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Six strategies to help recent college grads find work during the coronavirus pandemic

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Recent college graduates struggle to find work in the wake of the pandemic

Gillian Gullett thought she had it all figured out: Graduate from college, move to Seattle to live with her boyfriend, and find a job.

After all, the economy was strong and unemployment was matching its lowest level in more than 50 years. Then, the coronavirus crisis hit and jobs dried up.

"The pandemic hit around St. Patrick's Day. So for at least a week or two after that, I felt like I was having a panic attack every other day just because of the uncertainty of it all," said Gullett, who was a senior the University of Arkansas Honors College at the time.

The 22-year old had to cancel her spring break trip to Seattle and the job interviews she had scheduled there. They were replaced with Zoom calls, but the opportunities were put on hold.

Gullett packed up after graduation and moved to Seattle anyway. Luckily, she's receiving unemployment from her job as a barista in Arkansas and is now actively looking for a job in human resources, in the nonprofit world or as a legal assistant.

Gillian Gullett graduated from the University of Arkansas Honors College in May and is now looking for a job in Seattle.
Source: Gillian Gullett

However, she is also looking for work that pays the bills until she can find an opportunity that interests her.

"The pandemic has made it a lot harder to even be interviewed for jobs that I'm interested in because there are that many people out there who are more experienced than I am," said Gullett, who plans on going to law school in a few years.

"Finding entry level work at the moment seems pretty impossible," she added. "I've applied for at least 30 or 40 jobs and I've heard back from one."

She is certainly not alone. A survey by the job site Monster in March, before graduation, found that 55% of future grads applied to a job in the last three months that they knew was not the right fit out of desperation.

Here's what recent grads can do to help get their career off the ground during these difficult times.

1. Be flexible

Desperation aside, it's not a bad idea to take a job right now that isn't your dream gig.

You will earn money and build your skill set.

Blair Heitmann, a career expert at LinkedIn, said she learned many important soft skills while waiting tables, like how to deal with people, thinking on her feet and learning to multitask.

Skills like communication and problem solving are the top abilities that every industry is hiring for now, she said.

"You are playing the long game," Heitmann said. "Build the skills you will need over the course of your career."

Also, identify which jobs are in demand right now and think about how you can market your skills and experiences for those opportunities.

It may just be a way to earn money, but it can also help you stay active and engaged while you continue to look for the job you really want, said Vicki Salemi, a Monster career expert.

Be persistent, stay focused, network, set up job alerts, apply to them as soon as they become available.
Vicki Salemi
Monster career expert

You may also find you really like the job. 

"It could be an opportunity to pivot," she said.

According to Monster, industries with the most new entry-level jobs the week of June 8-14 were retail trade, health care and social assistance, accommodation and food service, administrative and support and wholesale trade.

2. Network, network, network

You are more likely to get your job through a connection, and recent college grads are no exception.

"I hear from grads all the time, 'I don't have experience or a network,'" Heitmann said.

"The reality is there is a network there."

Think about former coaches and teachers, peers from high school or college, or parents' friends. Start with your personal network and build from there. Reach out to former bosses from internships or other interns you may have worked with. Try to find people in the area you want to work.

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Remember to cultivate your network throughout your career. No one likes only hearing from people out of the blue when they want something. Ask them what it is like working right now and where their industry is headed.

If you had a job offer that was rescinded, stay in touch with your contact at the company.

"If you accepted that rejection gracefully and professionally, you can stay on their radar," Salemi said.

"It may not look like the same offer, it may be a contract but you may get your foot in the door."

3. Build up your professional profile online

You can make a good first impression with your LinkedIn profile.

Heitmann suggests using a really clear head shot that looks professional.

Fill in the headline section with keywords that describe your skills and craft a summary that highlights your expertise. The "sweet spot" for the summary is 40 words or more, she said.

4. Nail the virtual interview

Before you do an interview over Zoom, Microsoft Teams or another virtual meeting platform, make sure your technology is all set up. Make sure you know how to use the platform to do a video call and even practice with friends or family members.

Also, find a quiet place to set up and ask others in the home to not interrupt. The background should look simple, neat and professional and your lighting should be good.

"When you land the interview, you don't want to have any distractions to take away from it," Heitmann said.

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How to tailor your resume for remote jobs

It's also important to dress the part, even if you think the interviewer won't see if you are wearing sweatpants.

Lastly, try to look at the camera at all times.

"What is lost during the interview is the body language and building rapport naturally," Salemi said.

"On a Zoom call you will need to focus on that eye contact 100%."

5. Have as many coals in the fire as you can

When you get job alerts and question whether you should apply or not, apply anyway, Salemi said.

"You can always withdraw your candidacy or even turn down the job if it doesn't feel right," she said. "You won't know if you don't explore it."

If anything, you'll hopefully gain interviewing skills. It's also an opportunity to connect with the organization itself and perhaps be considered for another job down the road.

6. Be persistent

Salemi is optimistic the job picture will improve.

In fact, Monster is already seeing more opportunities becoming available.

"Be persistent, stay focused, network, set up job alerts, apply to them as soon as they become available and realize that, in due time, we anticipate more opportunities to become available as various sectors of the economy continue to reopen," she said.

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