Five steps to landing the job of your dreams

Updated 4:42 PM ET, Thu July 16, 2020

Chat with us in Facebook Messenger. Find out what's happening in the world as it unfolds.

This is the final installment in the "Generation Resilient" series. Nancy Darling is a professor of psychology at Oberlin College, editor-in-chief of the Journal of Adolescence and founder of 1step2life, ltd, an app providing support for adolescents in chronic pain and their caregivers. Her blog, Thinking About Kids, is published by Psychology Today. The views expressed in this commentary are her own. View more opinion on CNN.

(CNN)Economists are telling us that millennials and Gen Zers are facing some of the worst financial and professional prospects in history.

I can relate. I graduated during the recession of 1981 and landed my first job in a Boston architectural firm through sheer persistence and willingness to take any starting position. When the company that finally hired me said they were worried an Ivy Leaguer wouldn't want to do the low-level work they had available, I told them I was really good at sharpening pencils.
Nancy Darling
A year later I was on the market again after moving to New Hampshire. Unemployment was at close to 11%, and within one week of moving I had talked to every firm who might hire me. Companies recruiting for minimum wage secretarial jobs were looking for fluency in multiple languages on top of crazy good typing skills. Once fall foliage season was over, even my waitressing job dried up.
So, I reassessed. I wrote down my skills. I looked around and found every company in the area that might potentially use the talents I had. I wrote a story to each of them, talking about my skills and what I could bring to their company. It wasn't a story about how an Ivy League designer wound up unemployed and broke in rural New England.
It was a story that told about the experiences, training, and qualities I had -- and how those qualities would be useful to their company. And one of the stories I told -- about how my background as a designer could help a Fortune 500 company better plan its next headquarters -- succeeded in helping me land my next job.
For the many recent graduates, or recently unemployed people, hunting around for new opportunities, here is an exercise that may help you find your story and chart the next phase of your career.

Step 1: Finding your invisible strengths

Let's start by listing your hard skills, soft skills and any special talents or skills you've picked up along the way. You'll need Post-Its, as you begin to identify those skills. (Don't worry about editing right now. Later, we'll pick and choose the ones we need to build a really strong narrative for.)
    First identify your hard skills. Hard skills are the kind of things that you've learned in class, performed on a job or done as a volunteer. My students immediately identify their statistical skills. To an employer hoping to hire a lab tech, however, their skills entering, cleaning and coding data are probably even more important. What do you know how to do?
    • Technical skills: Go through your resume or transcript. Have you worked in a lab, restaurant or library? What did you have to learn to do that job? What software can you use? Do you have special licen