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Graduating During a Global Pandemic: Strategies for Navigating a Competitive Job Market

Monday, May 25, 2020   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Rafael Delgado
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“What should I be doing now?” As the U.S. economy surpasses 30 million jobless claims, more than 3.8 million students approaching graduation are wondering what they should be doing to successfully secure gainful employment post-graduation. Students graduating in 2020 will be tasked with navigating an economy in which a global pandemic has eliminated the 22 million jobs added since the Great Recession ended in 2009. Students who are looking to be competitive in this job market should focus on building their network, developing their skill set, refining their job resources, and gaining work experience to best prepare to meet the needs of their future employers.

In a CNBC article, Douglas Bonaparth wrote, “If there’s anything I learned from starting my adult life during the Great Recession, it’s that no matter how bad things might look or be at the moment, there’s a world of opportunity still waiting out there.” While the state of the economy seems bleak, students should look towards the thousands of employers who are continuing to recruit new talent. In a survey of 439 employers, 61% of employers plan to recruit the Class of 2021 at the same level as the Class of 2020 (Coronavirus Quick Poll). Handshake, a job platform for college students, is maintaining a list of 500 companies looking to hire current students and recent alumni. Candor.co is maintaining a database of more than 7,000 companies, identifying which are hiring and which currently have a hiring freeze. With employers posting fewer positions, it will be important for students to leverage their network and hone in on the skills, resources, and experiences employers need.

Build Your Network

  • 70% - 85% of jobs are found through networking and personal relationships (Belli).
  • Connect with your existing network of academic and career professionals, such as professors, academic advisors, and your university’s career services.
  • Participate in university student clubs and organizations.
  • Conduct informational interviews with alumni and other career professionals working in your industry to gather career advice, research potential job roles, and discuss mentorship opportunities.
  • Establish your social media presence through LinkedIn to stay connected with your network.
  • Develop an elevator speech, so you can quickly and confidently share your skills, accomplishments, and interests.
  • Connect with potential employers by attending virtual career fairs and employer information sessions.

Develop Your Skill Set

  • Research occupations/industries that are actively hiring using resources such as Handshake, Glassdoor, and LinkedIn to identify the key skills needed for the roles most in-demand.
  • Focus on skill development through academic coursework and co-curricular activities.
  • Refine virtual workplace skills, such as project management and communication, by leveraging experiences from remote classes.
  • Explore graduate school options.
  • Develop new skills through online courses such as LinkedIn Learning or Coursera.

Refine Your Job Resources

  • Meet with your university career services early and often to develop your resumes, cover letters, and LinkedIn Profile.
  • Tailor your job resources to each position/employer, incorporating skills and keywords from the job description. Utilize online tools such as Jobscan.co to guide your tailoring.
  • Practice, practice, practice your interviewing skills (phone, virtual and in-person.)
  • Develop an e-portfolio with evidence pieces of your work to share with potential employers.

Gain Work Experience

  • Establish a remote internship to gain the work experience required for your industry.
  • Explore temp or contract remote work.
  • Find virtual volunteer opportunities with your community, local non-profit, or place of worship.
  • Work with professors to establish research projects.
  • Connect with your network to establish portfolio-building side projects.

Similar to the Great Recession, this time will pass and students will continue to find gainful employment. In a survey of those who graduated during the recession, more than 83% of them agree/strongly agree that they are currently satisfied with their careers (Episode 11: Unique Career Advising). The class of 2020 should focus on the elements they have control over, such as their relationship building and skill development. They should continue to focus on self-care and maintaining a sense of patience during this uncertain time. Above all, students should be reminded that their challenges in securing employment post-graduation are not a reflection of their ability or self-worth. The graduating class of 2020 has a unique opportunity to demonstrate the resilience, persistence, and innovation needed to persevere and succeed in this time of crisis; skills that will make them invaluable leaders now and in the future.

About the Author
Rafael Delgado is an Assistant Director of Career Services at the University of Washington Bothell and is an MPACE member.
“500 Companies Hiring Students on Handshake Right Now.” Handshake Blog, 5 May 2020, learn.joinhandshake.com/students/hiring-on-handshake-500/.

Belli, Gina. “How Many Jobs Are Found Through Networking, Really?” PayScale, 4 Mar. 2019, www.payscale.com/career-news/2017/04/many-jobs-found-networking.

Boneparth, Douglas A. “What College Graduates Need to Know Entering the Job Market Post-Coronavirus.” CNBC, CNBC, 31 Mar. 2020, www.cnbc.com/2020/03/31/what-college-graduates-must-know-entering-job-market-post-coronavirus.html.

Chouinard, David. “[LIVE] Who's Freezing Hiring from Coronavirus.” Candor, 2020, candor.co/hiring-freezes/

“Coronavirus Quick Poll.” Coronavirus Quick Poll, National Association of Colleges and Employers, May 2020, www.naceweb.org/talent-acquisition/trends-and-predictions/coronavirus-quick-poll-preliminary-results.

“Episode 11: Unique Career Advising.” The Career Leadership Collective, 2020, www.careerleadershipcollective.com/new-forward.


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