Young and Out of Work? 4 Ways to Boost Your Chances

portrait of a ambitious young woman wearing spectacle

You're young. You're smart and you're tough. So why are you still unemployed?

In short, because if you're younger, you have to be smarter and tougher than everybody else, too. At least in the current job market.

The latest numbers show that the job market is healthier than it has been for at least six years. But the youngest job seekers are still being left out in the cold.

The headline number sounded great: About 248,000 new jobs were created in September, pushing the U.S. unemployment rate from 6.1 percent to a reasonably healthy 5.9 percent. The official figures, released last Friday by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, were far better than expected.

But that upbeat report masks big problems for particular segments of the workforce, notably the young. Twenty percent of teenagers who are actively seeking work remain unemployed.

Obviously, education plays a role in that 20 percent shocker, since a teenager can't wave a college degree. But it may not play that big a role. The overall unemployment rate for people without a high school diploma is 8.4 percent, and the rate for people of all ages with only a high school diploma is just 5.3 percent.

The government does not break out figures for young adults. But the poor prospects for teenage job-seekers suggest trouble for their older siblings too, those ages 20 through about 25.

And yet, any sensible manager wants a team that is diverse in age, ethnicity and gender. What sane manager would discriminate against youth, health and energy?

In this case, "discriminate" is the right word. With a glut of young people in the job market, hiring managers can pick and choose the best of the bunch.

Here are a few ways you can stand out in the crowd of applicants.

1. Don't Just Network. Volunteer.

Face facts. Your resume is light on work experience. But you have time on your hands, so volunteer for a good cause, preferably one that helps you hone skills and get experience that you can use in a paying job.

If you want to work in retail sales, volunteer to work in a charity thrift shop. If you want to work with people, volunteer to help out at a rehabilitation center.

There's no downside to this. You'll earn a real qualification to put on your resume, while making friends and contacts who could be helpful in your job search.

Not to mention that you're doing a good thing.

2. Learn a new skill.

There are many skills that are not listed as a requirement for most jobs, but that could help you do any job better. They also demonstrate your dedication to personal growth.

Learn a second language. Or take a course in public speaking, financial planning or computer programming.

You can take courses inexpensively at a community college or another educational institution in your area. Their classrooms offer pretty good opportunities for networking, too.

Or, you can go online and learn a new skill for free. The site Coursera offers more than 400 free online courses in everything from calculus to Chinese language to digital sound design, all from top universities.

3. Do some research.

If you want to stand out from a crowd of interviewees, do a little research in advance. Does the company have an innovative new product or an interesting history? Does it contribute to the community? Find something positive to say during your interview about the company, and why you want to work there.

This isn't just an exercise in flattery, or it doesn't have to be. Genuine enthusiasm about the company will help you land the job.

4. Be persistent.

Your efforts to get the job aren't over with the interview. A polite thank-you email is absolutely necessary, but it doesn't have to end there.

A couple of days later, send another email to the interviewer. Sadly, you need to remind the interviewer first who you are, since you might have been one of a long line of candidates through the door. Then, just add a brief note. It could be a link to a relevant business news story on the web, or an idea about the business that you'd like to share.

You don't want to go overboard here. Don't pepper the poor hiring manager with phone calls.

The important thing is to remind the interviewer of your existence before the final hiring decision is made. At worst, if you don't get the job, you've made it more likely that your resume really will be placed "on file" for the future.See What Else We Have Lined Up for AOL Jobs Week:
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