Advice for graduates on starting a career in strange times

It’s a tough time for everyone right now.

And if you’re a recent graduate looking to start your career, I can imagine it is a very troubling time for you as I know many of your plans might have been smacked by the curveball that is life.

A recent survey from YouGov has found that two thirds of graduates have had their applications and placements paused until next year or withdrawn completely. In addition, the graduate recruitment website, Prospects, found from those surveyed that 28% have had their job offers paused or withdrawn. This led to 47% of those respondents stating that they will apply for a postgraduate course and another 30% stated they would consider a career change completely. 

There’s no way to sugar coat it though, tough times are ahead and the competition for jobs has intensified, whether you’re just starting your career or not.

But, enough of the negative dread. Let’s focus on how we can navigate these strange times and put you into a position to succeed. The times might be challenging but this doesn’t mean you can’t achieve what you want. It might take a little longer than you planned but there is much you can do to prepare, stand out from the crowd and be ready when the time comes.

In this article, I’m going to unpack what you can do next. 

Whether, you’ve had your application paused, had a job offer withdrawn or havn’t been able to secure anything yet. I’m going to share actions you can take immediately to help yourself and some hard truths that you’ll need to accept about the current situation.

It’s a cliche, but a great network will get you far

LinkedIn conducted research which found that nearly 85% of all job openings are filled via networking. And even more revealing is that 80% of jobs are kept secret and never listed.

I know that most tech companies like Google, Facebook and Apple rarely look at direct applications to their roles and instead work through recommendations from current employee networks, along with direct headhunting.

It’s said that recruiters will read a cv on average for 6 seconds and I can certainly attest to that as I was a recruiter in a former life. We have to remember that hundreds of people are applying for the same job and time is finite so recruiters will be skimming through cv’s at a lighting pace.

But having someone on the inside through your network will allow you to showcase more about who you are. It pays to invest in your relationships my friends.

Consider this, instead of firing your cv like a scattergun in all directions. Start to build a map of connections, reach out to people via social media, create a connection that you can convert into a relationship which might help you get a foot in the door.

Think about it, what’s more likely to stand out to you. Reading CV 647 of the day or a personalised message from someone who wants to introduce themself and share why they would be a good fit for the company?

Get some tips from the GetHired newsletter on LinkedIn on how to contact and communicate with potential employers

Build your digital brand

If you want people to find out how amazing you are and all the skills you can offer to a potential employer, then you need to give them something to find.

It has never been more important to have an online presence which showcases who you are and what you can do. This for me is one of the main differences in landing the career you really want. We know that we can’t really rely on the old format of just having a CV in our library. (speaking of cv’s, make sure you’re not sabotaging yours by checking out these tips)

Platforms like LinkedIn enable you to shine a spotlight on you, your work and the skills you can bring. Make no mistake, recruiters and employees of the companies you want to work for are using LinkedIn to follow talent of interest.

Invest in your skills

Pandemic or not, now is always a good time to invest in your skills. We should all be focused on continual skill development and even more so at the beginning of a career journey.

Learning is an everyday behaviour and it is one we need to engage with often.

You can explore my thoughts on how to build a future fit career and a simple philosophy on skill development in episode 3 of the podcast. Also, check out my blog posts on how to re-skill for the new world and advice for graduates, apprentices and new starters in their new roles.

Just because you’ve not got the opportunity you want yet, does not mean you can’t use this time to build your skills and show prospective employers your thirst to improve and a diverse set of skills.

You can use traditional tools like YouTube, Edx, coursera, openclassrooms, Google digital garage and more to evolve your skillset. You’ll find that most of these resources and courses are available at no cost too.

You can find a list of free digital learning platforms here

Plus, you can even use side projects to demonstrate your skills. Volunteer your services to small local companies to demonstrate what you can do and gain some experience. Start a blog and share your expertise with others or make videos for social media. Technology provides lots of options to use your skills.

You can also enhance your skills and knowledge by seeking mentoring opportunities. For example, a quick Google search will show a number of free mentoring platforms to connect mentors and mentees. You can use this option to learn from experienced professionals and partake in reverse mentoring and skill sharing.

A mentor could offer their wisdom in helping you navigate this situation and prepare for new opportunities.

Get comfortable with a new way of working

Earlier this year, you probably expected to be starting your career out in an office, yet times have changed.

More companies now understand the ongoing need to work smarter and make better use of technology. We are probably never going to go back to working in the office for 5 days a week again, so this means we need to be familiar with this way of working.

A number of places are or already have invested in workplace collaboration tools like Microsoft Teams and Slack, which has their slight differences but all play the same role of connecting people wherever they are to make work simple.

If you’ve never used workplace collaboration tools like Slack and Microsoft Teams or video and audio conferencing tools like Zoom. Then now is a perfect time to get ahead of the curve and read up on these tools.

In addition, researching how to work effectively from anywhere and priortise your time effectively to get stuff done will be essential. Another area to be aware of and get comfortable with are video interviews and potential digital only assessment centres. They might have seemed a thing of the future before but now everything is going digital.

Focus your job search on different industries

In times of recession and uncertainty, you may not get what you want right away. So, it might be an idea to entertain other options and gain experience elsewhere whilst working towards your eventual desired role.

Remember, this won’t be permanent but rather short term to allow you to gain valuable experience in the world of work and invest in your life skills. You can learn an incredible amount about how to behave, what good looks like and what not to do by working in many different jobs.

Perhaps, research some alternative options and focus your job search on companies that are doing well during this period of uncertainty. You might have to take on short term contracts or a position that is in the same field but not quite what you’re after. However, it’s about getting some experience under your belt in the short term.

Don’t blindly take anything though. Explore opportunities that will provide value to you and help set you up for the future opportunities you want. This shows prospective employers your ability to adapt and invest in yourself.

Most importantly, remember…

  • Be kind to yourself. This is a unique time in modern history and one that we are all suffering with and navigating together. None of this is your fault and know that things will get better and you will thrive.
  • Be flexible. You might not get what you want right away but don’t close the door on other options just because it’s not your ultimate first choice.
  • Practice patience. I know it’s hard to do and I know you will have worked incredibly hard to get your degree but nothing is given, it is only earned. We all need to practice patience at this time. Connect back into the mindset that helped you complete your degree and use these lessons to help you focus on securing a career opportunity.
  • Stand out from the crowd. Invest in your skills, network, network and network – relationships are valuable in maneuvering around the career ladder. Build a strong brand and online presence. Explore mentoring opportunities if that works for you. (Keep messages personal and avoid the robotic, can I have a 30 min chat or a virtual coffee – why do you want to speak with them? What are you trying to accomplish? Share it.)
  • Ask for help. No one can do it alone. No matter if you think you’re a superstar, we all need a helping hand. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. One of the biggest failings of many people is not asking for help. Let’s get this straight, it is not weak to ask for help, it’s actually a sign of strength and wisdom because you are aware that no one can know everything. 
  • Good things come to those who work their asses off. So, I stole this line from U2 frontman Bono. It’s important to note that feeling down about this situation is perfectly normal but we all have a choice to stay down on our arse or get back up and do something. No one is going to give anything to you so get out there and make it happen. Even in strange times there is opportunity.

Two quotes I want to leave you to reflect on…

“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are”

Theodore Roosevelt

“Never let a good crisis go to waste. It’s the universe challenging you to learn something new and rise to the next level of your potential”

Kristen Ulmer

You might also like

How graduates can get hired during the coronavirus pandemic

Welcome to your career: Advice for graduates, apprentices and new starters

🎙️ Podcast: How to build a future-fit career


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