Thursday, 1 May 2014

5 Tips to Landing Your First Job

With the warm weather almost here, it's summer job search time for many teens.   A daunting task for many looking for their first job and faced with the question "What experience do you have?"  So how do you compete with the droves of other teens looking for that coveted position?  How do you differentiate yourself?  It's not as hard as it seems.   I would have to guess the vast majority of teens looking for work are doing just that.  Looking for a job.   If you want to differentiate yourself, you need to be part of the select few that are looking to be an employee.  An eager, engaged, contributing employee.  So…how do you do that?   Here are my 5 tips to help you be different, be special and be selected.

1.  Have A Great Resume

This may seem impossible for the first time job seeker.   But it doesn't have to be.  While your resume may be light on actual job experience, you can still focus on accomplishments and traits that will help you stand out and position you as a high potential employee.  For example, if you're a straight A student, put it down.  If you're involved in extracurricular activities, put it down…it tells employers that you're well rounded.  Team sports speak to your ability to work with others and a will to win.   If you're an avid painter or jewellery maker, put it down.  This says you are creative or may speak to your attention to detail and pride in your work.  If you cut lawns one summer in your neighbourhood, you didn't just cut lawns.  You did sales, marketing, customer service and took entrepreneurial initiative.  Odds are you are way more experienced than you realize.  So dig deep.  Share what you've done, what you like and what you hope to learn more about.

2. Hit the Pavement

With email and social media, it's easy to job search from the comfort of your own home.  But there is no substitute for a face to face interaction.   It's time to hit the pavement.  Have your rock solid resume in hand and go door to door to speak with business owners.   Tell them what you have to offer and why you would like to work for them.  (hint: it's NOT for the pay cheque…even if it is!)  Being proactive goes a long way to showing an employer how hard you're willing to work for something.   And if the owner or hiring manager isn't there, take their card and follow up.  It shows great initiative and a strong work ethic.  And puts you miles ahead of the kid that just sent an email!

3. Use Social Media Wisely

Don't abandon social media altogether.  It can be a fabulous tool in your job search strategy, but you do need to use it wisely.  Facebook for example has excellent opportunities through local networking pages to reach small businesses.   Search for your town or city and see what comes up.   Watch who is posting what and, if it looks like the right audience, ask to join the group or like the page and start interacting.   The trick here is not to post "Hey I'm looking for a job.  Let me know what you have."  Don't ask for a job.  And don't get your mom to post.  This is about YOU getting a job, not someone getting it for you.  So tell them about yourself, highlight why you would be a great bet for an employer.  Are you a quick learner?  A team player?  Show enthusiasm, highlight some strengths and make them believe you are willing to go the extra mile to do an amazing job for them.  Even if you have no directly relevant experience.   I will almost always hire for will over skill.  SKILL can be taught to the people who have the WILL to learn and work hard!

4. ALWAYS Present Your "Best Self"

This applies no matter what forum you are using…on paper, in person or online.  In person, dress the part and be prepared.  Dress respectfully and professionally.   This may seem strange advice for a part time gig, but we're trying to make you stand out.   That doesn't mean sporting a power suit for an amusement park job.  But think it through.  What says respectful, professional and ready to excel in the company you're approaching? Know the details about the company and the job you're applying for so a potential employer knows you've taken initiative to learn something.  It shows that you want THIS job, not just any job.  My dad, a successful Human Resource professional, always taught me to dress and prepare for the job you want one day, not necessarily the level you're currently applying for.  So even for an entry level office job I showed up in a professional suit, well prepared.   It paid off every time.

With the boom of social media, managing your self-image in person is only scratching the surface.  You want to be sure your online persona matches what you're trying to convey.  That means stop posting garbage!   Make no mistake.  Your future employer WILL creep you.  So if you're being disrespectful, rude, inappropriate or have made poor choices and posted photos of them all over your profile…whatever you did or said in the interview will not matter.   And please don't find false security in those privacy settings.  Assume if you've posted it on the internet, it is out there somewhere waiting to be found.  Ultimately, potential employers will think they know the "REAL" you online…so be sure it's someone you can be proud of…or better yet someone your mother could be proud of!   It matters.

5. Always Be Ready to Explain Why You're "THE ONE"

This point can not be emphasized enough and it is never too early or too late to learn how to toot your own horn.  Now is not the time to be humble.  You are competing for a limited number of opportunities with a large number of other teens.  Those that know their strengths and can confidently talk about what they have to offer a prospective employer will win this game.  Know your resume inside and out and be prepared to talk about your greatness.   In every interview I have ever conducted, I have asked "Why are you the right person for this job."   This is your opportunity to highlight all the great things you've done that you haven't had a chance to talk about yet or to summarize how hard you will work to learn and excel at this job.   Remember, it's not about what the company can do for you…but rather what  can you do for the company?

After all that, if you are still struggling with that lack of actual job experience, know that even at your young age you have worth, you have the capacity to learn and you can make a valuable contribution.   Believe in yourself and let your light shine.

Now when I started writing this post, I was really focused on helping young people land their first job.   But as I re-read these tips, I think they are valid for just about anyone looking to advance their career. So whether it's your first job, your fifth job or a mid-life career change, I hope these help set you on a path to success!

Tracey Evans is a certified Leadership & Career coach and the Owner/Program Director of Dreamwinds Equine Assisted Learning Centre.  Dreamwinds offers unique leadership and team building programs for youth, families and corporate teams.  Tracey has a passion for helping individuals and teams reach their full potential. With a keen understanding of the importance of effective leadership in the development, engagement and success of a team, she left her successful corporate career to bring a unique approach to leadership training to the GTA. As an avid equestrian grounded in natural horsemanship and former senior marketing executive, she brings together her horse sense and 15 years of leading high performing teams to help others improve their communication, build confidence & develop strong leadership skills.


  1. I think you touched on something important with putting down your interests. A lot of times people forget skills are transferable, as well as show a lot of things about you. I got several interviews on the fact that my resume said I liked NASCAR, and knitting. People wanted to see this person LOL I put down any volunteer work at church. All those things show that you have a life outside of work, so if stress gets to you, will have a coping mechanism.

    I think keeping your social media profiles locked down, and fairly professional is important too. Companies will check out your online profiles if they can, if they see someone disrespectful to authorities, or partying it up all night they may be less likely to higher them. They will foresee issues.

    I think you provided some great information here! Oh and welcome to the world of blogging. It's a crazy ride!

    1. Thanks so much Shari! You're absolutely right! I always pay close attention to the hobbies/interests section of a resume. Not only can it make you stand out, but it can also give an early indication of "fit" with the role, the team and the organizational culture. Ensuring the right fit is so critical for the success of the employee and the team. NASCAR would have definitely got my attention!