, a nonprofit organization created to mobilize the so-called "Millennial" generation in the workforce.

Being well-prepared to fight for the jobs that are available is half the battle. Here are 7 things any relatively recent grad should know before job-hunting:

1. There Is Some Good News While jobs might not be jumping out to greet you as you step off the graduation stage, they will be there soon, says Margaret Morford, a management consultant and former human resources executive. "I can't say you shouldn't be scared. Everyone worries about spending four years with nothing. But as the baby boomers retire, it is going to be an employees' market," says Morford.

2. Your Dream Job Isn't the Only Job Your dream job may open up in a few months (or a year or two, depending on the industry) -- but don't just sit around waiting for it. Instead, focus now on building your resume. "When jobs open up you want some experience behind you, not just an education, so get out and get some kind of job," says Morford.

If you need to, connect the dots for interviewers. For instance, if your goal is a sales job at a media company, and you're selling clothing at The Limited, talk about the skills that you've learned that will transfer. "You can say, 'Is this what I expected to be doing? No, but I am a hard worker and didn't want to sit out on the sidelines and wait for a job,'" says Morford.

3. Interview Questions Are Different It may be natural to compare a potential boss to a teacher, grading you on your answers. But you'll need a very different conversational style -- a much more concise one -- in a job interview.

"In college you further develop and practice the skill of learning to absorb complex information, develop an understanding of what it means, theorize about the practical implications, and then express your viewpoint," says Conway. "A successful job interview involves all of those elements -- as well as the ability to succinctly state how your skills are directly relevant to the mission [of the organization]."

4. Always Be Interviewing
Never put all your eggs in one basket, says Conway: "Learn to keep moving and keep interviewing for multiple opportunities, so you are never in the position of waiting for one callback." Worst-case scenario: You'll wind up having to decide between two great opportunities.

5. Tech Skills Can Make Up for Inexperience For instance: "Nobody understand social media better than people coming out of college today," says Morford. Hiring managers know this -- so use it as an asset by remembering to list any particular technology or social media skills on your website. (And, yes, you should have a website.) You may be competing against people with a decade or two more experience, but concrete skills can help level that playing field.

6. Grad School Isn't a Safety Net "No one should ever go back to school just because they have time on their hands," says Tracy Brisson, Founder and CEO, The Opportunities Project. "Every career decision comes down a cost/benefit analysis. If you truly think that going to graduate school is going to increase your earnings ... you may decide that this is the path you should take." If that isn't the case, though, freelancing, volunteering or taking a job that isn't a perfect match but will help you get your dream gig may be a more economically and time-efficient plan.

7. There Is a Silver Lining in Failure
Been interviewing for months and haven't found a position? Don't assume that you didn't get a call back because of your own abilities, says Conway: "Some things are more easily explained by the workload or internal processes of the interviewer."

And even if it's hard, try to look on the bright side. "Think to yourself how much better you are interviewing for jobs now that you have done 10 interviews," says Conway. "That alone is great experience."

What are your best tips for 20-something job-hunting? Please share in the comments below.
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    Amy Levin-Epstein is a freelance writer who has been published in dozens of magazines (including Glamour, Self and Redbook), websites (including AOLHealth.com, Babble.com and Details.com) and newspapers (including The New York Post and the Boston Globe). To read more of her writing, visit AmyLevinEpstein.com.

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