When 2020 kicked off, very few people were aware of COVID-19, and even fewer individuals realized that it would develop into a pandemic of historic proportions. The problem is, COVID-19 isn’t just a deadly virus — it’s a world-stopping one.
The Side Effects Of COVID-19
Over the first half of the year, shelter-in-place orders and quarantines have brought economies across the globe screeching to a halt. Fear of the effects of the virus left over 30 million employees without a job in the first six weeks of quarantine alone.
In other words, the world wasn’t just terrorized by a plague. It also saw a massive economic downturn that sparked stimulus packages, economic disaster relief programs, and a slew of other responses from federal, state, and local governments in order to manage the damage.
While the recovery already showed signs of beginning to take place, these were quickly overshadowed by the renewed threat of a resurgence in Coronavirus cases. This has even led the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Anthony Fauci, to point out that the U.S. is “still knee-deep in the first wave of [the virus].”
The unfolding catastrophe poses a serious threat to numerous previously employed adults. These have suddenly found themselves out in the cold as their previous employers either remain shut down, struggle to reopen, or close up shop for good.
Throughout all of the chaos, though, one group of individuals has quietly become ever greater victims of the economic disaster: college students.
If someone has a good track record, a rock-solid resume, connections in their industry, and they’ve only become unemployed due to the pandemic, chances are, they’ll be okay in the long run. They can tap into dramatically beefed-up unemployment benefits, have already received a stimulus check, and will likely get another one before the pandemic has finished. Even once it comes time to return to work, their experience means they’ll stand a good chance of quickly being shuffled to the front of the line once things begin to return to a state of normalcy.
But what about college students? What about those who are currently trying to finish school or perhaps even graduated in the midst of a global pandemic? As dependents, most of them have missed out on many of the stimulus and unemployment benefits offered thus far. In fact, most college students have nothing but a degree fresh off the press — or even just a pile of unfinished college credits — to their name.
The looming question is, how will college students manage to find employment going forward? The answer likely lies in their own ability to fight back against their misfortune.
How College Students Can Find Work In A COVID-19 World
If you’re a college student that can relate to this unsettling new professional reality, take heart. There’s still hope that your career can start strong, in spite of a few sputters out of the gate.
A large part of the path to success in any challenging situation begins with slowing down, taking stock of your own, particular situation, and then creating a plan. Below are some of the best steps that a student or recent graduate can take as they attempt to move forward into an uncertain future.
Slow Down And Take A Deep Breath
The first thing you want to do is slow down and take a deep breath. It’s cliche and even a bit cheesy, but it’s important.
Particularly during a quarantine when the world is panicking, it’s crucial to slow down and collect your thoughts before you make any rash decisions.
Take Stock Of Your Options
Once you’ve slowed down, it’s time to take stock of your options.
Start by considering your own assets. As a college student, you may not have much professional experience yet, but you still have valuable talents and skills. Identify these and look for ways that you can add unique value to a business.
Next, make an effort to narrow down companies that are hiring during the pandemic. As a starting point, several industries that are actively hiring include:
- Large tech companies
- Seasonal businesses
- Essential businesses
- Cleaning and sanitation
- Digital entertainment
- Retail and food delivery
- Online learning
All of these are open and often thriving in the midst of increased demand for their products and services. You can conduct personal research as well to find countless other companies that have managed to stay open during the crisis. These often represent excellent starting points for a job hunt.
Set Your Priorities
Once you’ve pinpointed the areas where you think you could get a job, it’s time to prepare to apply. Begin by considering your priorities. Make a list and include everything that you can think of on it. Items to consider include:
- “X” amount of pay
- Remote work capabilities
- A pet-friendly office space
- Bonuses or a 401(k) plan
- Your own parking space
Obviously some of these are less likely than others, especially for an entry-level position. However, they’re worth writing down. Once you have your list, prioritize it in order to gain a better understanding of what should truly be focused on.
The truth is, many perks and specific requirements that may have been reasonable a year ago are no longer reasonable expectations. Sorting through your priorities now can help you focus in on good options once you start reading through job descriptions.
Hone Your Application Toolkit
The perfect resume is an ever-elusive subject. Everyone has their own opinion on what a resume should look like, what information should be included, how long it should be, and so on.
With that said, it’s still important that you adopt a resume template and then either create or update your resume to conform to it. As a college student, it may be on the slim side still, but having a thoroughly updated resume is still an important first step in finding employment.
Also, take some time to practice writing your cover letters, prepare for interviews, and polishing your online professional profiles, such as LinkedIn.
Organizing your resume, cover letters, and other application-related documents is a critical step in finding work, especially when you’re at a professional disadvantage. The same recommendations are made for those who are coming off of long-term unemployment, as it can help you overcome the disadvantage of losing (or in the college student’s case, never having) professional momentum.
Equip Yourself For Remote Success
In the Coronavirus age, it’s important to equip yourself for remote-work as well. Not only can the interview process take place online, but at this point, there’s a good chance that any job you’re hired for will want you to work remotely for the time being as well.
With that said, make sure that you have all of the equipment on hand and updated in order to operate efficiently and productively from home. This includes, but is certainly not limited to:
- A functioning computer
- A good internet connection
- A microphone and camera
- A phone to make and receive calls
Make sure you have everything ready to go before you start applying.
Spruce Up Your Referrals
Referrals are by far the most effective way to get a job. In fact, 40% of hires come from referrals. This is impressive on its own, but it’s underscored by the fact that the next best channel for new talent is career sites, sitting at a paltry 21%.
With referrals making up such a critical part of the job hunt formula, it’s essential that you cultivate your own personal network as you prepare to apply for jobs. Chances are your current network largely consists of fellow college students, past employers, and professors.
Make an effort to connect with them and ask if they’d be willing to be included as a referral on a job application. Remember, the suddenly remote-heavy work world makes it much harder for face-to-face time with peers, so proactive communication is required if you want your referral network alive and well once the job-hunting rubber hits the road.
Raid Your College’s Career Center
At this point, you’re ready to start applying. Obviously you’re going to want to start by applying to career opportunities within your field, however sparse they may be at the moment.
A school career center can be an excellent place to find quality resources and networking opportunities to aid with this. Your school may even be amongst the colleges that are trying to host career fairs online this year as well.
In addition, faculty will likely be more than willing to go out of their way to help you, considering the circumstances. For instance, they may be able to help you maintain contact with an employer who was interested in you before the pandemic began.
Look For Temporary Alternative Employment
At this point, you’ve sharpened your tools and prepared to do the best you can to land a job in your industry. However, in all honesty, chances are that it will be difficult to do so in the short-term.
Rather than throw up your hands and simply give up on finding employment, though, there are a few employment alternatives that you may want to consider for the time being:
Pick up a side gig. The gig economy was on a rip before the pandemic and included 57 million freelance workers in the U.S. alone. College students looking to generate a little cash flow while in the Coronavirus limbo could consider picking up work as a writer, tutor, or digital marketer while the downturn lasts.
Look for internships. An internship can help you build clout in your field or industry, and getting one out of the way during a pandemic — when many people aren’t generating income anyway — can be an easy win-win. Some of the industries hiring interns the most aggressively at the moment include retail, health care, and higher education. Check with your career center or work that network to find school staff, alumni, or other professional friends that can help you identify internships in your field.
Steer into volunteerism. If you can’t find gainful employment right away, for the time being, look for meaningful ways to volunteer, such as at a hospital or food shelter. This allows you to help others, expand your professional network, improve your resume, and practice your professional skills and talents.
Consider continuing education. Finally, if you feel that finding a job at the moment isn’t going to be easy, you may want to use this lull in your professional life to embrace continuing education. This can include attending grad school online or pursuing a professional certificate within your field or industry.
If you can make the most of the economically turbulent times ahead, you’ll be able to set yourself up for the best start to your career possible once jobs become available within your field once again.
Finding Confidence And Optimism In The Times Ahead
The reality of life in the wake of COVID-19 is that it’s tough. Nobody’s arguing that point. But remember, you’re not alone. 94% of college students plan on forging ahead with career plans in spite of COVID-19 complications.
In other words, you’re shoulder to shoulder with a sea of other college students, all of whom are gearing up for the fight of their professional lives and looking for employment.
You can choose to go into this fight with a negative, pessimistic attitude, but what good will that really do other than to help excuse failure?
Instead, remember those hallowed lines from J.R.R. Tolkien’s monumental Lord of the Rings trilogy: “I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo. “So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
If you want to find success as a college student, it’s absolutely essential that you commit to making the most of the hand that you’ve been dealt. Start by setting reasonable expectations and embracing an adaptable mindset. Then set yourself up for success by using the steps outlined above. From there, launch yourself out into the world with a tenacity and fervor that won’t rest until you find your place in the ranks of the workforce of the future.