Hunting for a first job after graduation is stressful enough during the best of times, much less during a pandemic. In a time of layoffs, furloughs and shuttered offices, it’s natural to feel like your chances of landing a job are slim to none.

But there are moves you can make now to improve your odds. To help you prepare for your search, we spoke with Daniel E. Santos, CEO of Prepory, a career counseling company, for his advice on how to get your first job after college.

BUILD YOUR NETWORK VIRTUALLY

One silver lining of the pandemic: networking virtually may actually feel less awkward than networking at an in-person industry mixer. “Recent grads can definitely network remotely. Sites like Fairygodboss, InHerSight, and LinkedIn make it easy to network with people online,” Santos says. “You can engage with individuals by commenting on posts and discussions or by starting your own conversation.”

Santos also recommends identifying professionals working in your field of interest and reaching out via email or LinkedIn to request a brief conversation. “Accomplished individuals are typically willing to share their insight and offer tips so you can one day garner the same level of career success,” he adds. “They may also have a pulse on job availability in your industry and community.”

To improve the odds of your resume standing out, review the job posting and search for action verbs used in the responsibilities and qualifications sections.

BE SMART ABOUT YOUR SEARCH

With unemployment rates high, competition for available jobs is sure to be fierce. Chances are good that an open position will get hundreds of applicants, which is why Santos recommends filtering your search results to jobs posted during the past week. If an employer has posted recently to a popular online platform like LinkedIn or Indeed, it will likely be filled quickly, pandemic or no, so it’s good to act fast.

He also recommends going directly to your dream employers’ sites. “In an effort to cut costs, many companies are exclusively posting open positions on their career, or equivalent, page,” he says. “Visit their website and confirm whether they have any openings available. This will garner more positions than simply sourcing positions on LinkedIn or other job search platforms.”

Before applying, it’s crucial that you polish your resume and cover letter multiple times. Santos also recommends tailoring your resume and cover letter to each job you apply for. “Yes, this is tedious, but it matters now more than ever.”

TAILOR YOUR RESUME AND COVER LETTER

To improve the odds of your resume standing out, review the job posting and search for action verbs used in the responsibilities and qualifications sections. For example, if the qualifications include “demonstrate project coordination skills” and “organize team meetings,” you should include the action verbs “demonstrated,” “coordinated projects” and “organized" in your resume and cover letter.

“Due to the looming economic downturn, businesses are not in the position to take chances on new employees, and may not have the manpower nor time to effectively train new employees,” Santos says. “Presenting your experience and skill set in a way that specifically addresses the requirements and responsibilities of each position you're applying to will greatly amplify your likeliness of moving forward in the interview process.”

For those with little to no professional experience, include a relevant coursework section on your resume to demonstrate academic experience in your field of interest. In you have post-graduation free time, consider signing up for online courses that can supplement your skills and add them to your resume after you’ve completed them.

PREP FOR THE VIRTUAL INTERVIEW

Now that most job interviews are remote, you’ll have to be mindful of maintaining your virtual professionalism. Santos recommends following these five steps before your next job interview.

Confirm the details. What video conference platform will be used? Do you have the access code? Do you have the application necessary to use it? And of course, confirm the time and time zone, if applicable.

Do a test run. Try out the video platform before your interview. For example, if you are using Zoom, you can easily create a free account and schedule a meeting to test the functionality.

Set the scene. Take your call with a plain wall in the background, in a quiet space that has reliable internet. When getting ready, make sure to dress the part, from head to toe (yes, change out of those pajama pants). Dressing up can shift your mindset, and you want to present yourself confidently.

Pick your technology wisely. Use your laptop instead of your mobile phone, as it’s easier to see the interviewer on a larger screen. If possible, get on the call 15 minutes before your scheduled interview to make sure you're ready and don't feel rushed.

Do your research. Look up the company and the person interviewing you before your virtual meeting. You should have a deep understanding of the company’s competitors and be able to demonstrate this knowledge during the interview. Be excited and passionate during your call — this will encourage the interviewer to reciprocate the energy.

STAY POSITIVE

Don’t be disheartened by unemployment and layoff headlines; there are still countless employers hiring every day. Even amid hiring freezes, Santos says there will always be those firms that urgently need employees to offset demand caused by the outbreak.

“This is not the time to quit,” he says. “Although applying to jobs without the looming threat of the coronavirus is already difficult, continue to source positions and submit your resume for consideration.”

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