At the end of 2017, over 40,000 Philadelphians were unemployed, meaning that thousands of people were out looking for work. How many of those individuals were approaching their search with the right mindset?
Here at University City District, we started the West Philadelphia Skills Initiative to connect talented West Philadelphia residents to employers in the district, and we help neighbors cultivate the tools they need to run a successful job search.
Our approach to soft and technical skills training has proven remarkably effective, with 93 percent of last year’s graduates obtaining living wage jobs that provide growth opportunities.
In the seven years since launching the Skills Initiative, we’ve talked to thousands of individuals who are looking for jobs; in 2017 alone, we received over 3,000 applications for our program. As a team, our expertise is helping people crack the code on finding meaningful work and thriving once on the job.
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When people first come to the Skills Initiative, they have often been unemployed for long stretches of time, and feel understandably frustrated by the impersonal experience of sending résumés out into the void (or, most likely, into algorithm-driven online systems).
As a result, we see a lot of individuals taking a disorganized approach to their job search. The pressure to earn an income can lead people to apply for any open job they find, using a generic (and sometimes error-filled!) résumé without considering if they are qualified or even interested in the position.
From the moment someone connects to the Skills Initiative, we help them reframe their job search process. During our information sessions, we take the opportunity to illustrate how the WPSI application process mirrors the job search process. We ask — “Do you possess the skills and experience that we’re recruiting for? If you have those skills, did you fill out the application completely?” We discuss how a complete application demonstrates interest and attention to detail to a potential employer.
We work with each cohort to build a new set of habits around the job search process. Below are the suggestions we make to Skills Initiative participants, which we believe work for any kind of job search or career change, at all rungs of the career ladder:
1. Target your search.
- Choose a career target based on the industry, location and level (entry level, management, administrator) that you’re seeking. Onetonline.org is a great source of information about career paths and résumé language.
- Target your résumé and/or cover letter to that career, updating it for each job. Connect past experiences to the job you’re applying to, and don’t be afraid to invest in a résumé design service.
- A job search is a full-time job. Apply to five to 10 jobs per day within your target. (The Skills Initiative requires participants to apply for jobs throughout the program, so that everyone has experience with the process and winds up having multiple opportunities for employment.)
- Applying to jobs is not about quality vs. quantity, it is quality and quantity. Strike a balance. Give your search the time and effort it needs.
2. Network and tell your story.
- Compile a list of companies and organizations where your friends and family work and let them know you’re searching. If you’re interested in their employer, ask them about it. You already have an in!
- Make a LinkedIn profile, which can help you build up and learn about your network.
- Talk to people who work where you want to work or who have jobs you’re interested in. Not only can you learn more about your career options, but can it lead to employment!
- Speak to your transferrable skills by explaining how your past experiences prepare you for the job you’re applying to.
- Take time to think about your past experiences. Quantify what you did and prepare stories about your contributions. Sometimes we shy away from our successes because we don’t feel they are special or noteworthy; what you did in the past, however, is a great indicator of what you will do in the future. Be prepared to lead that conversation.
3. Track your progress.
- Find the name of a person at each company you apply to in order to follow up on your application.
- Organize your search by recording when and how you applied for each job.
- Be sure to know what you have sent and to whom (résumé, clearances, writing samples, etc.).
Here at the Skills Initiative, we empower West Philadelphia residents to seek a career, and not just a job. We hope that demystifying the job process is the first step toward helping them fulfill their career aspirations.
[Editor’s note: Psst, these awesome orgs are hiring right now.]-30-
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