Millennials can run circles around managers with their technology expertise. They’re creative, enthusiastic and sincere, and multitasking, networking and social media aptitude are part of their DNA.
But a Georgetown University study found that just one in three adults in their early '20s and half of adults in their late ‘20s have full-time jobs, and young adult participation in the labor force has fallen to 1972 levels.
With all the skills they have, why are more millennials not getting snapped up by would-be employers?
Part of the reason may be that they’re less experienced at job interviews and make mistakes veterans know to avoid, experts say.
“We do surveys on employers, asking them about the biggest mistakes they see in interviews. Anecdotally, we see the biggest mistakes happening among millennials,” says Ryan Hunt, senior career manager at CareerBuilder.
If you’re a perennial interview bridesmaid, chances are you’re unconsciously following a behavior pattern that keeps you from sealing the deal. Here are some of the most common millennial interview black marks—and how to turn them into gold stars...
1. Not preparing: Millennials often arrive at interviews with little information about the company, and those just out of school are the least prepared, according to a recent survey by Millennial Branding, a Gen Y research and consulting firm, and Beyond.com, a network that connects job seekers to employers. Some 73 percent of hiring managers said schools are “only somewhat preparing” students for interviews, and 36 percent said students arrived unprepared, with little knowledge of the company.
What you can do: So much! With the Internet, you have instant access to tons of information about a company and its products or services, plus executive bios and often, a LinkedIn profile of the person you’ll be meeting with. Take a look at the company’s mission statement, learn everything you can about what it sells, and read its latest news announcements. Because knowledge is so accessible, employers now expect you to do research, says Dan Schawbel, managing partner of Millennial Branding and author of Promote Yourself: The New Rules for Career Success.
“There are no excuses—you can even look things up on your mobile phone while you’re in the lobby waiting for the interview,” Schawbel says. “If you’re not doing the homework, it’s obvious to the employer you don’t really care about the job or the company.”
2. Going in with a negative or uncaring attitude: “The number one thing companies are looking for is a positive attitude,” Schawbel says. Though it’s hard to measure attitude, employers notice physical cues. A Braun Research study for Adecco of millennials aged 18 to 24 found that 33 percent didn’t make eye contact, 26 percent fidgeted, and 30 percent checked their phones or texted during the interview. CareerBuilder’s survey said calling or texting was the top pet peeve of 49 percent of interviewers.
What you can do: Hold eye contact, maintain professional and attentive body language throughout the interview, and set your phone to silent mode or turn it off before you enter the room. Practice interviewing with friends and family so that nerves don’t get the better of you when you’re on the spot.
3. Interviewing for a job you don’t really want: It may seem counter-intuitive to skip interviews in a tight market, but if you’re not a good fit, the manager will sense it, and you’re wasting everyone’s time. Some 43 percent of managers in the Millennial Branding survey said “cultural fit” was their most important consideration.
What you can do: Check out the social profile of the company and its employees. Read employee tweets and other social media posts to see if the business feels like the kind of place where you’d like to work. Talk to anyone you know who works there now or has in the past. If it doesn’t sound like a good fit, move on.
4. Not trying for a referral: Your probability of getting hired increases dramatically if someone inside the company can vouch for you, Schawbel says. It’s a huge credibility boost, and offers a common thread at an interview. But what if you don’t know anybody at the company?
What you can do: Use LinkedIn, social networks and career fairs to establish contact. If you work in marketing, start following the company’s marketing people on Twitter. Favorite, share and reply to their tweets. It can’t hurt, and they may even contact you about a job if your comments demonstrate knowledge and enthusiasm.
Don’t neglect the offline world. If your friend’s dad knows a guy at the company you’re targeting, ask to be connected. Just interviewing this contact for information will provide you valuable inside information. And remember, a reference doesn’t have to be your BFF—many companies pay employees for proposing a candidate who gets hired.
5. Failing to ask questions: To you, keeping a respectful silence may seem like appropriate behavior, but to employers, “It’s a big red flag,” Hunt says. If you’re not asking specific questions about your duties and the people you’ll be working with, the manager may think you aren’t really interested.
What you can do: Parlay your research into questions reflecting your knowledge of the company. Ask what the manager’s biggest challenge is and try to suggest ways you might help. If the manager is hiring you for a specific skill set, ask questions that reveal your expertise.
It’s tough to get hired when you’re not the most experienced candidate on the block. But if you master your interviewing technique, you’ll come across as responsible, reliable, and skilled. Add a little youthful enthusiasm to the mix, and you might just gain the edge you need.