The end of the school year is here, which means normally graduates are celebrating their accomplishments and looking to their futures. But the Covid-19 pandemic has gummed up the works. Graduation ceremonies have been cancelled. Students haven’t been able to spend time with and have those final parties with their college friends. And — of course — the economy has taken a nosedive.
This is a scary time to be new to the job market. So what should you do if you’re out hunting for your first job right now?
Patience is going to be key. There are going to be a lot of applicants out there for each open job and securing a job won’t be easy. But there are several things you can do to throughout the process that will demonstrate your character and make you a more appealing candidate.
Hone your skills
Many of the important things you’ll do at a job are not things you learned in college classes. Some of them involve additional skills that are not strictly necessary to get a job in your field, but would certainly make you a more attractive candidate. There might be a programming language or a software package that is often used in the field or a sales technique favored by companies in a particular industry. Ask around to find out what those unique skills might be. Or look at the LinkedIn profiles of people who work in the types of companies you want to work in.
While you’re working on your job application materials, find ways to continue to develop those capabilities. Take an online class, read books, and engage in online forums with professionals in the field you’re interested in.
Honing your skills has two benefits. The obvious one is that it increases the range of jobs for which you are likely to meet the qualifications. The less obvious one is that it helps to demonstrate your work ethic. Lots of people like to say in a job interview, “I’m a self-starter.” Fewer can show all of the things they have learned while waiting to hear about the status of job applications.
Part of looking for a job is making connections, which is particularly challenging when you’re social distancing.
One thing you should do is to find someone already in the field you’re most interested in who can serve as a mentor for you. To find the right person, start by making use of your personal connections. Are any members of your extended family already in the field you want to enter? Was there a favorite professor who seems well connected? Ask them for help. Your university career services office may also have good recommendations for potential mentors. There are often a lot of alumni who want to give a helping hand to recent graduates.
Once you find a mentor, have that person go over your application materials to fine-tune the way you talk about your experience and interests. Rely on them to get a clear understanding of your weaknesses as a job candidate. They should be able to identify some of the limitations in your training and your resume, even if they don’t know you that well. They can also give you general advice about common difficulties that new people in the field encounter. Once you know what your deficiencies might be in the eyes of a hiring manager, you can use your time to fill those gaps and build the necessary skills (as I discussed above). Another advantage to securing a mentor is that they might hear of job opportunities through their networks before they’re officially posted.
Many professions also have professional societies for people who work in that area. Find out which one (or ones) are the most prominent and join them. Professional societies have lots of great resources including webinars and tutorials for people seeking to advance. Many of them maintain lists of available jobs.
These societies may also host conferences. By joining up, you will be able to attend conferences (many of which have been moved online) and find out the latest news in that field. That will give you information you can include in a cover letter or to otherwise frame your job application so hiring managers know you are tuned into their industry. And it will make you a more appealing candidate if you demonstrate knowledge of trends in the field during the interview.
Be of service
One of the hardest things about any extended job search is that it can be demotivating. You spent a significant chunk of time and effort to get a degree with the promise that it would launch you into the career of your dreams. With the pandemic, it can begin to feel hopeless.
Worse yet, you’re unlikely to have an established daily routine. One of the joys of college is that your course schedule is different each day, and so much of what you do to succeed in school happens outside the classroom, so you’re free to organize your schedule around the activities that emerge on a given day.
But there’s lots of downtime during a job search. You’ll likely spend some time looking for job postings, reaching out to people, or submitting applications — but you’ll also do a good deal of waiting. And the lack of schedule can be disorienting. So give yourself something to do.
Just because nobody is currently paying you doesn’t mean that you can’t work. Reach out to local charities, food banks, faith-based organizations, or government offices. Ask what you can do to be of help. Then, go do it.
Not only will this allow you to establish a good daily routine, but it will help lift your mood. There is a lot of positive feeling that comes from helping others who need it. And you might connect with people who may know of jobs that you would be qualified for. And finally, the stories of what you are doing with your time as you apply for jobs will help you to stand out in job interviews. But more important than helping yourself, you’ll be helping people — and there are many — who need it now.
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