Millennial Job Hunting: 4 Common, Avoidable Mistakes and What to Do Instead

Millennials are doing lots right in the job hunt. We're picky, purpose-driven and willing to take risks. But we also frequently make avoidable mistakes that waste our time and sabotage our career prospects. Here are four.
08/22/2016 02:03 pm ET Updated Aug 23, 2017

A recent survey by Microsoft found that 70% of college students are most worried about landing a dream job or financial stability after graduating.

And they may have good reason: 12.8% of millennials are unemployed, which is more than twice the national average. Meanwhile, two-thirds of current millennial workers want to leave their organizations by 2020 according to a 2016 Deloitte survey.

Millennials are doing lots right in the job hunt. We're picky, purpose-driven and willing to take risks. But we also frequently make avoidable mistakes that waste our time and sabotage our career prospects. Here are four:

1) Taking what you can get.

Instead, get clear about what you want. This is more complicated than simply following your passion because many things compose what we want: our values, our desired lifestyle, work we enjoy, work that enables pursuit of other things we like.

Deciding what you want, then, requires honesty about all the boxes you want your career to check, not just a general field or activity.

A few ways to define what matters to you professionally:
  • Sketch it out. What excites you? What randomly intrigues you? Write it down! The most successful people in all of eternity or at least Richard Branson keep a journal.
  • Use an employer review site like kununu, a Yelp for the workplace, to help clarify the details of what you want in work. Your reactions to reviews will shed light on deal breakers and must-haves.
  • Be a better person. The closer you get to the "Ideal You", the clearer it becomes what Ideal You wants to do day-to-day. Read books that inspire your development--whether it's self-improvement, books on your craft, books that are your craft or biographies. "As you become the highest expression of yourself, the right opportunity will come," professional inspirer Maxie McCoy told me.
If you're worried you'll be fickle, consider
that millennials' values tend
not
to change as they progress professionally; in fact, they become stronger as we move into management positions.

2) Being well-rounded.

Instead, get advanced training.

In The Art of Work, Jeff Goins recommends asking three questions:

1) What do I want?

2) What am I good at?

3) What does the world need?

Perpetual job seekers often think they know what they want, but they don't answer the next two questions.

Asking "what am I good at?" can depress recent grads. When I asked myself this as a creative writing major, for example, topic sentences were among my most specific, hard-won skills.

Broad, generalized abilities sink in the job market. Indeed, career experts note increasing demand for advanced skills, particularly in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). But even if you're not numbers or strange symbols oriented, you can create a specialty by developing distinct talents.

And you don't need a $250,000 education to get trained. Take Lynda courses, do an internship alongside your regular job, take classes at a community college or trade school, watch YouTube videos. Many of the best developers taught themselves how to code; many of the best video editors and writers just fiddled around until they got it.

You don't need an "A" in a class to show employers you know your stuff. Build your own website; freelance and showcase client work; work until you have something to show for it.

3) Doing what everyone else is doing.

Instead, become in-demand by swimming against the current.

Warren Buffet explained that he looks at what everyone else is doing in the stock market; then he does the opposite. Do the same for job applications.

Microsoft found that almost half of surveyed college students saw New York City, San Francisco or Seattle as the "dream city they'd like to land their next job or internship in." Jobs in these cities are consequentially much more competitive even accounting for more opportunities.

Instead, target uncommon places you like. Any medium-to-large city has plenty of cool bars, plenty of things to do on the weekends, plenty of great people. Do you need to be where everyone else wants to be?

Likewise, Glassdoor publishes job trends, which shows industries with lots of recent activity on the site. But if everyone else is applying, you'll find yourself unnecessarily competing, compromising and, possibly, out of a job.

So, unless you're outstandingly qualified, don't apply to the most popular jobs. There are thousands of jobs that pay the same, have similar perks and check your "I want" boxes. Find jobs no one's talking about yet. Consider industries that are in high demand, such as engineering, accounting, IT, healthcare, human resources, property management and sales.

4) Over-polishing yourself.

Instead, tell your story.

To nail an interview, we think about dressing professionally, speaking articulately, a perfect resume.

Though we know we're selling ourselves, we too-easily forget what sells better than anything: stories. McCoy uses a personal story to make what she's saying relatable and memorable. For example, "you might talk about a life defining moment: what it taught you and how it changed your perspective for the better."

Even early in your search, you can showcase your story with specific examples from work experience in your resume, a more narrative cover letter, or by linking to your bio story online.

Millennials instinctively build personal brands. More important for getting a job, however, is a professional brand. Even if you don't want to maintain a brand for a living, write your mission and vision statement, tell your story as if you're the founder of You, Inc., and set the stage for your success.

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This article originally appeared in Forbes.