As a graduating college senior, you have likely seen your life turned upside down by the COVID-19 pandemic. Not only have you had to adapt to virtual learning, but you’re also set to graduate into a climate of intense economic uncertainty.
While it’s normal to feel discouraged about your chances of employment at this time, there are steps you can take to boost your chances of landing a job — specifically:
As you approach graduation, you might be stressing about the news of mass layoffs and hiring freezes. But remember that not all companies are struggling right now; in fact, some industries are growing.
“Many industries are busier than ever and need to hire to keep up with new demand, like remote working platforms Zoom and Slack, or food retailers Target and Safeway,” said Erin Lantz, a Seattle-based business executive and Harvard School of Business graduate.
“Other sectors, like logistics and insurance, are pivoting to new directions as their industries digitize and need employees with different skill sets to join and help shape their next chapter,” Lantz said.
Although you might have a tough time finding work in, say, the travel or hospitality industry right now, you may find higher-than-usual demand for roles such as health care practitioner or e-commerce worker. As you search for a job, target industries that are doing more hiring than firing this year.
Even if you have a specific idea of what job you want after leaving school, you might need to open up your search to adapt to these changing circumstances.
“Opportunities are harder to come by in today’s economy,” said Ryan Miller, a manager at career services company Employment BOOST. “I recommend being less picky on the role you’re going for and focus on finding a position where you can learn valuable skills so that you can become more valuable as a candidate.”
While you might not be interested in some of the positions offered, don’t disregard an opportunity just because it looks different than what you imagined. Any number of roles can help you develop skills that you’ll apply throughout your career.
Networking has always been an invaluable part of the job search process, and that’s especially true in today’s competitive climate. According to career coach Cynthia Orduña, more than 80% of new hires come from referrals.
“Reach out to people in your network — professors, friends and alumni — to develop your relationships and ideally get a referral for every job you want to apply to,” Orduña said.
Even though the coronavirus pandemic might stop you from attending job fairs or networking events in person, you can still grow your network online.
“Instead of sheltering inward within this unprecedented time of economic uncertainty and social distancing, reach out and connect with your fellow graduates,” said Ashley Stahl, a career expert with SoFi.
“Band together to share networking and industry connections, start your own side hustle together or generate a group you lead of like-minded individuals to support one another during this time,” Stahl said.
You could use LinkedIn, join alumni groups, tell friends and family that you’re job searching and apply any other means you can think of to connect with others during your job hunt.
In response to office closures, many companies have shifted their processes online. If you can show hiring managers that you’ve got the skills to work remotely, you could have a leg up on the competition.
“The shift to digital in traditionally in-person categories like car-buying or banking has sped up,” said Lantz. “Companies are trying new things they would have never considered in the past, such as 100% remote workforces. While some of this is challenging, it’s also creating new opportunities for jobs and careers.”
You might also look for online freelance or part-time opportunities if it’s taking a while to find a full-time role. Online freelance marketplaces connect job seekers with opportunities from all over the world, so you won’t be limited to openings in your geographic location.
You’re probably spending plenty of time at home these days, so make the most of it by revamping your resume, cover letter, portfolio and other job materials.
Know that it’s generally better to tailor your resume to each position rather than to send a generic one to all prospective employers. Reflect keywords from the job description in your resume — not only will this show that you’ve done your homework, but it could also help your resume pass an Applicant Tracking System, software which some employers use to vet applications by scanning for keywords.
“Seventy-five percent of resumes are rejected by machines without ever getting looked at by a person,” said Reza Handley-Namavar, entrepreneur and founder of resume services company Jobalytics.co. “Make sure you have the right keywords in your resume, and highlight the skills you have that match the roles you are applying for.”
Even if you don’t have much job experience yet, your involvement in school clubs, volunteer work, internships or course projects could impress a hiring manager.
You probably know to delete any college party pictures that you don’t want a prospective employer to see. But beyond cleaning up your social media, it’s also worth curating a professional online presence.
“The vast majority of recruiters (up to 95%) have reported using social media to vet out candidates,” said Stahl. “Consider beefing up your professional LinkedIn profile. This could look like collecting endorsements, making your bullet points under each job on your profile more accomplishment-focused, or even authoring blog posts to amplify your voice on LinkedIn and deepen your personal brand.”
Depending on your target job, you might also put together an online portfolio or website to show prospective employers.
Although you might feel impatient about getting your career started, remember that few graduates get their dream job right out the gate. And unfortunately, the job search might take longer than usual due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Johnathan Sumpter, the director of the counseling center at University of Dallas, encourages graduates not to lose hope.
“This too will pass,” Sumpter said. “Job markets ebb and flow all the time. The current setback is worldwide. Things look different, but that doesn’t mean they always will.”
In the meantime, you can keep focusing your efforts and moving forward, even if that involves piecing together side gigs or temporary work for the time being. While you may have bigger goals down the road, these first few roles could be stepping stones that get you closer to your destination.