Job hunting tips for millennials

How to upgrade your job
How to upgrade your job   

The good news is the job market is finally rebounding. About 295,000 jobs were created last month, according to the latest Labor Department report, and unemployment fell to just 5.5 percent, the lowest rate in nearly seven years.

The bad news, at least for millions of millennials, is that finding a job is still not easy.

Even with the improvement in the job market, the unemployment rate among millennials remains stubbornly high at 9.1 percent—or 14 percent if you include those who have given up looking for work. (And that's a sizable population at 1.1 million.)

"They have had a tough time in the job market," admitted Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen in recent testimony before Congress.

Whether you're looking for your first or your fifth job, it can be a frustrating experience, particularly when you're competing with older candidates who have more experience. "Millennials face a different situation than most generations when entering the workplace," explained Andrew Challenger, vice president at Challenger, Gray & Christmas. "There's a huge build-up because there wasn't a job in 2008 so a lot of people were under-working or went back to school and now ... they are fighting for jobs with people graduating today."

There are ways to up your odds of a landing the job you want, though.

Employee Bethany Sander greets to a job seeker during a Virgin Hotels job fair in Chicago, Illinois, U.S., on Wednesday, Nov. 5, 2014.
Daniel Acker | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Employee Bethany Sander greets to a job seeker during a Virgin Hotels job fair in Chicago, Illinois, U.S., on Wednesday, Nov. 5, 2014.

Networking is key, said workplace consultant Alexandra Levit. She recommends mining social media networks such as LinkedIn for contacts at a company you're interested in as well as commonalities like mutual friends or professional associations that can give you a way to connect with them.

"Send a quick email introducing yourself and ask for 15 or 20 minutes of their time to ask about their career path and how they got to where they are," said Levit. Even if there's not a particular job posting, establishing a connection now can open doors later. When a job does open up, they may remember your conversation and think of you.

Don't send out mass resumes. Instead, focus your efforts on a few applications at a time for the jobs you really want and are best qualified for. "Most people don't want to hear this, but you have to customize your resume if you want results," said Levit, who recommends integrating key words from the job description into your resume.

A summarizing paragraph on your resume that explains who you are as a candidate can also help you stand out. Research the company where you're applying and adapt your description accordingly. "Make it clear that you are a good fit for the culture," said Challenger. "These people want to know that they could manage spending the next 10 years of their life with you."

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So what if you have a job but are ready for an upgrade?

First, don't rush to leave the company, said Levit, especially if you enjoy where you work. Instead, look for ways to expand your role within the organization. Are there opportunities to move up within your department? Or to move into another department?

If it's just a pay raise or promotion that you're after, make sure to track and quantify your accomplishments so you can share them with your manager when you have your review. Specifically, look for ways that you've added value to the company's bottom line. (Did you increase sales by a specific amount, say? Or help bring in new business? Did you find ways to streamline processes that saved time and money?)

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Once you've established a strong track record in your current role, don't be shy about asking your manager what it would take to move up to the next level.

If you've concluded that there are no opportunities within your company and have started looking around, keep in mind that the process can often take several weeks. In the meantime, you don't want to do anything that could jeopardize your current position. Remember it's easier to get a job when you have a job.

Whether you're actively job seeking or not, Levit stresses the importance of establishing relationships with people in your field. "It's always best to connect when you don't need them," she said, "and you can be laying down the groundwork."