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10 Tips for College Grads Seeking Work During the Coronavirus Crisis

Call them the Class of COVID-19. For those graduating college in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, the real world just got a little too real. With the world still clenched in the unyielding grip of the virus, unemployment is up and the once promising job prospects for the Class of 2020 now feel like a distant memory.

Graduates who were betting on careers in industries such as food and beverage, hospitality, retail, aviation or tourism, all which have been crumpled by the pandemic, have found themselves in limbo as uncertainty for the future of those industries looms large. A rebound for these industries and others that have been crushed by massive layoffs, bankruptcy and billions in revenue loss is uncertain, and it remains to be seen whether many recents grads will get the chance to use their hard-earned degrees in their chosen field of study.

Industries that are most uncertain

Millions of soon-to-be college grads are likely wondering whether their degrees are going to be worth the cost of the paper they are printed on come graduation. While some industries will rebound quickly, there are many others for which the outlook is uncertain.

Retail is reeling from the fallout of COVID-19, and it has a long, uphill battle ahead. More than 250,000 non-essential businesses have temporarily closed since March and experts predict 15,000 stores will close permanently this year. When stores do reopen, people who have lost income and cash reserves may be hesitant to spend. Experts predict that the uncertain economy could cause consumer spending to change, and that the brick and mortar stores affected by the virus will continue to struggle. It will be hard for them to sell goods that have been collecting dust on unseen shelves, and for many retailers, debt will make it difficult to show new merchandise, according to former senior retail analyst Walter Loeb.

Likewise, economists say, travel and tourism will be forever changed or could take years to return to form due to several factors. First, the widespread economic impact will make it difficult, or even impossible, for some consumers to afford to travel in the next year. Second, those who can afford to travel are likely to remain skittish about the idea of air travel and hotel stays for some time.

The outlook for the restaurant industry is even more grim. To date, more than 8 million restaurant employees have lost their jobs and the industry will lose $80 billion in sales by the end of April. Restaurant owners are saying they have a 30 percent chance of survival if the crisis persists over four months, yet plans for relaxing shelter in place orders and reopening businesses remain nebulous in most states.

What does this mean for the Class of 2022?

What will all this mean for recent college grads in these industries? At best, the job market will be tight, with limited positions and steep competition from workers trying to regain footing in industries new graduates have set their career sites on. Depending on their majors and the roles they seek, some recent grads will likely have to take a job they can get before they get the job that they want.

If you're a recent college graduate, toss out everything you might have thought about post-graduation employment. Don't expect internships to be waiting for you. Even those who have already been offered jobs might be disappointed — many companies have already rescinded or postponed offers, and others are considering doing the same.

In short, expect the worst and prepare accordingly, but do your best to stay positive. You will have to work harder to start your career, and you'll have to take unorthodox approaches to get there, but it will pay off in dividends down the line.

Here are nine tips to help you come out on top. 

  1. Get creative.

    Flexibility and creativity are your keys to the kingdom when it comes to finding a job in the wake of COVID-19. Think of all the ways you can apply the knowledge you learned in school and the transferable skills you've attained over time. You might be surprised at the number of opportunities you have that you might never have considered before. For example, if you are a business major who lost a marketing internship at a large retailer, you might help out a local retailer market their online business or consider using your skills at a bank.

  2. Explore your virtual options.

    If your internship was rescinded, some companies are offering remote internships. Though not onsite, these opportunities will still offer participants the chance to connect with potential employers, develop skills and gain experience.

  3. Focus on what's available.

    There are plenty of companies who are still hiring, so set your sites on those. While shelter in place orders are still being enforced, consider looking for remote work on sites like FlexJobs, which specializes in full- and part-time work-from-home roles. Another great resource is Handshake, a website that connects students and employers lists companies that are actively hiring students and recent graduates. CollegeRecruiter.com links graduates and employers for entry-level positions, and if you are still figuring out what you want to do or want to change your career focus, CollegeGrad.com will help you assess your options.

  4. Consider a temporary role.

    Your ability to land the perfect position might be delayed by a few months or longer but that doesn't mean you can't earn a paycheck. Remember, this situation could last months or maybe even a year, so even if you don't find a position in your chosen field right away, at least you can make a living with a temporary job. Future employers will want to know what you did during this time so let them see that you were resourceful and developed new skills. They'll know that when push comes to shove you are willing to work hard and try different avenues to reach your goals. Try to find work that will benefit you and be relevant to your chosen career if possible.

  5. Volunteer while you search for a paying job.

    Volunteering is a great way to spend your extra time, put your education into practice, build your skill set, develop your network and give back to the world. Plus, having volunteer experience will help build up your resume. Many nonprofit organizations need help to stay afloat while they help others in the wake of COVID-19 and many of the opportunities are virtual, so you'll have the choice to help people on the other side of the world, or those right in your backyard. The do-good organization Idealist has a long list of remote volunteer openings as well as internships, and you'll find myriad ways to help feed the hungry, support vulnerable groups and connect with those in crisis via Taproot Foundation.

  6. Leverage your transferable skills.

    Transferable skills translate across industries and job titles. They include hard skills like math and writing, and soft skills like communication and creativity. Learning how to leverage your transferable skills can help you transition easily from one job to the next. You'll want to feature these on your resume, along with the experience, technical skills and achievements you earned while pursuing your degree. Just make sure you're clear about how you might apply these skills to the job at hand. For example, if you were a lab assistant in your senior year chemistry class, you probably developed organizational skills and honed your eye for detail. Those skills are highly desirable in a number of roles, such as pharmacist, accountant, copy editor and executive assistant.

  7. Make your resume a priority.

    A well-crafted resume will set you apart. Your resume should be up-to-date, polished and customized for each job or internship you apply for. It should highlight your most notable achievements and contain a compelling summary statement that entices recruiters to read more about your skills, experience and education. A functional resume is perfect for new grads because it emphasizes skills and accomplishments while downplaying employment history.

  8. Craft a killer cover letter.

    Cover letters are crucial companions to resumes because they can sway employers to hire you. They offer the chance to provide more depth to your resume, show off your writing skills and explain in more detail how your experience will lend itself to the job. For example, you might explain how a student job provided specific traits that you can directly apply to your new career like so: "As a student lab assistant, I helped prepare specimens and demonstrations. That experience taught me how to be highly organized and pay attention to the smallest details. I'd be able to use those skills to excel as a junior accountant with your firm."

  9. Develop your networking skills.

    Utilize your LinkedIn profile by connecting with companies, hiring managers, recruiters, agencies, former classmates, HR managers, college advisors, professors, family friends or associates, and others who could be potential resources. Let them know you're looking and ask if they might have an opening or know someone who does.
    Demonstrate tenacity by sending hiring managers and HR managers letters of intent. These steps could eventually lead to a break in your job search and lead the way to a successful career.

  10. Pitch your own virtual internship.

    Show potential employers your proactive side by creating an internship for yourself with their company. This will take some time and creativity, but the initiative could make a great impression. Don't know how to create a pitch? Lauren Berger, "The Intern Queen," provides a great walkthrough to help you get started.

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