Recent graduates and young professionals often come to me and say, “I don’t understand why I can’t get a job. I have a good resume. I have responded to countless classified /online job ads and rarely get a response. What am I doing wrong?”

Unfortunately, the world of job search and answering job ads has changed dramatically over the years. Today, most responses to classifieds ads are scanned for key words by a computer and applicants are typically competing against hundreds of applicants for that same job.

It is extremely important to look beyond the online ads when looking for a job. The truth is that many good jobs are not advertised and you need to know someone in the company to even be considered. But how do you become the person that “knows” someone?

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It’s all about focus and targeting. However, it’s first important to understand yourself by knowing what skills you have to offer and what industries and job roles you want to focus on. It’s also important to understand why a company needs to make a hire and how to differentiate yourself from other applicants. 

Once parents and teens discuss these answers together, parents can help their teens navigate the hidden job market by making connections to friends and colleagues that meet the criteria. Teens also need to seek out people in targeted roles and industries so they understand the priorities and challenges they face. This can be done with a 20- minute informational interview or networking conversation. The goal is to understand the position better and the challenges the person may face.

Likewise, this is an opportunity for the teen to share his/her skills, impart some ideas on how to make an impact in the industry and ask for a referral to another resource in the company or industry. This also makes people aware of the teen and his/her interest in a position.

Students have spent 12, 16 or more years going to school where they have ascertained certain skills and knowledge in their specialty but most have not spent even a tenth of that time preparing to get their first job, let alone to lay the groundwork for future ones. And, that’s where parents come in. Parents can help their teen(s) with skills like showing confidence, having a firm handshake and making eye contact with interviewers.

It’s amazing how talented candidates can lose out on a job because of small things like a weak handshake, lack of eye contact, sloppy dress, or just not believing that they are worthy of the job.

More importantly, parents can help their teen(s) by role playing the interview. To do so, encourage your teen to explain the skills they have and how these skills and benefits can solve problems the company faces. This takes a little bit of effort but it will clearly separate them from the pack. Most companies worry about two things: increasing revenue and reducing costs. Having your teen demonstrate that they have done their homework on which of these is a priority and how they can impact it will impress the employer and help the teen better understand the company priorities.

Finally, follow up and persistence is critical in the job search. An immediate and concise follow up letter thanking someone for an informational or formal interview is the key. An email is great, but a hand written note is even better. This is the opportunity to restate why you are the best one for the job, differentiate yourself from other candidates and focus on how you can solve problems for their business. 

Teens and parents can navigate the job search process together with success. It’s important to take a step back and figure out what the teen has to offer, how he/she can apply it to a new role and impart that to the interviewer.