18-30 and Can't Find a Job? Five Things You Should Be Doing Now

For the third time in one month, I have had friends in the 18-30 age group ask for my help in getting a job. One of the untold stories of the Great Recession is the staggering unemployment rate for those between 18-30, many college graduates: nearly 25%. This is of more concern than merely the lack of jobs which are forcing this population back into their parents’ homes and stressing the budgets of their parents. This unemployment is causing a young generation to question the promise of the American dream and to question our future. If you are in this situation, just know that the problem probably isn’t you. This is a bad situation. You’re normal.

But it also is possible that you may be pursuing fruitless and futile job search methods that are not working for you, especially in this economy. What’s the number one mistake that I see students and friends in this age group making? Endlessly applying to jobs and thinking that they are getting somewhere. You are going to get few jobs in this economy, especially those worth their salt, if you simply are applying to jobs and waiting by the phone while you play X-Box or Wii. Here are five things that you must do now:

1. Lead with yourself, not your resume.

Yes, stop right now and don’t send one more resume. First, return to all of the resumes and applications that you have submitted. Call the corporate number, store or restaurant, and ask for the manager. If you don’t get the hiring manager on the phone, ask for an assistant manager. Don’t say why you are calling. If you get voice mail, leave  your name, number and a very brief “elevator speech” introduction. If you get a manager on the phone, ask the manager if they have received your resume, introduce yourself in 30 seconds or less and share why you can bring value. Demonstrate your knowledge of the company and describe why you’re a good fit.

Secondly, before you send any more resumes, call hiring managers directly about the position, introduce yourself, and then say that you would like to submit an application. That’s right — lead with yourself, not your resume. Why? Because resumes give hiring managers a reason not to hire you. It is the job of HR to cull resumes and eliminate applicants, so don’t play into that game. Introduce yourself first. How do you know who to call? Use the Company search on Linked In to search for possible hiring managers or those with authority. Write them directly on LinkedIn or message them on Facebook. Ideally, call them.

Remember this basic truism: People hire people. Companies don’t hire resumes.

2. Write a tailored resume and a customized cover letter that is about them, not about you.

Google the company. Look up the hiring manager and the company on Linked In. Read the annual report on the company’s website. Read the job description carefully. Then tailor your resume and cover letter to show why you can add value to the organization and help to solve its issues. Specifically point out in your resume how your experience exactly fits what the job requirements and qualifications are. In no case should you be submitting the same resume or cover letter to every company, even if it is the same industry. I know that is more taxing on your time and energy, but this is how you distinguish yourself from others.

Don’t resort to cutesy, cheesy or unusual ways of highlighting your resume. It looks desperate, and you don’t want to look desperate. Just as in dating, we are not attracted to people who are trying too hard.

Finally, make sure that your resume and cover letter are written with excellent grammar and proper punctuation. Have a friend or two review your submissions. It really matters.

3. Read my blog series on the things that hiring managers like, how to succeed in an interview, and how to score the job. http://toddbouldin.wordpress.com/category/work-and-job-search/

4. Reverse the percentages of time that you spend on your search so that you spend 80 percent of your search on networking and 20 percent on applications. Again, people hire people. Join LinkedIn and add everyone that you know because they or their network may be able to help you with a job. Write your friends on Facebook or LinkedIn to ask for their help on specific opportunities or careers. Don’t just ask for vague help generally. Make it count. Go to affordable coffee with friends of your parents, professors or mentors who can help you. I find that almost 90 percent of time that I go to lunch or coffee with someone that it leads to some opportunity or idea. Email people that you know in companies, and let them know what kinds of positions you are looking for and ask them to let you know when they hear of something. Again, don’t say, “I’m open to anything.” Show passion for a particular type of position.

5. Change the way that you view yourself. You are not an employee. You are an entrepreneur.

Think I’m kidding? Look at the current trends in employment for all age groups, and particularly yours. Few people are being hired these days for full-time jobs. In fact, I’ve changed my own expectations. Except in a few industries, there are not many full-time jobs that are going to be filled in the near future. Because of the high cost of health care premiums and retirement pensions, employers increasingly are turning to freelance workers, contract workers and consultants. They know that your generation gets bored with companies after a while, and frankly, they get tired of your generation leaving them after they make significant investments in them. So the trend is toward low loyalty on both sides. Don’t bulk this trend. Enjoy it and work with it. This means that you are now your own brand, and you must market yourself.

I technically have been unemployed since July 2009, but I don’t view myself that way. I am working all the time. Why? Because I gave up on full-time jobs. I still apply when I see an opportunity, but I don’t rely on it. I work part-time as an attorney for a hospitality company, allowing me to enjoy the practice of law without commitments to a large firm. I am now a consultant in leadership and learning for companies. I do career and life coaching for individuals. I even do some acting. Begin to live the life you want right now, and enjoy the opportunity to explore things you love.

How? Sign up with temp agencies. Use Craigslist to find temporary and contract work. Ask friends for help. Suggest to employers that you are open to contract work. Just last week, I gained a new client after being rejected for a full-time job. I told the hiring manager that I would be open to consulting work, and she loved the idea. I start next Friday.

If you can get beyond the struggle of unemployment to find the opportunities, unemployment can be one of the most exciting times of your life. See it as an adventure and not a race. You will meet new people that will sustain your career for a lifetime. You’ll gain new confidence in yourself. And you may even find yourself doing the work of your dreams.

If I can be of additional help to you, please contact me at todd@toddbouldin.com and check out my services at: http://toddbouldin.com/Career_Coaching.html

Getting a job is about something more than getting a job. It is the invitation also to get a life. Enjoy the adventure.

Suggested Readings:

Tom Friedman, The Importance of Internships

What Color Is Your Parachute?

The Four Hour Work Week


  1. This is such great advice, Todd. Alas, I don’t see the hiring situation changing significantly anytime soon. So you’ve spelled out such practical ways to weather a significant storm. Bravo!

  2. Great article Todd. I’ve had a steady full time job for over a year now, but I realize I won’t want to stay in it forever and I will definitely keep your advise in mind moving forward.

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