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Navigating the Job Market During the Lockdown

By Nicole Arndt, M.Ed. | Assistant Director of Industry Relations, Career Design Lab

As graduate students, you do a number of things to plan for success leading up to graduation. You show up for class, complete homework, engage with professors, and study to pass exams. You rearrange your schedule and juggle competing priorities. You gain knowledge that will help you create impact in your field, and with graduation in sight, you plan for a successful career transition.

Despite your best efforts, it is unlikely that you planned to navigate the job market during the coronavirus global pandemic. While the job outlook is still difficult to predict, your ability to plan for success remains in your control. Here are six tips to help you navigate your career during the health crisis.

  1. Take this Time to Invest in Your Personal Brand  
    Studying and/or working from home is challenging, but with outside activities restricted in most places, many of us may find ourselves with pockets of extra time. Use it to refine your personal brand into an online presence that presents a cohesive narrative about who you are, what you offer, your career goals, and your interests. 

    Take active control of what potential employers and your network at large can see. Optimize your LinkedIn profile. Create and share content to present yourself as a resource and thought leader in your field. Consider creating a digital portfolio of your work or build a personal website using free sites like Squarespace or Wordpress.
  2. Connect with Virtual Communities that Share Your Interests
    Networking is an opportunity to grow authentic connections that result in camaraderie and trust. But between LinkedIn,  Meetup groups, alumni networks, and professional associations, the abundance of opportunities to connect virtually can be overwhelming. Try by starting off small. For example, perhaps you’d like to break into a new field; set a manageable goal such as interacting with 5-10 people in that field on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. Be strategic with whom you engage and consider how you can reciprocate value before you reach out with an ask.

    Keep your activity organic and remember that not every interaction will have an immediate implication for your career. Giving back can be as simple as actively commenting and sharing your take on topics, offering insightful compliments, or facilitating introductions to others in your network. Larger examples could include supporting crowd-funded projects and incorporating others’ reports, blogs, and/ or quotes in your publications.

    Invest in genuine relationships with both potential mentors and peers who you respect and can learn from. In turn, expanding your network will help you keep a pulse on new opportunities as they arise.
  3. Look for New Entry Points 
    The future of work has been shifting toward a gig economy long before the pandemic started. As of last year, a third of workers were already involved in the gig economy and over half of U.S.-based companies said they relied on freelance workers, according to Gallup. With businesses looking to tighten their budgets, some are likely to hire freelance or contract workers to make progress on shorter-term projects while simultaneously saving costs and getting around hiring freezes.

    Remote work and freelance platforms like Upwork and Fiverr are great for helping professionals find work as independent contractors. Short-term paid professional assignments, also referred to as temp work or micro-internships, are smart options for test driving your skills before committing to full-time opportunities. Staffing agencies and platforms like Parker Dewey are a great place to start.

    Also consider reaching out to your professors to see if you can help with research for a project or connect with the larger Columbia Community through COVID-19 Volunteer Opportunities.
  4. Skill-Up to Enhance Your Value Proposition
    Adding a new skill or certification to your resume is only a click away with the rise of e-learning platforms like LinkedIn Learning and Coursera. You will also find companies like Google and IBM offering additional free learning resources to ramp up your digital skills. Take inventory of your skills and determine what to learn next based on industry research, identifying key requirements for roles of interest at your target companies. 

    In the context of COVID-19, it’s a good idea to examine the skills needed in industries experiencing a surge in demand. Transportation, logistics and delivery companies, essential retailers, and even some local governments and health organizations are actively hiring to keep pace with the demand of the pandemic. In addition, consider companies that provide in-demand network services like telecommunication, online learning, and entertainment platforms (think Zoom, Slack, and Peloton, for example). Keep an open mind about your transferable skills and how they can be applied to organizations that may not specialize in your desired industry; most organizations need professionals with a range of skills, so consider broadening the places with which you seek employment.
  5. Track Your Efforts and Remain Persistent
    If you find your motivation dwindling, know that you are not alone as we are all striving to stay focused amid these difficult circumstances. Stay positive while leveraging sites like Candor and #HiringNow on LinkedIn to see which companies are hiring right now. 

    A strong job search strategy pays off over time, so it’s important to recognize the work you’re putting in now and to give yourself credit for small wins gained over time. Treat your search like it’s a full-time job and track your progress daily using a tool like Trello to log your applications, set calendar reminders for follow up, and record notes on next steps. 
  6. Nurture a Growth Mindset
    You’ve probably heard that mindset is everything and when you’re entering a job search in an economic downturn, this couldn’t be more true. Consider your mindset as a foundation that’s going to need reinforcement. Where is your foundation most susceptible? 

    A good starting point is to be more selective about what you consume or listen to--know when to take a break from grim news broadcasts, social media, and sometimes, your very own friends and family. 

    How about your fears and personal insecurities such as a lack of experience, your age or an outdated and limited skillset? These are real so self-acknowledge them with full transparency. Then ask yourself how these insecurities will serve you and your future career prospects. 

    Accept and move on from what you cannot control and focus on what you can. For example, will you take rejection personally? No, because you believe 100 rejections are better than none and have learned something new from each experience. Will it serve you to listen to overwhelmingly negative economic news or is it wiser to seek news you can use? How about taking this time to update or add a technical skill that you never quite grasped? 

    Recognize that your time is valuable and invest in the things you control. You have the ability to craft your mindset in a way that will serve you over one that will not.

    The Career Design Lab team is here to support you and we are actively communicating with employers to keep you informed of hiring updates. If you haven’t done so already, we encourage you to schedule time to meet with the Career Connector for your program through their profiles located on SPS Talent.