How 20-Somethings Can Become Employable In 2021

Monday, April 19, 2021
We are moving slowly toward normalcy, with some college students returning to campus and others settling into another virtual semester. But many 2020 graduates are continuing to have challenges finding employment. While the internship landscape for 2021 appears to be better than last year’s, these positions are still challenging to secure.

Early careerists often focus on the detailed, tactical tasks of job seeking: resume, cover letter and LinkedIn profile. As career consultants to families with early careerists, we spend a tremendous about of time on those critical, short-term essentials. However, an effective professional career launch requires the strategic design and development of an early career foundation. By examining workplace trends and discussions across major organizations, we've selected three strategic areas of focus that current college students, as well as recent graduates, should address and embrace in the coming year.

Create a targeted skill-building game plan.

Employers are desperate for skilled talent. They seek concrete skills and prioritize applications that demonstrate experience applying skills in a work or volunteer setting. Every type of skill should be evaluated in your plan. Hard skills — such as proficiency with computer applications, analytics, foreign language skills, programming languages and design tools — might be easier to pinpoint, as they will be identified in job descriptions for the roles you are considering. Soft skills — like communication, collaboration, problem-solving or presentation skills — might be harder to evaluate but are critically important. No matter what the skill area, find opportunities to continually develop yourself.

Make a concrete plan that you can execute in small chunks of time. Free courses abound. Try those avenues if you are uncertain that you have the interest or competence for that training level. You can also reach out to others for guidance: Ask people what skills they prioritized, in what order and how they went about building them.

Once you have a learning plan, identify how you can apply and practice these emerging skills. For example, we recently had a client who was learning digital marketing and used her emerging skills to support an advocacy organization via a formal internship program.

Consider your time management and social media skills. While it is reasonable to create boundaries, employers often expect people to be active on social media to demonstrate engagement with their brand or employee base. Make thoughtful choices about how you use these platforms and your overall time.

Maximize every aspect of your network.

There is nothing new about the importance of developing and leveraging your network while job seeking. However, as jobs are few and far between due to the pandemic, networking is even more essential. Insiders will have early insight and influence over who is called upon to interview. Our most recently hired clients all identified those people they or their connections knew at the organization. Some were very loose connections but still resulted in personal contacts advocating for their candidacy.

We work extensively with our clients on developing a networking strategy and habits for their short-term job search needs, but networking is most effective when it’s a lifelong habit. It’s important for young people not to overlook the bounty of opportunities within their network. Family members are also professionals in the work world, and early careerists should not be uncomfortable with or averse to asking for help.

Consider every person in your network as holding a secret key. You need to share with them, quite specifically, what your goals are — "I am seeking a data science internship" — and what you want from them — "Does your firm have an employee referral program?" or "Does your neighbor still work in data science at that firm?" Your network can unlock opportunities to help you, but you need to be willing to put yourself out there.

Develop agility in navigating our virtually distanced world.

Social distancing creates challenges in the recruitment, onboarding and training of new employees. Distinguishing oneself at each stage of this process takes effort. Early careerists should master the various interactive technologies and learn about them and their valuable features. Using this knowledge, you can find techniques to use these tools to truly engage with others. 

Building rapport with interviewers, and later with colleagues, is an art. In these virtual spaces, you will partner with multigenerational, diverse teams and collaborate across time zones and countries. As a result, virtual proficiency is vital to be successful in both the interview process and the workplace. We help clients prepare by recording practice interviews and critiquing their responses, backgrounds, lighting and positioning. The goal is to build rapport, personally and professionally, with your interviewers. Practice answering questions, asking questions, seeking feedback, teaching others and demonstrating your work steps using virtual interfaces. 

When you start your first job, develop an initial game plan for mastering your new duties, meeting the team, and learning about the culture. We recommend crafting a 30-60-90-day personal plan because while finding a job is a short-term thrill, keeping a job and excelling in it is the true goal.

It is essential to not only focus on the current, near-term job search but also to envision your lifelong professional journey. Investing your time into crafting a vision for skill-building, maximizing networking opportunities and developing virtual agility to ensure full engagement can yield tremendous returns. Create a highly marketable profile now and gain traction in both employability and resilience for the long term.

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