Early careers and workplace consultant and thought leader, Trudy Steinfeld, shares advice for Class of 2020 job seekers as part of our #2020Strong initiative.
If you are like millions of other college students, your life has been disrupted in unprecedented ways. Covid-19, which at first seemed to so many as a minor annoyance, has evolved into a global pandemic that has challenged every assumption, expectation, and hope we had for the world around us. How we live, study, work, and play, how we interact with our friends and family, have all changed in ways none of us anticipated. Against this background, the idea of successfully finding an internship or launching a career upon graduation seems an overwhelming and daunting task.
No matter how challenging the times, there are opportunities if you know how to prepare for and approach them. Having successfully navigated recessions, the disaster of 9/11, and a multitude of economic downturns, I have learned some important lessons – many of them the hard way – that I want to share with you and the Class of 2020:
• It’s hard to ignore the large unemployment numbers, but there are still many job opportunities for college students and graduates. There are certain sectors (e.g. accounting, technology) that are keeping mostly to their typical hiring goals, but there are also millions of jobs being advertised in a variety of industries and there are new ones emerging. For example, there is great need for contact tracers to help understand and curtail the spread of the virus. However, many organizations are trying to figure out new approaches and solutions, and that means that professional service firms and consultants are in demand. Our reliance on technology and ability to work and communicate remotely means that there continues to be great demand for candidates with technical skills and social marketing abilities. There is also great need in pharma and healthcare, and with so many people needing support and allied services, there is great need in the non-profit space.
• Be flexible! You may have clear preferences and priorities (e.g. with regard to specific employers, industries, or geographic location) but this is the time to remain open and cast a wider net around the kinds of roles you will consider.
• Get yourself mentally prepared for this search – stay positive! Understand that the process will likely take longer, and you will need to pay attention to your mental and physical being. Spend time on the activities that will support you and lift you up during the search. Exercise, spend some time outdoors, reach out to friends, and give yourself space to focus on you during your search.
• Think carefully about your strengths, passions, and skills. It’s important to focus on and apply to jobs that are of real interest to you and get you excited. There are many resources available through your university career center as well as online tools (e.g. #2020strong) that can help guide you in identifying and articulating your strengths and career interests. Emphasize the essential skills, values, and experiences that employers’ value – resilience, humanity, and flexibility are particularly important.
• Be prepared to talk about how you have been using this time to continue to develop your abilities and stay engaged. So many courses and experiences are being offered virtually. You could, for example, learn to code or get better at Excel. You could improve your writing and public speaking ability. You could also take the time to expand your mind by visiting a museum virtually or volunteering your time for a cause that has purpose and meaning for you. All of this will help to demonstrate to an employer that you are multi-dimensional, and you used this time to expand and hone your skills and abilities.
• Get your resume in shape and make sure it contains key words, essential skills, and terms that employers and recruiters will be searching on. Given the importance of casting a wide search, be prepared to have several different versions of your resume aligned to different roles and areas.
• Understand how to perform best in a virtual recruitment and interviewing environment. The pandemic has accelerated the trend among employers in utilizing online tools to evaluate and interview candidates. Make sure you have access to a laptop or desktop device. For virtual interviews, find a quiet and uncluttered spot with good lighting. If you have family members or a roommate at home, ask them not to interrupt you for the period of time you will be in the interview. Test your sound and WIFI connection, and make sure it’s as strong as possible. Wear professional clothing appropriate for the role, just as if you were going in person to the interview. Practice ahead of time and check out your facial and hand gestures and adjust to make sure they are appropriate for video. Anticipate questions and come up with examples you can share. It’s possible that some of your interviews will involve multiple people, so prepare for this as well.
• Leverage your professional and personal network for leads and connections. Whether it’s through LinkedIn, your school, alumni, clubs, internships, or community service, make sure to reach out to people who may be able to help you. Especially now, many alumni want to be able to give back and support graduating students.
• Opportunities are listed on a variety of platforms, so familiarize yourself with those services – Indeed, WayUp, Handshake, Symplicity, and LinkedIn are among the most popular. Don’t discount applying directly on company websites or using your alumni and other connections to make an introduction to an organization you are interested in.
• Keep connected to your friends and colleagues who like you are searching for a job. Sharing experiences and learning from one another, as well as being able to commiserate about common challenges and frustrations, is a healthy and affirming way to keep all your efforts in context.
It may not be easy, but you can successfully navigate these challenging times. Have a plan, invest the time, and keep your focus on the time-proven strategies I’ve described here. Good luck!