4 Mistakes Millennials Make in the Job Hunt

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Editor's Note:

Adam “Smiley” Poswolsky is a millennial career expert who has inspired thousands of young professionals and entrepreneurs to find fulfilling work. An internationally renowned motivational speaker, Smiley speaks at Fortune 500 companies, TEDx events, business conferences, leadership development programs, colleges, and graduate schools. His writing has been published in The Washington Post, Fast Company, and GOOD, among others. He can often be found dancing in San Francisco, California. Learn more at and His new book, The Quarter-Life Breakthrough: Invent Your Own Path, Find Meaningful Work, and Build a Life That Matters, is now available.

Finding work that pays the bills and makes your heart sing is by no means easy, especially in a job market where twenty-five percent of twenty-five to thirty-four-year-olds are not employed. But it’s not impossible either. As part of my research for The Quarter-Life Breakthrough, I interviewed 100 highly motivated millennials who said they had found purposeful work – and not one of them expressed the fact that it was easy.

If there’s one thing I learned from my research, it’s that finding meaningful work is less about knowing the right answers and more about being willing to ask the right questions. It’s about the journey to many meaningful opportunities, not the destination of any one job in particular. Here are a few lessons I learned about the common mistakes millennials make when trying to find meaningful work.

Mistake No. 1: Waiting Until You Have a New Job to Start Following Your Dream
Jessica Semaan, one millennial I interviewed, was unhappy in her job as the head of customer experience at Airbnb and had a dream of starting her own business. Instead of quitting, she started her new venture as a side project, launching a blog called Passion Stories, interviewing 100 people who were following their passions. You don’t need to wait until you start your dream job to start following your dreams. Start today. Crowdfund a creative endeavor, launch a side project, start a business, work for your friend’s business, or volunteer as you figure out the next step in your career.

Mistake No. 2: Being Vague About What You Want
Have you ever gotten an email from someone saying, “I’m looking for a new job! Do you have any leads?” It’s impossible to help someone who sends an email without clearly expressing what they are actually looking for. In contrast, when someone emails you asking for an introduction to someone who works in wellness, or someone with publishing experience, or wanting to meet someone at a specific company, then you can help them. You can search your contacts and see if you know someone who meets the specific parameters of the ask.

If you want people to help you find a new a job, make it as easy as possible for them to help: Know exactly what you want.

Mistake No. 3: Taking the Power of In-Person Networking for Granted
Once you know what you’re looking for, recruit a cadre of supporters to find openings that might be a good fit for you based on your skills, interests, and background. The more closely aligned your supporters are with your values, the more likely they’ll be able to connect you with the right job leads. One study found that eighty percent of new jobs are landed through networking. This means that developing a community of believers through attending conferences, fellowship programs, and events is a lot more important than spending hours searching job websites and submitting cover letter after cover letter online. The in-person connections you make will get you where you need to go.

Mistake No. 4: Not Taking Action to Stand Out from the Herd
Today’s competitive job market rewards people who think outside the box, who don’t define themselves by one position, and who don’t market themselves using lots of boring words on a résumé. When my friend Cesar Romero was sending out emails to have informational interviews with people in his network, he didn’t include a cover letter or a résumé, but instead a link to a one-page website of his portfolio, which he created using Strikingly. “In my experience, traditional résumés and cover letters do not get results,” Cesar told me. “You also need to create an ‘out of the box’ format to get people’s attention.” Cesar’s Strikingly page includes pictures, text, and video that demonstrate not only his qualifications and work experience, but more importantly, his worth ethic, personality, and values.

How will you stand out from the crowd in your search for a meaningful job?

Adapted from The Quarter-Life Breakthrough: Invent Your Own Path, Find Meaningful Work, and Build a Life That Matters by Adam Smiley Poswolsky, available October 4, 2016 from TarcherPerigee/Penguin Random House. Subscribe for more job-hunting resources at