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‘TikTok got me a job I love': How Gen Z and Millennials use the social media platform to launch careers

Photo: Jade Walters

In 2024, Gen Z workers are expected to outnumber baby boomers in the American labor force for the first time. But right now, the workforce's youngest generation, the oldest of whom are 27, is treated as a novelty — with everything from their email signatures to their salary expectations put under the microscope. CNBC Make It explores how Gen Zers are really putting their mark on career advice, office culture and more.

Baron Leung didn't expect a two-minute video to change the trajectory of his career. 

In April 2023, Leung made a tongue-in-cheek TikTok titled, "Why You Should Hire Baron." In the video, he stands in front of a PowerPoint presentation and pitches himself to potential employers as elevator music plays in the background. 

Leung introduces himself as a "workaholic" and rattles off his biggest strengths including creativity ("I'm not just thinking outside the box, I'm going back in and making sure we didn't leave our wallets in there") and leadership ("I coach high school rugby in my free time. If I can get 50 teenage boys to listen, I can make anyone listen"). 

As Leung recalls, the video was a "last-ditch effort" to catch a hiring manager's attention after a frustrating job search. 

The 28-year-old quit his last job at an ad agency in March 2023 without another offer lined up and after two months of getting rejected or ghosted by recruiters, his optimism was fading.

"Nothing was sticking," Leung, who lives in Toronto, tells CNBC Make It. "I realized I needed to do something different to stand out. I love TikTok, and thought I could show my personality off a bit more in a video than a written resume." 

It worked: Leung shared the video on LinkedIn and within days, a recruiter he was connected with at Zenith, an ad agency, messaged him. "She said, 'I saw your TikTok, are you still looking for a job?'" Leung says. 

Weeks later, he signed an offer to be a media planner at Zenith, based in Toronto. When the recruiter introduced Leung to people at the agency's office, she mentioned that she hired him based on his TikTok presence.

Leung just celebrated his first anniversary at the agency. "TikTok got me a job I love," he adds. "Isn't that crazy?"

Photo: Baron Leung
Baron Leung made a tongue-in-cheek TikTok titled, "Why You Should Hire Baron" to stand out in his job search last year. He says the video caught the attention of a recruiter and helped him land a job offer within weeks of posting it.

To the casual observer, TikTok is an app known for fashion hauls, dance routines and comedy skits. But it's also become a popular destination for young jobseekers seeking career advice and opportunities.

Click on the hashtags #jobsearch, #careertok or even #corporatebaddies and you'll find an endless scroll of tips, tricks and rants about work, from how to "act your wage" to "quiet quitting" a job you hate.

Much of the advice is geared toward Gen Z and younger millennials figuring out their place in a chaotic post-pandemic work landscape. 

TikTok use is especially prevalent among younger Americans — 56% of U.S. adults ages 18 to 34 say they use the platform, according to a February 2024 report from the Pew Research Center. Many are using the app to guide their careers: 41% of Gen Zers have made a career-related decision based on TikTok advice, 15% received an offer for a job they found on the app, and nearly 80% have used the app to network, according to a recent ResumeBuilder.com survey of 1,000 Gen Zers. That could soon change: In April 2024, President Joe Biden signed a law to ban TikTok in the U.S. unless it is sold within a year.

Much of the career advice on TikTok echoes the tips shared in podcasts, YouTube videos and LinkedIn thought pieces. It's just the aesthetics and format that are different — and more appealing — to Gen Z.

Using TikTok to find their next career 

Jade Walters says her career would look "completely different" without TikTok.

The 24-year-old participated in the app's "TikTok Resumes" pilot program in July 2021 shortly after graduating from Howard University. 

Through the program, companies like Chipotle and Target advertised open roles on the app and invited young jobseekers to create a video resume; users with standout clips would then be invited to start a formal hiring process. 

Walters decided to give it a shot. She already landed a PR internship with Ulta for the summer, but was worried about finding a full-time job. Her minute-long clip, which featured photos of her college experience and a voiceover detailing her campus extracurriculars and past internships, racked up more than 15,000 views in weeks.

It also caught the attention of a recruiter at TikTok — and in September 2021, Walters moved to Chicago to work for the company as a media planner.

Around that same time, Walters started posting career advice videos on TikTok under the handle @theninthsemester geared toward college students and recent graduates like herself. 

"I'm a first-generation college student, and I've found TikTok to be the most accessible resource in terms of career advice for people like me," says Walters. "Schools usually don't teach you how to interview or apply for jobs. So I wanted to create a resource to help and reach other young professionals."

Walters left her job at the social media giant in early 2023 but the app helped her land her next opportunity. 

Her now-boss at Yello, an early talent recruitment platform, found some of Walters' career advice videos and invited her to speak on a panel for Yello's employees weeks after she quit. Once she found out Walters was looking for a new job, she invited her to apply to an open role on her team as an employer branding specialist. 

Walters, who still lives in Chicago, has been in the job for about a year. She works with employers to brainstorm initiatives that will attract young talent, including virtual recruiting events, branded articles about their employee benefits and the occasional TikTok.

"It's honestly my dream job," says Walters. "I am so happy at this point in my career, and TikTok played a huge role in that."

The career confidante for Gen Z

TikTok is often the first place Grace Dunlavy will go for career advice. 

In 2022, when she was wrapping up her senior year at Saint Louis University, she used the app to compare different career paths. 

Two of the most popular genres on TikTok are "Get Ready With Me" (GRWM) and "A Day In My Life" (DIML) videos, where people walk viewers through their morning or average workday routines while explaining what they do for a living. Dunlavy says she would search for videos in these categories from people who held jobs she was interested in— for example, "DIML Communications Specialist."

More on Gen Z at work:

Gen Z bosses on the 6 misconceptions people have about them in the workplace: 'We see these stereotypes getting in the way'

Gen Z is entering the C-suite and getting rid of meetings, set work hours and more

Nearly 70% of Gen Zers are freelancing or plan to—'I never considered applying to a job'

"I was searching for a real-life simulation of what my life would look like if I chose to go down a certain path," says Dunlavy, who now works as an account executive at Codeword, a communications design agency, in New York. "Although TikTok seems picturesque at times, there are some honest creators out there who show what their days consist of, even the bad parts." 

The 24-year-old says watching videos of recent graduates working in public relations, an industry she was interested in but didn't have much experience in, gave her the confidence to apply for PR jobs in New York — and inspiration for agencies to apply to.

Now, she uses TikTok to source tips for boosting her confidence at work and finding a mentor. Even watching a 30-second video about writing stronger emails has been "incredibly helpful" as a young professional still finding her place in the fray, Dunlavy adds. 

The drawbacks of getting career advice on TikTok

As beneficial as TikTok can be for Gen Z and millennial professionals, using the app for career purposes isn't without its pitfalls. 

"You have to strike a balance between being authentic and oversharing or complaining," Bonnie Dilber, a recruiting leader at software firm Zapier, cautions. "It's fair to call out improvements or challenges in the workplace, but if you're venting in all of your videos, a company might be less eager to work with you." 

Dilber, 41, has nearly 70,000 followers on TikTok — she started posting resume and interview advice on the platform in 2022 and quickly amassed a following of young professionals.

She encourages young workers to take cues from employees in the industries they're interested in on what not to post on TikTok. 

"For every company that sees it as a plus, there's another that could see it as a liability," Dilber adds. She's noticed that TikTok is popular in creative fields like marketing, public relations, communications and graphic design, but less common in more buttoned-up industries like finance and law. 

Shoshanna Davis, founder of the career consultancy Fairy Job Mother, works with companies that hire Gen Zers. When it comes to TikTok, "Anyone can jump on the app and provide career advice or claim they're an expert without the credentials to back it up, which is worrisome to some employers," Davis, 28, says.

"Managers don't want people jumping to conclusions based on a TikTok. Just because a video has gotten a lot of views doesn't mean it's necessarily true or great advice." 

It's important to fact-check whatever career advice you find on a social media platform, she adds, whether it's reading the user's LinkedIn profile to see their work experience or cross-referencing the advice with a blog from a business school or professional organization like the Society for Human Resource Management.

TikTok might help you connect with employers or improve your interview skills, "but it's only going to get you so far in the job search," Davis says. "You still need to prove that you have the skills and experience someone is hiring for. TikTok doesn't always tell the full story."

Want to land your dream job in 2024? Take CNBC's new online course How to Ace Your Job Interview to learn what hiring managers are really looking for, body language techniques, what to say and not to say, and the best way to talk about pay.

Plus, sign up for CNBC Make It's newsletter to get tips and tricks for success at work, with money and in life.

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