This article seeks to help the upcoming class of 2021 and beyond with finding a job in a COVID world. I’ll be writing from my experience as a 2020 graduate who successfully landed a full-time Software Engineering position in June after three months of job searching. Additionally, I’ve shared strategies with friends who’ve gone on to find careers in non-tech fields so this article will be written with a broader scope. When reading guiding articles like these, keep in mind that things will always be different depending on person, place, and situation.
The difficulty of finding a job might have increased, but I assure you
it can be done.
COVID-19 has made everything incredible.
Incredibly … different
Last year at this time I was intensely cramming for my upper level Computer Science finals, blissfully unaware of the impending pandemic, I had committed the winter break to looking for jobs, preparing for interviews, and getting many unmasked coffees with friends and mentors alike. Come March, I had procured two piping hot offers from a couple early startups and was daydreaming about how life would be as a post-college adult.
Then COVID hit and it all fell through.
The job offers, graduation, the steady grasp on a now non-existent future.
Sitting at home, tired and terrified, I began to worry how long my savings would last for basic necessities.
Time to start looking for a job.
Making a Game Plan:
Get out a piece of paper, a google doc, or just your phone and start writing down your preliminary strategy.
- What industry do you have experience in / are you aiming for?
- What skills or qualifications do you have for this industry?
- What are the different job titles these skills could fall under? (Hint: mix and match skills and use Glassdoor if stuck)
- Do a quick preliminary search, are these job titles hiring? What does this job look like during COVID?
Adjust and repeat as necessary ♻
Keeping track of your progress is imperative to this process. You can only know how to change things up if you keep track of the changes themselves.
So let’s start off simple: A Google spreadsheet to keep track of the jobs you apply to.
Here’s A snippet of what mine looked like (Names redacted to respect privacy):
The organizational short list. There are a lot more companies that were applied to that are not shown here (Names redacted to respect privacy):
✰ here’s a simplified version that you can make a copy and get started ASAP. (Just click ‘make a copy’ under the file tab and Enjoy ☺)
When doing a serious job hunt it can be easy to lose track of where to follow up, when, and which companies have never responded to your application. Having info laid out like this is great to actually feel like you’re making daily progress.
Where to start searching for jobs
Mass job posting sites like Indeed are great for figuring out who’s hiring, but might not be great for actually applying to the jobs you want. These sites get massive amounts of applications that the already encumbered recruiter has to sit and sift through. If possible, always check directly on the company’s site.
One of the best ways to search and apply. Look up a company in the field you want to be in and scroll their career boards for your perfect fit. Make sure to send a follow up email in a week to introduce yourself, ask questions, and make sure they received your application. The company site is usually directly connected to the HR pipeline and shows you actually took the time to research and reach out.
Job groups, Alumni groups, Affinity groups. Search them all, wait a week, and search them again. In this time more people that ever are reaching out to directly be a referrer to their companies or to give first notice when a job opens. Introduce yourself, ask questions, and you’ll be surprised at the kindness that comes your way.
Better for networking than job searching itself, we’ll talk more about how to use this particular resource in the ‘Networking at distance section’
Virtual Job Fairs
Yes these are happening, haven’t been to one but I’ve heard they can be useful. For those of you who try this let me know how it goes. Curious.
Networking: Making a connection in Co-vid? It’s easier than you think.
(Due to the added length of this section I’ve made this topic it’s own article)
The most important thing I’ve learned with resumes over the past couple of months: One size does not fit all. You will need to create multiple resumes to restructure your skills and experience to cater directly to different job qualifications.
- Writing down your most applicable work experiences,
- Sorting them by relevance or recency
- Tweaking the wording to apply to specially to that posting.
However, there is a catch; you have a limited amount of time.
You could spend all day bedazzling your resume for every job but by the time you applied to your tenth one you’d be covered in glue and exhausted.
It helps to think of this in a restaurant analogy: Imagine this: You are the great chef Linguini of a proud Parisian restaurant. You can try and satisfy every customer that comes in through your door, but taking the time to compose a dish tailored to them would have you running around and catering to three of them while your whole restaurant of fifty waits impatiently. So you wise up and create a menu. A solid one with a couple of options that could fit most diners who are expecting some nice traditional french cuisine. If made well enough of them will rave about you and you could be in the paper (read: Hired). BUT for those high stakes critics you’re really trying to impress (read: a job you really love) you will go the extra mile to create the most exquisite and personalized ratatouille they’ve ever seen. This exponentially increases your chances that you will land that famed good review and get an ever better spot in the paper! (read: Hired at your dream job)
And Voila! You have a balanced system that doesn’t set your kitchen on fire and your cuisine is world famous.
When finished with your first couple of resumes, ask past professors who you admire, or friends that have gone on in the industry to review them. Take what you think serves best and be open to changing things completely. Search up what a general resume from your field looks like and adapt it so it fits your experiences. Hiring managers look at hundreds of resumes per day, so making sure you get right to the point is imperative. Short, sweet, and direct is key.
Remember that although all of who you are will never be represented on that single page of paper. You are simply presenting a facet of yourself and hoping the glimmer catches their eye. Sometimes it’ll be positioned against the sun but occasionally the rays hit juuust right.
You got an interview! NICE!
This is the most field dependent part of the process and where you get to show your beautiful skills and experience off. These people are deciding whether they want to work with you, and based on your resume, they already like what they see.
If it’s a Computer Science job, start brushing up on your LeetCode.
If it’s a Language Translation job, start practicing your oratory skills.
But whatever job it is, make sure you study for your interview
- Review the resume you applied with and be able to speak more in depth on the most applicable points
- Research the companies products, values, and press.
- Make sure you emphasize your teamwork skills, openness to learn, and most relevant experience
- Prepare one quick anecdote of talking about your professional weaknesses (Write it down, it helps)
- Practice with a friend, alone, or with a family member.
- ALWAYS turn your camera on for interviews: It deepens connection and humanizes you beyond your 200pxX200px headshot.
- And remember: Interviewing is a verb. Work on this skill over time and with practice both your nerves and game plan will evolve to a higher form.
Apply, Pivot, Evolve
The first month of applications will be a learning process.
For me, the first month of this process was a bit brutal. I applied mainly on mass sites, with a single resume, and almost hit burnout in the third week of trying. After taking a breather and talking with friends, I realized my strategy needed to be sustainable. I decided to take a two-week sprint approach. After reviewing my resumes I re-structured my experiences under three separate resumes: Machine Learning Engineer, Software Engineer, and Front End Developer. From this, I was both able to apply to jobs much more directly and cover a broader field scope with more accuracy.
When you start applying for jobs be ready to field many rejections. Don’t take them personally, just file them under that mental umbrella of ‘oh I guess we weren’t a good fit’.
There can be a lot of anxiety surrounding putting yourself out there. Remember your worth is not determined by how many rejections you receive; in fact, these are indicative of your effort in the first place.
And in 3–5 years when you make a career change you’ll be better off knowing exactly what evolving strategy works best for you.
TLDR: Keep track of your progress, See where you can change and where you’ve been most successful. Evolve and prosper.
The winning strategy
In June, with a constant flow of referral calls (three — five per week), eight thoughtful job applications per week, and a resume that had been looked over by three people, I had scored 3 interviews. With careful interview prep, (and plenty of experience at this point) I had flown past the preliminary rounds with ease and was genuinely excited with the teams I had talked to. By the second week in June, I had not one but two freshly baked offers on my table.
After accepting a Software Engineering position from Travelers I now spend my days passionately teaching and developing Machine Learning solutions.
After three months of evolving, this was my winning strategy.
For you, this might look incredibly different depending on where you live, your field of interest, and the people in your network. However, I hope this article helps in any way possible on your search through this journey.