All The Career Advice I Learned From TikTok (Yes, really)
After completing an AmeriCorps program to delay my entry into the working world just a little bit longer, I have spent the last two years of my post-undergraduate career trying to piece together just what exactly I am supposed to be doing as a newly established working professional.
In many ways, it has been trial by fire.
I have often turned to friends, relying on them for guidance, only to find we are all just asking ourselves the same questions: Is my boss mad at me? Should I bring up the possibility of a raise at my annual review? How exactly did my bachelor’s degree land me in this completely unrelated field? The questions abound.
And as I have had these conversations with friends and contemplated my professional choices thus far, I have found solace (and perhaps surprisingly, very helpful insight), in an unlikely place — TikTok.
The social media app that first seemingly gained popularity among teens recreating viral dance videos has since attracted career coaches, hiring managers and recruiters. These professionals have taken to the app to share 60-second video clips, offering general career advice, communication strategies and job search tips and tricks.
“I think it’s a huge benefit,” said Marie Buharin, who shares career advice on TikTok under the username @modernesse. Buharin serves as a hiring manager at her day job in the healthcare industry, while also running the online site Modernesse.
“I think TikTok’s just a really great platform where you can connect with experienced professionals get that kind of advice in a very easy way. It’s a platform I wish existed when I was in my early 20s,” she added. In a series of TikToks, Buharin shared ways to speak in the workspace and communicate via email more confidently, offering alternatives to passive phrases like, “Sorry to bother you,” and “I don’t know.”
Personally, I’ve found TikTok to be an invaluable resource myself as a 20-something working millennial.
And content like Buharin’s has helped me think about how I communicate and present myself in the workplace. As a young employee, I have personally tried to apply such advice, making efforts to remove words like “sorry” from my vocabulary, and if necessary, replace them with stronger phrases like, “Thank you for letting me know.”
It has been a struggle at times, making me cringe at the thought of not immediately apologizing when things go awry, even if outcomes are not within my control. On the flip side, Buharin has addressed the necessity of avoiding passive-aggressive comments, like the infamous phrase, “per my last email.”
As someone who started their current job virtually due to the pandemic, I’ve been hyper-aware of my communication style, whether it be by email or via video call. In a way, the pandemic has forced me to more actively cultivate my work persona by challenging me to communicate in ways that I am not used to as an early career professional.
“It seems there’s a delicate balance to strike between confidence and humility while also making sure tasks get done. She addresses the necessity of avoiding passive-aggressive comments, like the infamous phrase, ‘per my last email.'”
It seems there’s a delicate balance to strike between confidence and humility while also making sure tasks get done, as well as ensuring deadlines are met and coworkers feel positively about their interactions with you. And while it may feel draining at times, especially in the virtual workplace, strategic communication is a necessary skill.
“Soft skills, [such as] the way you communicate, how you present yourself at work, kind of how people perceive you, is frankly more important than your technical performance,” Buharin adds.
TikTok has offered me these kinds of ideas to mull over, while also providing practical advice, specifically when it comes to job hunting, a particularly elusive art that I have yet to master.
At the end of 2019, when I was looking to transition out of my job in the education sector, I began applying for positions during my free time — with little success, I might add. I hadn’t yet discovered career content on TikTok, and I landed what is now my current role mostly by luck. But after seeing that there are strategic ways to approach job hunting and get noticed, I feel more confident about approaching that process when the time inevitably comes again.
For one, I’ve realized I need to expand the way I view what it means to be “qualified” for a job in the first place, thanks to creators like Alexa Shoen and Jeff Magnuson, whose TikTok handles are @alexashoen and @askjeff, respectively.
“You have to be competent in order to have a job, but qualifications are not quite as black and white as we were taught about in school,” said Shoen, author of “#ENTRYLEVELBOSS: How to Get Any Job You Want” and career coach for her online education company, of the same name.
Magnuson echoed this point, telling me, “If you can do 50 percent of what’s on the job description then you can apply confidently to that job.”
“If you can do 50 percent of what’s on the job description then you can apply confidently to that job.”
My friends and I have often analyzed job descriptions in our respective fields — particularly entry-level roles — wondering how we are all supposed to have a master’s degree, five years of experience, coding knowledge, a social media following and some sort of awe-inspiring special talent (clearly cultivated off the clock), all while valuing “work-life balance.”
Job descriptions can be demoralizing and confounding. And if you have thought this too, you’re not alone. However, Magnuson, a career consultant who once worked on Wall Street, attributes this to too many people helping craft job descriptions.
“Everybody is like, ‘They should have this, they should have this, they should have this,’” Magnuson said, mimicking what it sounds like when too many people weigh in on the same subject. “And it’s like, ‘Ok, that person doesn’t even exist. You just manufactured somebody.’”
Shoen has also noted that larger cultural forces are often at play when job descriptions seem fantastical. She points out in one of her first TikToks that the 2008 recession left many mid-level professionals applying to entry-level jobs in order to stay employed during the financial crisis. This in turn shaped the professional landscape and changed employer expectations for entry-level requirements.
“The 2008 recession left many mid-level professionals applying to entry-level jobs in order to stay employed during the financial crisis. This in turn shaped the professional landscape and changed employer expectations for entry-level requirements.”
“What I actually was saying [in that TikTok] was, ‘This is hard, and you’re not crazy for thinking it’s hard,’” Shoen said. “There are reasons why not even the system is rigged against you, but reasons why you feel like you’re Truman in ‘The Truman Show,’ and something is a little bit off.”
While it’s comforting to know I’m not just imagining how hard it has been to find jobs post-college, that doesn’t change the fact that we all have to be players in this game we call capitalism if we want a paycheck.
In some ways, I was surprised to hear the best strategy for finding a job may be a more refined version of the quintessential boomer suggestion to just simply go hand-deliver your resume straight to the boss.
Buharin, Magnuson and Shoen all seem to agree one of the best strategies for getting hired is targeting the hiring manager and creatively networking with those at your desired company by using tools like LinkedIn and email.
“You have to not be reliant on these [online] systems; you have to go after the hiring manager,” Magnuson said. “That’s the person who has the need — not HR, not a recruiter. Find the person who would be your future boss because if there’s a job posted, that person has the need.”
This has been one of the most important takeaways I have found from career-centric TikToks. Making a connection with the right people is just as simple of an answer as you’d think, but also more complex than you might assume once in practice. It requires research, clarity on your goals, patience, and taking risks.
“You have to not be reliant on these [online] systems; you have to go after the hiring manager. That’s the person who has the need — not HR, not a recruiter.”
The vast majority of networking way before the pandemic was not happening in ballrooms where you buy a $40 ticket and go show up someplace,” Shoen said. “It was already happening from people reaching out to each other on the internet.”
Given this revelation, maybe it shouldn’t have surprised me that in the digital age, TikTok would be the place to find advice on resume and cover letter creation, interview skills and even how to gracefully resign. Perhaps the biggest benefit of stumbling onto the world of Professional Development TikTok, for me, has been learning I am not alone in my questions, nor am I powerless as I seek jobs and decide how I want to develop professionally moving forward.
“No one else can tell you what you want to do with your career,” Shoen said. “You have to be the CEO and make the call.”
Jenny Roberts is a freelance writer and journalist based out of Philidelphia.
Image via Unsplash