I’m a millennial. Ten years ago, millennial was simply a byword for ‘young’. Now, however, Gen Z are the young and the millennials are merely not-old.
We are not their parents, who are Gen X, nor their grandparents, the dreaded boomers. Millennials are just the older siblings of the Gen-Zers, in the kind of widely-spaced out family where the age difference is so big that no one’s childhood really intersected and everyone resents each other.
They hate us because we assume dominion over their lives – you’re not my mum, etc – and we hate them because they’re thin and they don’t remember the 2008 recession.
Immigrating as a graduate during a recession meant that I had no connections, skills or valuable experience. I attended hundreds of job interviews, sent out thousands of cover letters, and worked crushingly dull phone jobs until eventually, three years after graduation, I got a job ‘in writing’.
I earned sixteen grand a year writing SEO articles – blog posts that you have to cram with keywords like ‘excellent glass trophies for sporting events’ so that the client would be the number one search engine result for…. Er, excellent glass trophies for sporting events.
As my career eventually progressed, I invariably met younger writers who were entering a slightly healthier and more stimulating freelance job market, and felt resentful of them. ‘You don’t know how good you have it’ / ‘Do you know how many illegal internships I had to do?’ / ‘Back in my day we walked ten miles barefoot in the snow…’ etc.
With Covid, that has finally changed. These poor kids aren’t just graduating in a recession: they’re entering a professional world where many industries are experiencing a profound existential crisis.
Regardless, there’s still job-hunting advice that never goes out of fashion, and bizarrely I seem to have found myself on all sides of the hiring spectrum over the years.
I spent a year as a recruitment consultant, where I conducted hundreds of interviews and sorted through countless CVs; then I quit and attended the interviews and sent the CVs.
Here’s what I learned.
If you’re applying for a job advertised online, it’s likely being managed by a recruiter.
Recruiters, far from being unearthers of great untapped potential, are just looking to keep life simple. They want to download two attachments into a folder marked PAUL JOBSY and to have those attachments called ‘Paul Jobsy CV’ and ‘Paul Jobsy cover letter’.
Ignore everything the Microsoft Word CV templates have taught you: no one cares what your ‘interests’ are, particularly if those interests are ‘swimming’. (Always swimming!?)
The headline of your CV should be your name and nothing else. We all know it’s a CV because it has a load of bullet points on it and some crap about swimming. Do not, under any circumstances, write the phrase ‘Curriculum Vitae’. Unless you are applying for a job at the Dead Poet’s Society, the Catholic Church, or the Roman Empire, Latin has no place here.
If you’re light on work experience, don’t be afraid to volunteer information that makes you legitimately interesting or memorable. As a recruiter, I once called a candidate just because he put ‘currently writing an opera about snakes’. In retrospect, I have no proof whether this snake opera ever existed, but it made me curious. As with all of professional life, saying you’re doing something is preferable to doing nothing at all.
Cover letters freak people out because it’s the bit where you have to convince someone that you’re perfect for the job – not just any job, but this job in particular. A cover letter should be three paragraphs long and consist of the following information:
(A) who you are (B) what attracted you to the company and (C) why you would do the job well. The ‘why’ shouldn’t dither on with vague traits that no one can prove – how do I know you’re ‘tenacious’? How can you prove you’re ‘passionate’? – but information that can be backed up by fact.
This is also an opportunity to tell someone why you’re not suitable for a job: by saying ‘I know my lack of experience in X may trouble you, but I’m confident that my experience with Y will help me overcome this’.
Interviews are eternally stressful because you appear to have almost no control of what you say or do when you’re in them. You will say awful, strange things; you will be borderline offensive; you will accidentally give your job interviewer a hug. You will also display random fits of charisma, say vastly impressive and untrue things, and wind up with a job you don’t know how to do for money you don’t feel like you yet deserve. This is all part of it.
Beating yourself up over a job interview is like getting mad at yourself for behaviour in a dream: it didn’t happen in the real world. It happened in a sealed-off pod where no one you know can see you.
Finally: your first day of work will always be a shit show. I have never had a good one. Once I got a Nutella stain on my dress, and tried to get it out with Vanish in the office sinks. The result was an even larger, white, crusty stain, that looked a lot like… well, let’s just say ‘Lewinsky’ isn’t the nickname you want to start a new job with.