More than a piece of paper: how new grads can break into the job market

Oct 27, 2015Posted by: mdctraining

Written by Ashley Denuzzo

No one could have prepared us “millennials” for this.

I’m a recent graduate; a classic example of someone whose education far exceeds her working experience. Sure, I have a long list of volunteer placements, internships and flashy summer gigs on my resume, but when I graduated in June I entered foreign territory: the real world.

It was frustrating. I can only assume that many graduates and millennials empathize with me as they swallow their ego and begrudgingly admit that breaking into the job market is extremely, extremely difficult. But why does it have to be? You’ve done everything right your entire life. You went to a great school, earned good grades and landed an impressive co-op placement. But when you took your first steps into the job market and tossed your resume on the top of the pile, none of that mattered.

You are just another applicant.

I started the job search in since April — two months before I graduated. I sent out hundreds upon hundreds of resumes, followed up with contacts I hadn’t spoken to in years, sent “Hail Mary” emails out to people I never met and even started applying for jobs unrelated to my field.

It sucked. But it was a very humbling experience and one that taught me more about the workforce than my parents, teachers and peers ever could.

Now happily employed, I feel obligated to share some of the lessons I’ve learned along my five-month search:

Apply for the jobs you are qualified for.

It’s pretty straight forward, but really difficult to drill into the heads of new grads. You are young, inexperienced and need to be looking for entry-level positions. Avoid job postings with words like “Director,” “Manager” and “Editor.” These tend to be tailored towards those with 5-8 years of experience. Focus more on roles that only ask for 2-5 years or specifically advertise for new grads, entry-level or junior.

Don’t spin your resume. If you don’t have “5 years” you don’t.

With a string of internships, co-ops, placements or volunteer opportunities under your belt, it’s tempting to try and spin 5 student years as 5 working years. Companies know the difference. I had interviews where I was asked how many of the positions on my resume were part-time and how many were full working terms. I’ll make this very simple to understand: don’t twist your years of service to more than they actually are unless you have something to back it up with, such as stellar references.

 Be willing to take on another internship, placement or contract position.

According to Canadian Business Magazine, “Millennials are now the biggest generation in the Canadian workforce.” They make up 36% of the current workforce. Unfortunately that means the demand is high and the supply is low. Baby Boomers are still gainfully employed and Gen-Xer’s are established, so where do millennials belong? In order to get your foot in the door, you have to kick it open. This may mean taking on a temporary contract or an internship. If given an opportunity, take advantage of all you can learn and demonstrate that you are someone seriously worth keeping. Best case scenario: temporary turns into full-time. Worst case scenario: you build your portfolio, get new contacts and add to your resume. Seems like a pretty good deal to me.

Immerse yourself in the job market.

Looking for a job is a full-time job in itself. You can’t just casually apply for a job or two and expect to get hired immediately. It can take months of applications, cover letters and reformatting your resume. My personal experience is that for every 100 resumes you send, you’ll get 1 interview. Don’t overlook social media as ways to get noticed and stay engaged with current topics and trends. Twitter conversations, Facebook threads, as well as LinkedIn groups and discussions will make you well-versed and up to date with industry trends and news.

Research, learn and know about the companies you’re applying for.

Companies know the difference between someone who knows about the job and knows about the industry. The biggest mistake you can make in an interview is only talking about you. Companies don’t want a “pick me!” speech; they want someone who can improve their team. You need to come into any job opportunity with ideas, an opinion and a plan on how you can move their company forward. There are hundreds of people just as qualified as you – what makes you different? Is it your knowledge on the market, your opinion on the latest trend or your vision for the company? The way you communicate in your interview says a lot about not only who you are as a worker but also as a learner.

Look outside your immediate area.

I hate to be the one to break it to you, but you’re not going to be the chief marketing officer in downtown Toronto with a large salary straight out of school. Good things take time and many industries aren’t exactly rolling out the red carpet for new grads. Don’t limit yourself to jobs related strictly to your degree or areas of interest. Companies all over the world are looking for bright, self-starters who can bring in new skills and abilities. Just because the job title doesn’t match your dream job does not mean you won’t be happy in that position. Be willing to adapt, broaden your search and don’t limit yourself. On a similar note, don’t limit yourself to your geographical area, either. Be willing to relocate, move around and look for jobs in different cities, provinces or even countries.

Network, network, network!

Networking only has positive outcomes. If you find yourself chatting to someone in the industry you’re interested in, take advantage of the opportunity. Ask for their advice on how to break into the market. Test them on companies they know that often hire young recruits. Ask their thoughts on the industry, and which tools and programs to learn about. The possibilities are limitless. A cup of coffee and a quick conversation can turn into a lifelong contact. You’re only helping yourself in the end.

Be patient. Take chances. Keep trekking.

Good things take time. Rome wasn’t built in a day. No matter your choice of cliché inspirational quote, the best possible thing you can do for yourself is take a breath and wait. Remind yourself you are a bright, talented millennial who has only just begun on your long career path. Whether you’re three months, six months or a year into the hunt, something will come and a company will take a chance on you. Don’t be reluctant to apply for a job you’re unsure about — if you have amazing skills in one aspect employers may over look downfalls in other aspects. Be proud of all you’ve accomplished in your 20-some-odd years of life and know that it doesn’t stop here.

I’ve learned a lot during my quest for employment. In order to have a competitive edge, you need to be an effective communicator. Organizing your thoughts and conveying them to potential employers will set your application apart from the others. This can be through your resume, cover letter, interview, or even how you interact with recruiters. Know who your audience is; structure your message to be clear, concise and persuasive. And above all, know how to perform under pressure. As the newest member of the workforce, you need to find your personal brand and showcase it.

Millennials and recent grads have an abundance of unique skills and abilities that will prove to be very useful in the job market. No longer are degrees or internships a single-stream; they are multidimensional and you’re encouraged to take advantage of that.

Know what you’re good at. Be willing to learn new skills. Stay humble and grounded.


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