One of my duties at my 9 to 5 job is to screen/hire interns and field applicants for job openings. People have come and gone in the past few years and I have had thousands (literally, thousands) of job applications come through my email inbox. I am required to read every single one.
It really isn’t as bad as it sounds—physically reading pages upon pages doesn’t make you completely blind—but I do tend to come out of my “application binges” feeling depressed. Why? The surface reason is that I hate having to go through 1,000 applications, knowing that 999 people are not going to get the job. The deeper reason is that reading ridiculous cover letters and resumes makes me feel very sad for my generation. If you really want to know how horrific the job market is, just read a stack of resumes. I just had to slog through 15 applications—and my gut reaction to each one was to write each applicant a personalized critique on what they did wrong and why I eliminated them.
Here’s some advice for millennial job applicants:
Tip #1: Unfortunately, graduate degrees aren’t what they used to be.
With such a tough job market, many millennials are choosing to go right into graduate programs after undergrad. The mentality is “if they won’t hire me now, I’ll just learn more to make myself more valuable.” Sadly, this idea occurred to the majority of the young millennials—so now we have an influx of job seekers with graduate degrees all applying to the same entry-level jobs. Job seekers will need to work extra hard to set themselves apart from the avalanche of other applicants.
Tip #2: Pick a path.
It might make your skin crawl that someone could have a J.D., M.A., and Ph.D. and still be under age 30, but it is possible. I’ve seen several resumes that made it obvious the applicant didn’t know what to do with their life–they racked up degrees and certificates until their title resembled alphabet soup. Unless there is some continuity between the degrees (I have seen undergrad degrees in “food science” accompanied by advanced degrees in psychology, law, and medieval studies), the person reviewing your resume is going to become “lost in translation.” They will chalk up your long and distinguished (and disjointed) academic career to bad planning. What do you want to do with your life (study the eating habits of ancient British warriors?) and how does your background even fit the job you’re applying to? If resume reviewers find themselves staring at your resume confused, you’re going to end up in the “no” pile.
They are the Masters of Everything—and Nothing
Tip #3: You need work experience.
Millennials with confusing, alphabet-soup titles and resumes are likely to be massively overqualified (education-wise) for most of the jobs they seek, yet also under-qualified when it comes to real-life experience. A laundry list of degrees is going to tell me you can read, take tests, and walk across a stage well, but that doesn’t mean you are capable in an office.
Get some solid internships and work, work, work! Working will also help narrow down interests so that you don’t become a directionless, serial student.
Demonstrating Basic Skills
You apply for a job by sending out a few pieces of paper telling the reviewer about yourself. You have one shot. This chance shouldn’t be blown by your inability to demonstrate skills you learned in kindergarten—like spelling, editing, and writing complete sentences.
Tip #4: I just want to take this moment to say that I hate the “objective” section of today’s resume.
If you’re sending me your application for job X, I know you’re applying for it—you don’t need to tell me in your resume too. However, if you do choose to include an “objective” in your resume, please edit your wording. I have had too many resumes come through with wording saying they are applying for a job in “marketing” or “healthcare policy” when they are actually applying for a job in a completely different sector. To me, this means: you have problems reading job descriptions or that you are incapable of reading altogether, you lack attention to detail, you are bad at proofreading your own work, and/or that you aren’t serious about your application for the job.
Tip #5: Please spell the organization you are applying to correctly.
“Foundation” isn’t spelled “Fundation” or “Foundiation.” Just saying. Also, if you want a research job in foreign policy, you should probably know how to spell words like “Afghanistan” and “nuclear.”
Tip #6: It might also be a good idea to make sure your sentences are complete and have punctuation.
Your three-paragraph cover letter shouldn’t be one LONG sentence.
Tip #7: (This is a shout-out to my friend who is going through a similar application experience.) “Listening” is not a skill.
You should already know how to listen.
Tip #8: Please demonstrate appreciation.
After you get an interview or you have an exchange with someone at potential job X, send a follow-up note thanking them. Not only is this Job Seeking 101, but it is also Basic Life Skills 101. No note and interviewers will assume you aren’t that interested in the job.
Submitting a “Mature” Resume
If you want to prove you’re an adult, you should do adult things and provide a resume that documents all of your adult deeds.
Point #9: Scrap your old, “little kid” email address for something more professional.
Point #10: You can probably leave off babysitting jobs.
I know people want to provide an entire work history to prove they are competent individuals but unless you are applying for a job in childcare or veterinary medicine, you can probably leave off babysitting for your neighbor’s three kids and yappy Chihuahua. The inclusion of this detail isn’t going to make/break your job prospects if you’re applying to a government job. In fact, it gives the application reviewer more information to hunt through in order to find the applicable skills and experience.
Point #11: Don’t put your mom or dad on your resume as a reference.
Millennials, please read this list, reflect, and cut out the behaviors that are inhibiting your job search.
Also, good luck.