Students, Don’t Give Up on Your Job Search Because of COVID-19

By Lin Grensing-Pophal April 30, 2020
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​With many businesses closed and millions of employees laid off or furloughed, opportunities for job seekers have diminished, creating stress and concern for those about to graduate in the Class of 2020.

"Students should admit to themselves that job hunting during COVID-19 times will be far harder, yet also not at all impossible," said Steven Rothberg, founder of job search site College Recruiter. "Fewer organizations are hiring now than two months ago, and, with rare exceptions, those who are hiring are taking longer to hire."

How can recent and soon-to-be college graduates navigate job searches in the COVID-19 era?


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Start with the Right Attitude

Despite the tough—some might say dire—situation we are now in, it's important for job seekers to stay positive, said Anna Barker, founder of LogicalDollar, a personal finance service. She bases her client advice on her own experience "gained from turning $60,000 in debt into a six-figure investment portfolio." As someone who finished college in the middle of the Great Recession, she said, "I definitely have firsthand experience on job hunting during downturns."

Students can take heart in knowing that college graduates have historically been better positioned to emerge from economic downturns than those without college degrees, according to Damon Yarnell, associate provost and executive director of Dickinson College's Center for Advising, Internships and Lifelong Career Development in Carlisle, Pa. One key characteristic they tend to possess, he said, is "the ability to navigate ambiguity and solve problems creatively. At Dickinson, we emphasize four points: Stay strong, focus on what you can control, prepare to be agile and stay positive."

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Staffing in Special Markets: College Students]

Find Opportunities

Opportunities are still out there if job seekers know where to look. If there's an employer you're interested in working for, scour its website for open jobs. "That employer might take three months to fill the opening, but they're still screening resumes, selecting candidates for interviews, interviewing them, selecting finalists and extending offers," Rothberg said.

In addition, there are a wide range of job boards out there and new ones emerging. With so many options to choose from, Rothberg suggests that job seekers conduct Google searches based on the type of opportunities they are interested in—"human resource generalist jobs in Atlanta," for instance. "You'll quickly see the employer and job board sites with relevant job postings," he said. This can be a good way for students to narrow the field to those sites most focused on the types of jobs they're interested in.

Prepare for the Interview

While video interviews aren't new, they're likely to be more widely used in the COVID-19 era. Job seekers should expect that at least one round of interviews, and perhaps all of them, will be conducted remotely.

Take time to practice for video interviews, advised Keca Ward, global senior director of talent experience at Phenom, a talent experience platform in Philadelphia. "They're quite different from in-person conversations, and you'll want to conduct multiple dry runs before the real deal," she explained. "Analyze your posture, eye contact, tone of voice, sound and lighting quality, and backdrop—all essential details to get right."

Ward said job seekers should take advantage of remote communication tools to gain experience with using them and to maintain and nurture their personal and professional relationships. "Need a coffee break? Make it virtual," she said. Launch a video meeting and have a conversation with friends or fellow graduates you haven't spoken to in a while, she suggested, to get comfortable with how the software works.

It's also more important than ever to do your homework about the company you're interviewing with. "The most important piece of advice I'd give anyone preparing for an interview in this environment is to really understand the impact of the situation on the interviewing company's industry," Barker said. "When I was going to interviews during the last recession after graduating," she recalled, "the most frequent questions I received were looking for my knowledge and understanding of the financial, policy and regulatory impacts on each company's area of work. They wanted to really see I'd done my research and had a solid grasp on how their work was affected by what was going on."

She said job seekers need to keep in mind that companies are trying to get through this situation as best they can, and they want employees who can help them do that. "By showing you have a strong understanding of what's going on in this area," she said, "you're going to best position yourself for stepping into the role that will help them navigate the storm."

Disclose Exposure to Coronavirus

Finally, what should you do if you've been exposed to or diagnosed with COVID-19? Be upfront with your prospective employer and the interviewing team. The job may not need to be filled immediately and may also lend itself to remote work. Your health and the health of potential colleagues and customers should be paramount. And, if you are called on to participate in an in-person interview, be aware that you are likely to have your temperature checked and to be asked questions about recent travel and other potential exposure to the virus.

Lin Grensing-Pophal is a freelance writer in Chippewa Falls, Wis.


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