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What they don't teach you in college: Job-seeking as a millennial

By Kathryn Minshew, Special to CNN
October 18, 2012 -- Updated 1736 GMT (0136 HKT)
Knowing your audience and what you want in a job are crucial to standing out for employers
Knowing your audience and what you want in a job are crucial to standing out for employers
  • Kathryn Minshew, who runs a job search site, says millennials can be ill-prepared to job search
  • Minshew's startup experience helped her learn the hard way how to prep for interviews
  • Understanding yourself, your goals and the market is the first key to job-seeking
  • Social media presence plays crucial role in today's competitive hiring process too

Editor's note: To many Baby Boomers and Gen Xers, the millennial generation is a mystery. These 18- to 29-year-olds are history's very first "always connected" generation, defined by all their phones and gadgets, and they've been accused of being overly entitled. The series "Millennials: A Generation Revealed" takes an eye-opening look at this group of Americans coming into their own, what they want out of life, and how they plan to get it.

(CNN) -- I'll be the first to admit that I knew very little about getting a job when I first set out to do so in the fall of 2007. As a general rule, most recent university graduates know far more about U.S. economic history and "The Lord of the Flies" than about how the modern workplace functions and how to succeed in it. Yet come senior year of college, it couldn't be more important or more timely to learn the basics of getting a job.

Two jobs and two startups later, there's plenty I had to learn the hard way.

Now, one of my goals with my current company, The Muse, is to make it a whole lot easier for the next generation of graduates to find and excel in jobs they love. So, here's what you need to know about landing an interview and presenting yourself as a polished, professional applicant from someone who's made every mistake in the book.

Understanding your market: Who are you, and where do you want to work?

For many people, the hardest thing about job-seeking is figuring out where to start. All through college, I heard my friends asking themselves, "What do I want to do with my life?" And guess what? After college, and after that first job, people still ask the same question.

So first, realize that you don't have to have all the answers just yet -- you have many years ahead to explore a lot of options. Next, start by figuring out what it is you're passionate about. What extracurriculars did you love when you were in college? Maybe more importantly, what types of positions or roles did you gravitate toward in those extracurriculars? The answers to those questions will likely give you hints as to what sort of job you'd love.

Finally, recognize that there are many jobs out there that didn't exist a generation ago. These are jobs that, while you weren't prepped explicitly for in school, you very well may excel in because you grew up stalking sales from your favorite brands on Facebook or following thought leaders (er, celebrities) you admired on Twitter.

For a guide to today's digital-age jobs, check out "You're a What?! Decoding Today's Job Titles."

Getting an interview: Your resume, application and social media persona

Before you even have a chance to meet a hiring manager face-to-face, you're being judged. A clean, easy-to-read resume and a concise but thoughtful cover letter or e-mail are, of course, the first steps to making a great first impression. But as a millennial, there's one more key piece of your first impression: your presence on social media.

So, Google yourself and see what comes up. No, you won't be exiled to permanent unemployment just because there's a picture somewhere of you holding a red Solo cup and looking underage. But, your Google results tell a story: Have you been in the news? Authored articles or blog posts? What types of topics do you frequently tweet about?

Your online persona has an immense potential to create a positive impression of you as an active, engaged individual with a certain set of passions -- or you can look like every other recent grad out there. You should strive to make sure there's more to your online personality than vacation photos, a stream of graduation messages and tweets about inside jokes to your friends.

Acing the interview: Show up looking the part and don't get intimidated

The day of your interview, make sure you look sharp. Now, especially if you aren't applying to a corporate job, this may not mean blue shirt and black suit.

If you're looking to work in a creative industry, a fashionable but conservative ensemble may help you create just the impression you're seeking to make. And if you want to work at a tech startup, jeans are the way to go (nice jeans, yes, with a nice top or shirt, but please, don't wear a tie). For a guide to interview day attire, check out "Looks That Land the Job: What to Wear to (Any!) Interview."

In the interview, be prepared to answer the most common questions: What skills do you bring to the position? What accomplishments should you highlight? What's your biggest weakness? (Check out an "Interview Cheat Sheet" here to help you prepare, or "3 Ways to Answer 'What's Your Biggest Weakness?' "). Be honest and stay positive -- employers don't want to hear a long rant about your terrible previous boss. Keep in mind that every interview question is a chance to showcase why you'd be a great asset to the company.

Rinse and repeat: Every interview is another chance

Above all, remember that job-seeking is an iterative process: Each application is a chance to get better. As you move through the application process, keep refining the way you present yourself. Like any skill, you'll only get better with practice, and you'll only hurt yourself if you get discouraged too early.

This is one race that's definitely a marathon, not a sprint.

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