Meet Bruce. He’s an engaging, intelligent guy in his mid-‘20s. But he’s not perfect. “I lost my job at the peak of the financial crisis,” he says. Bruce currently works as a real estate agent, a job he loves. But it isn’t bringing in much money. “I’ve talked to salespeople that are a couple of years older than me, and they were able to succeed easily while the economy was booming. Everybody had money to spend. People need a lot more convincing now — which makes ‘making the numbers’ really hard.”
There are thousands of young professionals like Bruce in South Florida, struggling to make ends meet or forge a solid career for themselves in an environment that some characterize as downright hostile. Many are even worse off, either unemployed or underemployed. Regardless of their job status, many have huge student debts to pay off and have to make enough to remain independent, no matter how many corners they have to cut to avoid moving back in with mom and dad or getting another batch of dreaded roommates.
Career coach and executive recruiter Joan Harris sees professional horror stories all the time. “It’s challenging right now for young people. Young or old, if what they’re doing is sitting on the computer all day answering the ads and not hearing anything back — well, they’re competing against hundreds of people for single jobs. They need to find ways to get around the ad. There are techniques to get yourself in front of people.”
It all comes back to networking. The Five O’Clock Club, the career coaching organization through which Harris offers her services, has done the research. “About 5-10% of jobs are found through ads, and maybe another 5-10 % through search firms or agencies. The other 80-90% of jobs are found through networking and direct contact,” she says. As a career coach, Harris’s efforts aren’t focused on plowing through the classifieds. “Ideally, we want people to find out about you before the job even opens up.”
That might sound a cruel joke to a struggling young person with few-to-zero professional contacts and no idea how to start. “There are techniques to get yourself in front of people,” Harris assures. Her own method uses a combination of extensive research, direct mailing and follow-up calls to score “informational interviews” with prospective employers, even if they aren’t hiring at the moment. “You’re marketing yourself. You are the product. And it works.”
There’s also the magic of the (unpaid) internship. Jerry Martinez, a successful Account Executive with Comcast Spotlight, agrees. “One of the smartest things I did was start off working for free,” he says. “I got the experience and was taken under a lot of influential wings.” Adds Marta Martin, a Marketing & Merchandising executive with LVMH in Miami: “If you really want that dream job, and you work hard for it, it’s almost certain it will be yours sooner or later,” she says. “The other part of the equation is being in the right place at the right time!”
“Another key is flexibility,” says Christian Garcia, Director of the University of Miami’s Career Services Department. “If you’re rigid and only want to do one thing, or stay in one area, that’s going to close a lot of doors for you. Remember the bigger picture. You’re not going to do this job for the rest of your life — very few people do that anymore. If you find a job that’s not exactly what you wanted to do, that’s still experience you’ll be able to leverage to get the position you’re really aiming for.”
What’s more, Garcia encourages young professionals still in school to take advantage of the resources their university offers through their career services centers. “We do mock interviews, help with resume writing, setting up internships…We even work with companies who post positions on our system and who come to campus to interview for full-time positions,” he says. “These are great resources.”
Those who aren’t in school still have plenty of help available to them. “Working with your area Chamber is always going to be an advantage. There’s no downside to it,” says Ian Torres, an account manager with JBG Communications. Torres is a member of HYPE, or Helping Young Professionals Engage, a committee of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce. “When you boil it down, everything in business and business development is about building relationships,” he says.
Another aspect of career development is that pesky resume. “When people are writing their resumes, they need to focus on accomplishments, not just listing a job description,” says Harris. “If you don’t have a new accomplishment or project you can put on there every six months, you’re probably getting stale. In this economy, if a company is looking to cut someone, it’s not going to be the person who’s taking on extra work or learning a new skill. Companies want to hire and keep people who are actively growing in their careers.”
“Don’t be afraid to fail,” Martinez concludes. “Life is a journey and you don’t always know what your purpose is, so get out there and get going. Humility is a wonderful teacher, and just sitting around thinking won’t help you reach your final destination.”
As for Bruce, he’s not giving up just yet. “I thought this stuff was going to be way easier when I was coming out of school,” he says. “But I don’t want to complain. I know these times only make you stronger. When the recovery is here, I’m going to crush it. Watch out, Miami! I’m coming!”
Here are 3 tough interview ?’s you may face. Follow these tips to avoid a trip back to the unemployment line.
Q: “Tell me a little bit about yourself!”
A: Awkward! Focus on your career and long-term goals after you tell them where you’re from originally. Mention what a great parent you are, if applicable.
Q: “What is your greatest weakness?”
A: Definitely expect this one! Pick a major catastrophe you’ve experienced and then share the techniques you’ve applied to overcome it.
Q: Why are you leaving your current position?”
A: If you weren’t terminated, answer that you always want to continually evolve your craft and this is a great opportunity for you to do that.
Get a Job!
Looking for employment in South Florida? Check out these comprehensive resources to take your career to the next level.
Joan Harris is a Miami-based career coach, trained to help struggling professionals find that dream job; HarrisCareerCoaching.com.
The Five O’Clock Club offers career coaches in telephone group conferences where professionals can help each other strategize; FiveOClockClub.com.
Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce is a massive network of Miami-area business owners and representatives; MiamiChamber.com.
Twitter often spots job listings from major companies on it’s site before they hit popular job search engines; Twitter.com.
Salary.com’s Salary Wizard lets you know whether you’re being paid what you’re worth, or what salary you should be asking for; SWZ.Salary.com.
University of Miami’s Toppel Career Center has loads of resources, even for non-‘Canes looking for the perfect job; Miami.edu/Toppel.
The Miami Herald’s Job Resources features more than just the classifieds. Scroll down to find tons of helpful guides and tips; MiamiHerald.com/Jobs.
LinkedIn is a social networking platform specifically geared to help professionals network and connect with each other; LinkedIn.com.