Colleges may return to normalcy in a few months as the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines continues. Meanwhile, in sharp contrast to that positive news, millions of college students will graduate this spring facing bleak employment prospects.
The COVID-19 pandemic caused unemployment to soar in 2020 and is expected to affect the job market for graduates again this year. Some labor analysts see the pandemic perhaps having this ripple effect on graduates for years to come. These sobering trends are why students should expand their preparation for the job market and know what action steps they need to take, says Vince Thompson (www.meltatl.com), founder and CEO of the marketing agency MELT and author of Building Brand You: How To Use Your College Experience To Find And Win Your First Job.
“Thanks to COVID-19, if you’re in college right now or recently graduated, you’re facing the toughest job market in our lifetime,” Thompson says. “With so many people unemployed and displaced, people will be willing to take a lesser job for a lesser salary just to get back in the market.
“To use a fishing analogy, it’s going to take a lot of casts to get a few bites for interviews and ultimately land the job. But don’t let that discourage you. Instead, let it inspire you to grow and learn what you need to know to set yourself apart from other candidates. It’s all about positioning yourself by building your resume, brand, and your network. And being enthusiastic about the process.”
Thompson suggests the following tips for soon-to-be graduates as they prepare for a fiercely competitive job market:
Build your brand. The job market is so competitive that companies are looking for far more than candidates with a high GPA. “Hiring managers often seek well-rounded young people who can communicate, collaborate and create,” Thompson says. “They’re looking for people who have been active outside the classroom as well – in clubs, the community, volunteer work, etc. All of these aspects are part of your brand. Also, the new litmus test in the job market will be, ‘What did you do to improve yourself and others during COVID? Or did you do nothing and feel sorry for yourself?’ Employers are going to be looking for those intangibles.”
Organize your marketing playbook. “Utilizing a complete marketing playbook means leveraging your abilities and interests on social media platforms,” Thompson says. “This is where you display your public brand. Your profile, posts, photos, and videos reflect what you’re about. It’s key that your presentation and message are consistent on each platform that you use.”
Expand your networking. “Today, about 75 percent of new hires happen through networking,” Thompson says. “Build a target list of people to contact at companies that are hiring. Join discussion groups on LinkedIn that can expand your contacts and your knowledge. Connect with thought leaders and ask them questions to gain insight.”
Upskill. “Companies want young people who are versatile and able to learn new skills quickly,” Thompson says. “Research skills required in fields that you’re pursuing and get credentialed through online training programs. If opportunities are far fewer in your chosen field, research where your best skills apply in other industries.”
Prepare for virtual interviewing. “When you interview in person, your body language, enthusiasm, handshake and small talk help build a connection with the interviewer,” Thompson says. “Being interviewed on a screen demands that you be fully engaged, establish a rapport, have continual eye contact and express yourself clearly.”
“How you stand out from the crowd has always been the differentiator in hiring,” Thompson says. “It’s much a bigger crowd now for fewer jobs, so the importance of preparation in all facets has never been more important.”