Among the sons and daughters of my friends are a ridiculous number of well-educated unemployed – or underemployed – young people. These are graduates from top schools who have had every advantage in life. They are smart and talented, with excellent social skills. They are hanging around watching Oprah on TV.
Yes, a bit part of the reason is the uncertain and changing nature of our economy. I don’t mean to minimize that. But there’s a larger problem, and I can sum it up in one word:
These kids don’t understand that the way you find a solid job is through other people. They don’t understand the power of networking, or what it takes to build and maintain a professional network.
Instead, they churn out letter after letter to every training program and job posting they can find. This is like playing the lottery, because 750 people apply for every opening. It’s not an utter waste of time, but it is darn close to it.
A far better approach is to get up every day and reach out to other people that you know, or to the contacts of people you know.
Many recent grads don’t want to do this. Perhaps it seems fuzzy, or incomprehensible, or too personal. I don’t know. All I know is that it works 100 times better than anonymous application processes.
Let’s get specific. If you know someone struggling to find a job, forward this list to them and urge them to do one or more of these activities every single day. All will expose grads to other people who can lead them to meaningful work…
Be generous: Before you get into your “gotta find a job” mindset, take some time to consider how you can help other people. Look for articles or information that others might find valuable, and forward the resource to them. Share knowledge on social media. Do someone a favor. Be “other” focused.
Be expert: Recent grads get obsessed with figuring out what they want to do with their careers, but the truth is you won’t know this for years to come. Instead, focus on becoming expert at one or two things. These can be very simple, very basic things, like making a 30-second video, building a simple website, or conducting thorough research The important thing is that you are good enough at something that other people can recommend you.
Be trustworthy: Especially when meeting you for the first time, other people look for clues whether you are someone they can trust. (Being smart is not the same thing as being trustworthy.) Make certain your clothes, online presence, posture and conversational style provide people with positive clues. I’m not suggesting you pretend to be someone else, just that you be the most credible possible version of yourself.
Be clear: Every time you reach out to another person, have one intention – and one message – in mind. People get confused by grads who are all over the map. “I like surfing, but I’m really worried about starvation in Africa. I’m good with numbers, but I hate being stuck indoors all day. Have you seen Lucy? I love that movie, even though it’s sorta weird.”
Don’t be that person. Instead, try: I want to learn more about what you do and why you are so good at it.
Be open-minded: If your professor, friend, neighbor, parent or local elected official suggests that you go meet someone, do it, even if you can’t understand why you would possibly drive 90 minutes to meet a random stranger. Other people see connections and possibilities that you do not. This is not because they are smarter than you; it is because they are not you.
Be adaptable: You might be obsessed with living in Manhattan and working in fashion, but to get out of your parents’ basement you might have to live in Nashville and be the personal assistant to a best-selling author. Life seldom offers us straight paths to the things we think we want; be willing to travel along winding paths, because your alternative is to remain stuck in one place.
Be persistent: Meet someone new every day. Reach out to actual people, not training programs. Help other people. Do this day after day, week after week, month after month. Don’t get frustrated and whiny and ask your parents how long you have to do this. You have to do this for the rest of your life, because other people are the source of all richness in life.
Be present: In my experience, most people who ask for guidance only listen to about 30% of the guidance offered to them. They literally walk away from a conversation having missed most of the important insights, because they are too distracted to listen. The best advice ever given isn’t “wear sunscreen”, it is: pay attention! When someone talks, listen. Forget about the past, ignore the future, and be 100% focused on right here, right now.