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Students graduating from college this spring are entering the toughest job market in a decade or more, as the result of the coronavirus pandemic that has shut down many businesses and boosted the unemployment rate to its highest level since the Great Depression.
But the economic uncertainty created by the coronavirus doesn’t mean young job seekers are out of options. In a moment of chaos, the best strategy is to focus on what you can control. For this year’s college graduates, that means finishing well, focusing on relationships, and finding ways to create opportunity.
Here's my advice to the Class of 2020:
Like many employees whose jobs have been disrupted by the coronavirus, this year’s college seniors are facing circumstances they didn’t expect. The temptation is to focus on what’s been lost, but employers want to see how their prospective hires find opportunity in the midst of adversity.
That means that Step One for this year’s graduates is to finish their studies well.
Ending with a strong performance in your final semester can provide a great story to tell prospective employers. Show them how – in the midst of uncertainty and change – you found a way to adapt, do excellent work and continue learning.
Employers will be encouraged to know that the same can-do spirit you brought to your studies will allow you to get off to a fast start at their companies in this challenging economic moment.
Focus on relationships
Networking has always been important in landing a job, and the coronavirus hasn’t changed that. But social distancing and stay-at-home orders are forcing us to rethink how we cultivate new relationships.
Like so much else, the process of making new connections is migrating online, which means now is the time to make sure your LinkedIn and social media profiles represent the professional image you want to project.
Reach out to your school’s alumni network or people in positions at companies you’re interested in. Introduce yourself, tell them why you’re reaching out, and ask for 15 minutes with them on a phone call or video chat. Not everyone will respond, but in a shelter-at-home world, you might be surprised by who is willing and able to make a little time for you.
If you land a call, don’t go in immediately looking for a job. This is the time to learn about what’s happening in the company or industry and plant the relationship seeds that could bud into a job interview in the future.
It’s very likely that you’re reaching out to people who faced similar job market challenges in the aftermath of 9/11 or the 2009 Great Recession. They’ll understand your situation and may have great advice on how to handle today’s circumstances, given their prior experience.
Finally, don’t let a stalled job search stunt your professional growth. You can’t control how quickly companies will start hiring, but you can control how you invest your time and energy.
Employers often ask job applicants to explain gaps in their resume, so make a plan to get ahead of that question.
Find volunteer activities that put you in touch with people in your community, show a desire to contribute, and seek out opportunities to put some of your professional skills into practice. Or take an online class in a skill set you haven’t developed but that could be useful in your desired field – maybe a computer coding language, Excel modeling, or a graphic design package.
Ask yourself: What would my dream employer love to see me doing to prepare for a role with the company? If you find yourself with more time on your hands than you’d like, use it to show that you have the persistence it takes to keep moving forward even when career headwinds are strong.
As the economy slowly comes back online in the second half of 2020, uncertainty will remain high and competition for jobs will be fierce. But in the midst of many market forces they can’t control, this year’s graduates should focus their time and energy on things they can control.
Employers will be hungry for workers who can demonstrate an ability to thrive even when change is tumultuous. The class of 2020 can do just that by finishing well, focusing on relationship building, and finding creative ways to grow and contribute as they pursue what’s next.
Professor Brian Brenberg is as an Executive Vice President and Chair of the Program in Business and Finance at The King’s College in New York City, where he is also an Associate Professor of Business and Economics. He joined Fox News as a contributor in March 2020. Read More