Nuhamin Solomon (M’20) interviewed members of the Coaching and Development Team for this article on searching for jobs and internships in the age of COVID-19.
The economic slowdown has led companies to rethink hiring such as deferring job start dates, maintaining job offers but no longer making the positions paid, or flat out retracting those offers. Others want to honor an offer but are unsure about the logistics of the position, such as whether the role will be remote or not or if the job description will change.
These changes present challenges to graduates looking for jobs. “Now, not only do you have to continue to craft the best story that you can about yourself and what you’re bringing to the employer, [but] you also have to deal with employers who are uncertain about their own situations,” says Rachel Kim, the Interim Global Director of Coaching and Talent Development team and a Coach in the Minerva Project since February 2019.
So how should students approach the job searching process? The Coaching and Talent Development (CDT) Team in Minerva Schools shares some tips:
Despite the new obstacles of applying for companies and limitations on the roles available for students and recent graduates, companies will likely not halt hiring completely. “There is still a need for support,” says Neha Chaudhary, Minerva’s CDT Lead in the UK, who joined Minerva Project in August 2019. “Junior talent is always going to be a big part of any company’s infrastructure.” But there will be adjustments on how much new hires are paid and when the companies will be able to train new recruits. Chaudhary added: “Students are going to have to be a little bit more proactive about how they can still offer support at this time. And perhaps that shifts the focus of an internship or job that they had landed [from what it] would have originally been.”
The Trends: Industries that Students should Keep an Eye Out For
“There are a lot of unknowns with regards to hiring and budgets in organizations of all kinds,” says Dan Curme, Manager of Student Professional Success in Minerva Schools of nearly three years.
However, some conjectures can be made given the nature of the economic crisis. Chaudhary says sectors providing services society still demands, such as delivery companies and online conferencing, will continue to increase hiring. “Any roles that are associated with that are gonna be needed in an even fuller force – whether it be marketing, sales, tech, fundraising, client relations. Whatever it is, looking at those sectors [is] going to be quite key, cause they [will] be needed for the next few months at least,” says Chaudhary. An article from Investopedia predicts the Health, Biotech, and Teleconferencing industries will remain strong.
Researching Companies and Roles
Independent research is always a crucial first step in job searching. But, assessing a firm’s goals and challenges will become even more important now as companies must make a lot of strategic operations decisions.
“Understand who you’re approaching and who are their key competitors. And know how they’re navigating their landscape,” says Chaudhary. The size of the firm, number of employees, and company resources can easily be found on the company’s website. Chaudhary also suggests reading company blogs and publications to learn what the company was doing before the crisis. What were their key focuses for this year, and what are the gaps in attaining this goal, either due to the pandemic or other factors? This information can help students understand where the firm needs support what skills and previous experiences they have are relevant, and better articulate the value they can bring to achieve those goals.
Standing Out: Identifying Opportunities to Provide Value
Reaching out to employees of the company to better understand the desired skill sets and knowledge can help students highlight them when applying for jobs. Even if those may be highly technical or in industries where students have little background, there is usually room to get creative.
“So no matter what your background is, there is probably a role where you could add value,” says Kim. Students can tie personal strengths to roles that exist or even propose roles that don’t exist but could add value if they did. For example, an applicant may be familiar with the customer demographic that the company is targeting. This person can then pitch their experiences interacting with such customers and highlight how it could be valuable for the company.
Knowing the values of the organization is also essential. Companies usually present their values on their website, and students should align their previous experiences with those principles. “If a company has said that they really value innovation, you don’t necessarily have had to invent an app before. But have you ever thought about something creatively and solved a problem in a creative manner before?” says Chaudhary.
If students do not have technical background or experience, they can still gain more knowledge about the field by immersing themselves in the right communities and doing independent research. Students can reach out to classmates with those skill sets and follow blogs and podcasts to familiarize themselves with a field.
Taking online courses can show companies that the student is already working on relevant skills. Since the pandemic, several universities have released their online courses for free. Here are some of those online resources:
Networks: Reaching Out and Engaging
When it comes to connecting with professional networks, Curme says that it’s not the time to be transactional. He recommends students be genuinely empathetic when reaching out to people and take an interest in others’ well-being in such an unprecedented time. “People are looking for help right now. A general rule for networking is not how can someone help me but how can I help someone else.”
Before offering help, Kim suggests having “exploratory conversations” to be aware of opportunities that may come up and prepare for them. Because people are working from home now, they may have more time to connect with others. She especially suggests contacting people who are publicly stating their willingness to help out on social media and people who graduated during the 2008/9 recession that can relate to the situation students are in. Reaching out to staff and faculty in the schools and looking into the networks of previous organizations, schools, or communities can also help. Students can also use Eventbrite to find online networking opportunities.
OPT – A note to international students
For iinternational students who will graduate at the end of May, there will be additional obstacles to overcome. OPT processing times have been slowing down for the last couple of years beyond the recommended 90 days. Curme acknowledges that the limited time of OPT tends to make students less attractive than applicants who have longer-term work authorization or US citizenship. The time lag adds to that problem.
Marianna Panossi, the Director of Global Student Services at Minerva Schools, states students should be transparent with their prospective employers regarding their immigration status and provide their requested OPT start dates. If possible, students can use their OPT benefits for unpaid internships in the relevant fields. However, for students with financial constraints that will not allow them to work without pay, Panossi stresses the importance of “aggressive” job searching and being flexible on location preferences.
International students on OPT are required to complete their training in the U.S. So students that left the U.S., either due to the pandemic or travel restrictions, can only enter with their Employment Authorization Document (EAD), a valid F-1 US visa, and an employment offer letter. If a student already started working remotely for the U.S. employer, they might need to answer some questions about their remote work and the reason their employer requires their physical presence.
Mindset: Slow and Steady
As times get tougher, students should not give up. As Chaudhary puts it, “In the future when all of this is behind us, there’s always going to be that ask of, ‘So what’s your 2020 story?’” She encourages students to make that story worthwhile by working on the projects that matter to them.
Taking it one day at a time and setting realistic expectations about what one can accomplish goes a long way. The job search is about incremental progress, so arranging a regular time to work on a few tasks a day is essential.