The old approach
“I’ve sent my resume to 120 businesses and haven’t heard back.”
“Everyone has a degree these days, it doesn’t help my resume stand out.”
“We had 457 applicants for one job opening.”
Comments like that are becoming increasingly common. There’s a feeling of hopelessness among many young people when it comes to finding work.
“There are no jobs.”
It’s true. If you’re spamming your resume to businesses and praying to hear back, you probably won’t. It doesn’t matter if you have a cover letter (although you should). It doesn’t matter how many extracurriculars or other school or college achievements you list. If you don’t have friends or family who can help you get a job, you’re shit outta luck.
The traditional methods for landing a job don’t work any more. Being passive doesn’t work any more. Putting your hand up and saying “I’m available” doesn’t work anymore.
Because employers want talent and they want to verify whether potential employees have it.
They want builders, creators, producers, sellers, thinkers and doers. They want people who can create value.
A solid resume and a degree signalled talent in the past. Now everyone has them. Employers need something else — something better.
Entrepreneurship as an antidote
The best way to show an employer that you can build, create, produce, sell, think and do is not that difficult. However it requires a mindset shift.
First, stop applying for advertised positions — unless you modify your approach.
Consider what the employer wants (someone to help take their marketing, innovation or sales to the next level).
Find a business you want to work for. Identify something about their website, product or service, branding and social media, internal processes and systems or marketing strategy that you can improve on.
Create that improvement. If it’s labour intensive create a mock up. Send that to the business and ask them if they would like more material or input. Maybe you have to work for cheap or for free to start, but you’re in. Keep creating value and you’ll make waves. If they say no, try again with another business.
So few people do this — be genuinely valuable — that doing so is a greater distinguishing factor than all the extracurriculars, degrees and leadership roles in college clubs combined.
You won’t have to do this many times before someone asks you to come aboard.
What if I don’t have any businesses in mind but I still want to create value and demonstrate my ability?
One disadvantage to this is it’s less direct and targeted— you aren’t doing it for a particular business. But if you have a project close to your heart you want to work on, you can use it in a similar way.
Think about what interests you, maybe it’s a topic, a product or an industry.
Create a project for yourself around that. Build, create, produce, sell, think, write — do something.
You prove yourself by doing. There’s a lot of people who aren’t creating much at all right now. Use that to your own advantage.
Share updates frequently to a personal site or social media page where you explain why you’re doing it. Feature this site or page prominently on your resume or when you reach out to an organisation (just make sure the project is in some way relevant). It’s evidence that you’re productive. That’s a key signal you might be suitable for employment.
Another signal is that you’re purposeful and effective. Productive is only good if you’re staying on track, keeping focused and providing something people actually want.
If you’re working on a product, be sure to mention your sales. If it fails and you sell nothing at least you can write about lessons learned. It doesn’t make employers think you’re a rotten failure. It shows them you are grounded, capable of learning from mistakes and able to navigate hardships without losing your cool. That’s respectable and a positive trait in just about any industry.