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Career Prep

6 Ways to Help Your Student Navigate the COVID Job Market

Guest Contributor

It can be hard to choose a career path during college or after graduation under the best of circumstances. Now, with the world economy in upheaval because of the pandemic, college students and new graduates face a particularly daunting task. 

In the United States, internships have been cut by more than half, many being either postponed or cancelled altogether. Around the world, more than 1 in 6 young people have lost work due to COVID-19. Employers of college graduates are revoking job offers and delaying start dates.

In this grim landscape, your student or recent graduate may find themselves questioning their choices, second-guessing their abilities, and discouraged at their prospects. 

With planning and support, they can still be successful! Here are six ways to help your student navigate the challenges posed by the coronavirus crisis.

1. Recalibrate Expectations

The first step in helping your student prepare for the months ahead is to talk about adjusting their expectations. While they may have been working their entire academic career towards a particular path or industry, a temporary detour may be necessary. 

As Deloitte notes in their report Workforce Strategies for Post-COVID Recovery, “[T]he recovery won't be static. It will not occur on a specific date. COVID-19 is unlikely to end suddenly given the lack of available therapeutics and uncertain prospects and timing of a vaccine.”

Make sure your student understands that a job search at this time will take longer than usual and will be way more competitive. If it’s financially feasible, a gap year now might be ideal (although likely it won't include the traditional travel). 

Pose the idea of pivoting their career path, perhaps into an industry that wasn’t hit so hard. Or they may want to reassess their career path altogether. Many of the skills and knowledge they’ve picked up will be transferable to other industries. For example, a hospitality management student will face incredible challenges with travel being at a low. For now, they could leverage their management expertise into a supervisory role at a retail store, where the hospitality aspect of their education will also make them a prime candidate for a customer-facing role.

2. Promote Adaptability

While they may have had a dream job in mind, all is not lost. If your student can be flexible and adapt to the current situation, they can still find a job. 

For now, encourage them to locate any job that will help them build skills towards their ideal career. For instance, if they're a computer science major destined for the IT department of a global startup, suggest that they look into doing freelance dev work for the time being. They'll earn money and also maintain and grow their skill set, ensuring they stay competitive so they're ready when a great opportunity does eventually come around (and it will!).

They may also want to search abroad for opportunities. While your locale may be bereft of job options, one positive aspect of this crisis is that there has been an exponential increase in remote employment. Depending on their intended career path, many options can be found around the world as virtual, work-from-home placements. 

From marketing to design to IT and beyond, plenty of full-time, part-time and one-off jobs are available. While they may not be at a world-renowned company or with the salary your grad was hoping for, these jobs will still look great on their resume for the future. 

3. Personalize Job-Related Documents

In the current economic climate, demand for jobs is at a high, meaning your student will face unparalleled levels of employment competition. 

Before 2020, an applicant might gotten an acceptable amount of positive responses just by sending out loads of generic documents or LinkedIn applications. Now, with dozens if not hundreds of candidates vying for every position, it's essential that they tailor their resumes, cover letters and emails to increase their chance of landing an interview.

Encourage your student to thoroughly research the companies they’re applying to so they can write a unique resume and cover letter for each and every job application. Resumes should be tailored to highlight skills that line up with the job description and what the company is looking for. Regarding cover letters, your student or grad will be able to write each in a voice that matches the respective companies’ cultures, while also customizing the information included to be as impactful as possible.

These personalized documents will help your student stand out from the crowd of applicants and at the very least get some consideration rather than being rejected immediately.

4. Use Downtime Productively

Your student can accomplish a lot with their free time! Staying busy and purposeful will help them keep up their momentum and their spirits.

  • They should continue to network through LinkedIn as well as virtual career fairs.
  • They can seek out online courses to develop new skills.
  • They might consider volunteering, or going back to school to earn a master’s or a second bachelor’s degree.
  • How about creating a personal website? Not a blog (though your student may find writing their thoughts down cathartic) but rather a professional portfolio page highlighting their skills and accomplishments which can serve as a complement their LinkedIn profiles and resumes. This is especially handy for project-oriented industries, such as advertising, journalism or web development. 

5. Dig Into the School's Resources

Colleges always offer a wealth of useful resources to their students, alumni and the local community, and during the pandemic these resources are more valuable than ever.

Visit the website of your student or grad's college. University career centers and counselors have their fingers on the pulse of the community and can guide your student toward skill-development classes, employment opportunities and networking events — all great choices in the current economic environment.   

In addition to the professional support your student can receive from their college, there may also be coronavirus-specific aid to assist with any hardships. For example, the HR department of the University of Michigan offers grants of up to $1,500 through their Emergency Hardship Program, which can be used for utilities, transportation and housing expenses. George Washington University has a GW Cares Student Assistance Fund, NYU offers a Student COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund, and USC has a dedicated COVID-19 resource center with mental health and well-being support, applications for emergency funds, and more. 

6. Be on Standby

Finally, simply being there for your student is the number one thing you can do to help them during this unsettling time. 

As I’m certain you do already, try your best to assuage their fears, and offer them constant support and encouragement. Remind them (and yourself) there isn’t one right path through this crisis, and things will start to look up soon. 

Though your student may choose to change career paths, take a temporary detour, or wait it out, they’ll come out stronger and more resilient in the end. When all is said and done, having faced these challenges, this generation is going to be a future force to be reckoned with!

Christian Eilers is a career and education writer with a focus on professional development, college entry, university life and entrepreneurship. As the Content Lead for the Goodwall blog, he covers subjects including self-improvement, social impact, college preparation, career advancement, fighting climate change and more. Christian is originally from New York City (where he studied at CUNY).
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