Youth unemployment: How to build a competitive edge in tough times
A report on global youth unemployment released this week by the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) is warning of a “lost generation of unemployed youth.” On the bright side, the report does cite Canada as being in better shape than many developed countries on the jobs front. They predict that our unemployment rate will drop to 6.4% by the end of next year.
However, younger workers especially continue to have a harder time finding work. The latest Statistics Canada report shows that unemployment among workers between 15 and 24 years old remains around 14% or nearly double the 7.2% national average. So while Canada is faring better than most other countries, young people are still feeling the effects of the recession.
If times are extra competitive, use that time to work on your competitive edge. Study after study predicts that the biggest challenge that will face the Canadian economy over the next decade is a labour shortage. We have an aging population, and the largest cohort of people currently working is nearing retirement age. Opportunities will be coming up – the challenge is to be ready to step into them when they arise. And that means getting busy now – despite the current less than ideal job situation.
So what can you do if you’re a member of the younger demographic struggling to find work?
You should ignore the economic news. If you focus on how hard it can be out there, you might find yourself slowing down your job searching – or becoming discouraged and pessimistic. In competitive times, either of these can only hurt your chances even further. It is important to stay active and to show potential employers that you are enthusiastic and flexible about whatever opportunities they have.
You should persist, and apply for lots of jobs. Don’t focus on finding your dream job right now. If it comes up, that’s great. But you may not be able to land a high paying gig with a coveted company right away. This is nothing new. Most people aren’t walking out of university straight into their ideal job, and they haven’t in a long time.
Rather look for jobs where you can gain work experience, build a reputation as a conscientious hard worker, and learn the transferable skills that that will help you throughout your entire career. These skills can be acquired in any job, and they include: relationship building, communication, problem solving, entrepreneurial thinking, collaboration and teamwork, leadership abilities, etc. Use these ‘meantime jobs’ to learn about different kinds of roles, jobs and industries.
(See also: The top in-demand skills and degrees.)
Develop your job search and self-marketing skills. If you have to write ten resumes and do six interviews just to land a survival job, then look at it as great practice tailoring resumes and conducting interviews. Each one gets easier as you learn to articulate your skills, experiences and accomplishments. You’ll be that much more prepared to be the stand-out candidate who wins the role even as you apply for more and more competitive positions over the course of your career.
Create stellar resumes and cover letters. Learn to focus on your accomplishments at previous jobs rather than what your duties included. Practice tailoring each application to the specific industry and employer. (See: How to create a masterpiece resume.)
Show that you are a professional. You don’t need a high-end job (or any job at all) to be a professional. It’s not about what you’re paid to do, it’s about how you carry yourself and interact with the world. So clean up your social media profile. Needless to say, you should get rid of any compromising photos from the sordid frosh-week celebrations of your past. Or at least make it private; employers will be looking at this stuff. Have a professional looking profile picture.
Make sure your online persona proves your communications skills (don’t post spelling mistakes and sloppy writing), and demonstrate a wide range of interests. Show some knowledge of the industry you aspire to work in by sharing and commenting on the latest trends, news and developments. And make sure any public work history or schooling information matches what you say in your resume.
Have a professional interview outfit ready. It’s a sign of respect to future employers to look the part when you show up for an interview.
And if you can’t find work of any kind? Still stay busy. Volunteer, participate in community activities, be social. You’ll learn more, meet more people and find more opportunities by being out in the world than by retreating into yourself.
It is a tough labour market for young people to break into right now, and not finding opportunities can be discouraging. But trust me, everyone will find their way. Opportunities will present themselves. Your challenge is to make sure you’re ready to step into the doors when they open up.