AMY LINDGREN: Job Search for Millennials — Don’t Be Goldilocks

Graduation ceremonies are finished for the season, the last party streamers hanging damply from garden gates, the final chords of Pomp and Circumstance echoing faintly in parents’ ears.

For families of this year’s college and tech school graduates, this may be the happiest graduation season in a decade or more. Job prospects are strong, entry-level salaries have rebounded, and many graduates have already started their careers.

That’s good news for folks in the class of ’18, but what about those millennials who are still trying to get a foothold in the market? Having graduated into a much different economy five to 10 years ago, many of these young workers are frustrated to see a new crop of workers recruited for jobs they themselves had to practically beg for.

Worse yet, some millennials still have not landed in career-related positions, making the new wave of graduates seem even more like an invading horde of locusts, gobbling up the best opportunities with their shiny new degrees and recent internship experiences.

All is not lost, but if you’re an under-employed millennial, the sooner you correct course, the better. By simple math, you already know that years spent under-earning translate into skinnier reserves when you want to buy a home, start a family, or eventually retire.

If that’s not reason enough to make a push, consider that you might soon lose the opportunity to gain traction at all in your chosen field. There could come a time when you’ve aged out of starter jobs while still looking too unskilled for meatier roles.

To avoid becoming a Goldilocks candidate, you’ll need a plan that positions you well, especially as new graduates enter the market. Here are four options to consider.

Sell what you do have – strategically. You may not have a recent internship or the latest tech degree but you have plenty of other things to market. If you’ve been working in your chosen field, at any level, you have real-life knowledge of industry practices. If your work has not been in the field you desire, you still have work skills to tout, including proven reliability, teamwork and experience such as client contact and use of computers.

The trick is to frontload those skills and attributes on your resume and LinkedIn profile, while not over-emphasizing an unrelated area of work. Now might also be the time to drop your education to the end of your resume, as you’re moving out of the “new graduate” phase. When your degree is four or five years old, you don’t want to seem as if that’s the main thing you have to sell.

Use your contacts, and make more. If you’re not already a member of industry-specific professional associations, now’s the time to join – and be sure that the organization is noted prominently on your materials. Attend the meetings religiously, to help you deepen relationships with people who are active in your field.

Regardless of whether your contacts are brand new to you or people you’ve known for awhile, they’re not assets in your career unless you ask them for help. Don’t let pride get in the way of these conversations. You can reciprocate at another time, or pay it forward with other job seekers when you’re placed, but for now you need the advice and contacts of others in the field to help you leapfrog to the next level.

Make your own opportunity by starting a business. One way to build credibility for yourself is by crowning yourself president of something. Of course, you won’t fool anyone by simply printing cards and putting your new “company” on your resume. But developing a specific strength into a steady side gig can help you make contacts while building a career-related entry for your resume.

Need an example? Communications professionals who write newsletters for small companies fit the mold. How about would-be health care administrators who help individuals untangle their insurance paperwork? Even technical professionals can get into the act with a service to source equipment for companies in their industry.

If you go this route, be sure to create a full description for your resume and LinkedIn, using all the appropriate buzzwords to attract the attention of recruiters and search bots.

Hit the restart button by becoming a new graduate yourself. Returning to school for an extensive degree may not be feasible or wise, but refreshing your experience and contacts with a new certificate can do wonders. Couple that with a meaningful internship and you’ll soon look as shiny as other new graduates, except that you’ll have work experience as well. That’s a hard combination to beat in a market that’s increasingly hungry for talented workers.

Amy Lindgren owns Prototype Career Service, a career consulting firm in St. Paul. She can be reached at alindgren@prototypecareerservice.com or at 626 Armstrong Avenue, St. Paul, MN 55102.

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