A recent New York Times article titled "American Dream Is Elusive for New Generation" created a massive buzz throughout the online world. The story, written by Louis Uchitelle, questioned young people's ability to share in the fabled American dream. It revealed discouraging statistics such as an unemployment rate of 14 percent for Millennials, ages 18 to 29. I've seen numerous other articles and blog posts in the past year with a negative outlook for a generation with so much promise.
But don't listen to all the bleak forecasts. Instead, get out there and jump-start your career. If you have talent, you can find opportunity. Here's my advice for entry-level professionals.
1. Think Internship, Even If You've Already Done One—or Two
Internships are crucial to a successful job search. The National Association of Colleges & Employers reported that 42.3 percent of 2010 graduating seniors with internship experience received at least one job offer. The smartest thing I did in college was take eight internships throughout the entire marketing field, from advertising to marketing research, at both large and small corporations. I worked at a small promotional products company in the operations department until I spoke up and started designing brochures for its clients. Instead of doing work that wasn't relevant to my major, I pursued other projects, where I could offer more value and do work I was passionate about.
I also recommend working for at least one "brand-name" company, such as GE (GE) or MTV (VIA), before you graduate, even if the internship doesn't come with a salary. During my job interviews I noticed that despite the amount of experience I was accumulating at the small firms I worked for, hiring managers were more interested in the big brands, such as Reebok (ADS:GR) and LoJack (LOJN), on my résumé. Why? They are already familiar with those companies and trust their reputations. From this experience, I learned that brands open doors.
I received anywhere between $8 to $15 per hour from some of the internships, while others I did for course credit or completely gratis. Marketing internships are typically unpaid, while finance and accounting internships remunerate quite well. You need to invest in your long-term career, even if that means settling for less money now. One of my peers just graduated with a marketing major and got an internship instead of a full-time job. I guarantee that it's a career investment that will translate into future opportunities.
2. Go the Extra Mile with Your Online Presence
There's a very good chance that people are already looking for you online: According to 2009 Microsoft (MSFT) research, 78 percent of recruiters are using search engines and 63 percent are using social networks to conduct background checks on candidates. Almost 60 percent of companies have hired a candidate found through social networks, according to eMarketer, a New York-based marketing research company. Your first impression isn't a handshake anymore. It's your online presence that will decide the fate of your career. Sure, you already know about LinkedIn and Facebook. You should also be using online monitoring tools such as Google.com/alerts (GOOG), TweetBeep.com (for Twitter), and SocialMention.com. Via e-mail or feed reader alerts, these tools allow you to view articles, blog posts, and social media updates that contain your name. This way, you can find out what people are saying about you online so you can ensure that your reputation is untarnished.
You can minimize your chances of being bad-mouthed online by representing yourself accurately. Plenty of people lie on their résumés, embellishing the amount of experience they have and even making up fake names of companies they "worked" for. Every move you make is easily traceable by hiring managers. Remember that if you're a different person off-line from what you are online, you won't get the job anyway.
3. Treat Life as One Giant Networking Event
Did you know that most jobs occur through referrals? Employers would much rather hire someone they already know, like, and trust because an existing employee recommends him or her. Networking online via social networking sites isn't enough. You need to think of your every situation as a potential opportunity to network with another professional.
A good way to locate networking opportunities is to join a special interest group at Meetup.com. Or search through Eventbrite.com for community events that interest you and get involved. For every field and type of business, there exists a professional association—the American Marketing Assn., Meeting Professionals International, Entrepreneurs' Organization, etc. Joining such associations will give you access to people with intimate knowledge of the type of career path you're following.
You can make any social situation, such as a birthday party or a bar mitzvah, an occasion for networking, as long as you're subtle in your approach. Ask other guests what they do for a living and get them talking about their own professional experiences. This way, it will make it natural for them to ask what you do, and you can talk about your own job hunt, which just might spur them to refer you to others who can help. Don't get discouraged if people won't answer your e-mails or phone calls. Be persistent, and reach out to others until you get a positive response.
You have more resources at your disposal than you can imagine. Starting today, treat your job search like a full-time job, stay positive, network every day, and make sure your career choices reflect your long-term goals.