April 23, 2020
This year's graduates will be heading out into a strange new world. College-bound high school grads will be wondering if they'll be moving to an actual college campus later this summer, or if they'll remain at home, continuing to handle their academics online. College graduates will be heading out into a dramatically changed "real world," seeking employment or hoping to hold onto the internships they secured before the COVID-19 crisis hit.
In reading comments by parents on the College Confidential discussion forum, I've seen the pandemic realities set in. Upcoming summer internships are being canceled for college students and high schoolers. Job offers formerly extended to graduating college seniors are being withdrawn and, in many cases, the main reason is, "We're just not sure what's going to happen." Uncertainty can sometimes be more stressful than bad news.
In trying to get some perspective about the current job market and job search situation for college graduates, I found two articles that offer practical insights. First, NPR's Graduating In A Pandemic: Advice For The Anxious Post-College Job Search has some specific advice for the Class of 2020. Next, Forbes' How Soon-To-Be College Graduates Can Job Hunt During The Coronavirus Outbreak provides look-ahead strategies for pending grads.
The uncertainty factor is a most perplexing element for graduates. At this point, there doesn't appear to be any consistency in which states, or even specific regions within states, will "reopen" in the near future. Some states, like Georgia and South Carolina, are making relatively major efforts to get their economies back on track, providing some job hunters with the expectation that positions will be available soon.
Uncertainty centers around the fact that graduates targeting specific areas of the country may not be able to land their intended jobs because their states don't have a scheduled date for reopening. Grads may have to take an "any port in a storm" approach and commit to an offer anywhere just to have work, thus passing up opportunities that may open up later in their preferred regions. As with many things in life, timing is everything, for better or worse.
Flexibility is a key mindset that grads should keep in mind. NPR notes Kamla Charles' advice about that:
"In your mind, when you major in something, you feel like this major specifically fits just that area," says Kamla Charles, coordinator of employer relations at Valencia College in Florida. But she says the skills you're learning within your major are giving you a foundation. The experiences and opportunities you take advantage of will ultimately shape your career pathway, more than what you majored in. "Be flexible in exploring other industries that are thriving right now, like technology and online platforms," she says. Think: "How can you pivot in this time and use the skills that they've learned, but just applying them in a new way?"
The analogy that occurs to me is that of a running back on a football team. Did you ever notice how the great backs go down the field? They don't merely run as fast as they can. They surge then slow, giving themselves the "flexibility" to follow their blockers, dart through openings and avoid tacklers. Job seekers who are focused full-speed on one discipline, one state or one city aren't maximizing their chances because of straight-line thinking. Negotiating changing circumstances is a lot like dodging tacklers.
Interviewing has always been a challenge, even during "normal" times. Many companies are now operating with minimal onsite staff and a significant number of key personnel working from home. Making a strong interview impression can be difficult. The main tools of remote contact — Zoom, FaceTime and other applications — lack the face-to-face advantages that allow candidates and interviewers to observe physical cues such as body language and eye contact. The good news is that, like TV news anchors, you only have to look good from the waist up, opening the door for unseen, relaxed pajamas-bottoms comfort "south of the border."
Forbes writer Jack Kelly offers some advice about Internet interviews:
... With phone interviews, you can't see the interviewer or the office. You'll miss out on social cues, which will tell you that they liked or disliked how you answered a question. Without seeing the office, you won't gain a feel of the place, people and culture. In person, you may see some sports memorabilia and learn that you share a similar passion for a team, which is a great icebreaker.
Recent graduates may not feel as comfortable on the phone as Gen-Xers and Baby Boomers. You should practice conducting mock phone interviews. One of the benefits of a phone interview is that you can write notes and keep them in front of you while talking. It will keep you focused, on topic and offer a training-wheels assurance.
Video interviews offer a close resemblance to an in-person meeting. You may have conducted enough FaceTime conversations that you're more comfortable with this mode of interaction. It will be easy to fall back into an informal tone as that's what you're used to. Remember that this is an interview and you need to keep it professional ...
I've been through a number of recessionary periods and have experienced being one of a cast of thousands competing for a job opening. The key, in my view, is making yourself stand out from the crowd. That a cliche, I know, but with the power of the internet, you can come into an interview loaded with unique appeal. How do you do that?
Another analogy is that a job interview is much like a college admissions interview, where you're applying for a "job" as a member of a particular college's student body. The key is to know much about the school where you want to go. Digging out small but significant points about not only the school, but also the specific area in which you want to study, displays focus and passion. The same thing applies to job interviews. Research the company and impress your interviewer with deep insights:
"I see that Raytheon has responded to the DOD's RFP for fast Fourier transform development. I wrote a paper on FFTs my senior year." I can almost guarantee that no other candidate will say something more impressive than that. Dig deep into your interviewer's company and stand out. As Kamla Charles says:
... Tailor your experience. "Now is not the time to be submitting generic materials for hundreds and hundreds of opportunities," Peltz says. Instead, he says, you've got to set yourself apart and be creative in how you sell yourself to prospective employers. "Candidates need to really tailor their materials and message as to why they're a good fit and why they're interested in that particular opportunity. Employers don't want to hire somebody just looking for a job. They want to hire somebody who's looking for their job." ...
Explain how your engineering (or whatever) major work in college gave you hands-on experience with FFT algorithms (or whatever that company's product or service is). If you are, in fact, conducting your interview remotely, be aware of your eyes' power to convey enthusiasm, sincerity and intensity. I found it helpful to speak in front of a mirror to see how I look when trying to be persuasive. Be sure to remove your mask before you practice!
Finally, Kelly advises about an obvious reality:
... In light of the stock market correction, continued fears over COVID-19 and a weakened economy, your job search may take longer than the graduates of years past. You will have to develop a thick skin. You need to stay mentally and emotionally strong. It's understandable to feel badly that after working so hard and incurring large sums in college debt, you now have to face a once-in-a-generation difficult job market.
Temper your expectations so that you won't get disappointed if this takes a long time. Given the disruptions at companies, it's likely that you won't often hear back from them. The interview process will be clunky as companies are primarily focused on looking after their employees and figuring out how to navigate this tough time period ...
These cautions apply even when there's no pandemic. Adjust your thinking, timeline and expectations. In the spirit of exhortation, then, I'll leave you with that famous, if not redundant, encouragement from Winston Churchill: "Never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never — in nothing, great or small, large or petty — never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense." Thus, stay true to your conviction for success -- and don't give up!
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