After a summer spent applying for over 50 jobs, 22-year-old Ffion Clarke had hit a wall. Her time at university would soon be over, and most of the roles she was going for were cut midway through the application process due to COVID-19.
“I assume they never put a job out with the intention of cancelling it but it’s just really disheartening on top of everything else,” Clarke told Motherboard. “It’s very isolating even though a lot of people go through it, because you can’t do anything about it.”
It’s no secret that young people have been hit the hardest by Coronavirus when it comes to employment. In the U.K., where Clarke lives, roughly 22 percent of those who lost their jobs in the months leading up to July were aged 16 to 24, according to figures from the National Office for Statistics. In the US, job losses passed the 20 million mark back in April, while the number of 16-24 year-olds in neither education nor employment has more than doubled.
“I think right now, media companies especially aren’t opening up at all,” said Clarke. “Why would they? To them it makes more sense to wait a bit, but for us, we have no idea what’s gonna happen. We don’t really want to sit around if we can avoid it.”
In a last ditch attempt to stand out, and inspired by another girl her age, Clarke spent two hours transforming her résumé into a short video, which she then uploaded to TikTok. Within two months, it had been spotted by Mike Carr, the CEO of podcast production company Crowd Network, who would go on to hire her.
“My immediate reaction was she has the right attitude, skill set and personality,” Carr told Motherboard. “What was impressive was all the projects she had undertaken during lockdown – a real range. She showed the ability to self-start and importantly was very creative.”
Clarke’s efforts were inspired by 22-year-old Alyshea Chand from Leicester, U.K., who posted a TikTok résumé showcasing her skills in production and journalism and landed a job with Independent Television News (ITN), one of the country’s biggest news companies, not long after her previous contract came to an end. For her, digital journalism was exactly the sort of industry where she knew a TikTok would make more of an impact than a cover letter—especially on Twitter, where potential employers spend a lot of time.
“TikTok is this shiny new thing that employers are fascinated by,” she told Motherboard. “I thought if I posted it to Twitter, people would think, ‘she knows what this is, how it works, and how to use it’.”
Chand’s TikTok résumé has inspired other creators to market themselves on the For You page rather than on LinkedIn, from Gen X moms who coach fitness to students who make content on Onlyfans. No one who uses TikTok this will find this surprising. After all, TikTok already has a thriving subculture of ambitious young creators sharing career successes and genuinely useful tips on how to get noticed.
Over the last month, 22-year-old New Yorker Cedoni Francis has been packaging those tips in a series of videos titled “15 days of how to get to the bag.” The most popular entry, which sees her in a hot tub demonstrating a 30-second “tell me about yourself” pitch, was her first TikTok to crack a million views. Other clips deal with how to nail the interview for an internship with Google, which colleges give out bursaries on merit, and how to network on LinkedIn effectively.
“I realized there are actually people who don’t know these things,” she told Motherboard. “I helped people at college with CVs because they knew I was good at it, but I was shocked to find out there’s actually a market for social media where people need help with their résumés, their college essays, and their interview questions.”
Within months, sharing this kind of wisdom over TikTok had made Francis a bona fide influencer, and she estimates it now pays her $1,000-$3,000 a month across various sponsorships. The reason, Francis explained, is that career guidance fits much better in short, concise videos than it does anywhere else. “The way TikTok allows you to present is so quick, you don’t have to read an article that's gonna take 10 minutes,” she said.
Francis found her best performing videos were ones which honed in on specific advice for careers in marketing, finance or business. “There’s an audience for learning on TikTok that people really do overlook,” she said. “But it is easier to access the information there than on Twitter or Facebook, and it’s easier to grow on TikTok because of the algorithm.”
Like Clarke and Chand, Francis believes videos like TikTok résumés play to Gen Z’s strengths. “We have not been raised in a happy world, especially if you’re American,” she said. “When I was six the Iraq War was starting. When I was 10 the financial market crashed. We realized the world is pretty shitty - let’s make the best of it that you can for yourself and hope you can bring other people up with you. That was the hope with my TikTok.”
For You page fame has brought all sorts into Francis’s inbox, from school kids asking for application tips, to boys and girls asking her out, to death threats. Over time, though, some of those messages would come from grateful viewers who had used her advice to snag interviews, internships, and grad schemes. “One of my old friends got a job at Morgan Stanley using the tips from my videos,” Francis said. “He called me saying, ‘I was answering every question like you said to answer’.”
Both Clarke and Chand feel like their TikTok résumés will continue to serve them in the near future, and that more and more young people will try them out. “Older, middle-aged people will carry on being impressed by TikTok for a while,” said Clarke. “In 20 years, when it’s Gen Z who are the hiring managers, cover letters just aren’t going to work, because we consume content that’s short and doesn’t last very long, like, when I was writing my own cover letter I was kind of bored and couldn’t focus on writing it.”
As novel as these stories are, the rat race of graduate job-hunting remains bleak. Roles billed as “entry level” are still asking for five years’ experience, and young people are being pushed out of part-time work in the crumbling hospitality industry. On LinkedIn, posts criticizing hiring managers often attract thousands of likes as the desperate job-seekers of Gen Z struggle to get a foot in the door.
Clarke, too, is aware TikTok résumés aren’t going to fix what is a fundamentally flawed system. “I don't wanna say ‘pick yourself up and keep working,’ because the reality is there are people working the hardest and not getting jobs because a big part of it is just luck,” she said.