Trying to start a career as a fresh grad is already challenging enough. But with the Covid-19 pandemic wreaking havoc across businesses, drying up revenue streams and forcing layoffs, the bar to entry is set that much higher.
But all is not lost. If you know how to take advantage of the dynamic, connected nature of today’s business world, and can prove your willingness to hustle alongside the best of them, you have every chance to land the career of your dreams.
Follow these five career-building tips to succeed in the tumultuous age of Covid-19.
You may have graduated ready and eager to pounce right onto a career as a travel writer, but, uhm, no travel companies are hiring at the moment.
It doesn’t matter, sign up for any available short-term or part-time jobs you can find, and work on starting your own travel blog in the meantime.
The important thing is to start working as early as possible, so you build responsibility, discipline, professionalism, maturity and other important workplace skills that will help you stand out from your peers (here are “10 Most Important Job Skills You’ll Need In Post-Pandemic Job Market“).
And don’t scoff at the working experience you’ll gain along the way – besides academic qualifications, recruiters also look for traits like commitment, willingness to learn and versatility. Your part-time job can provide real-life examples to show your prospective employer that you indeed possess those traits.
More and more professionals are landing jobs and careers through personal networks – in fact, one report says that between 50 per cent to 70 per cent of jobseekers in Singapore find jobs through personal and professional connections. Guess it’s true what they say: it’s not what you know, it’s who you know that matters.
Building your network doesn’t mean forcing yourself to spend precious hours enduring god-awful events with awkward conversations and fumbled name card exchanges. Instead, true network building is all about getting to know the right people in the right places.
That means getting to know people with the same aligned interests as you, have an ear on what’s happening in the industry, and have the means to get you in the door.
Where do you find people like this? At seminars and workshops, sure, but also at hobby groups, online forums and social networking sites.
You don’t have to force yourself to make friends with someone just because they appear to be a “right connection”. Rather, just get out there and partake in conversations, activities and events that fit your professional goals and preferences, and let connections form naturally.
Before you know it, you’d have built up a pool of contacts that could soon send opportunities your way.
Work exposure is often more valued than having the right qualifications, because there’s simply no substitute for experience. It’s one thing to have a certificate stating you’re familiar with the contents of a textbook, it’s another thing to demonstrate you can apply what you’ve learned in the real world.
During the pandemic, entry-level openings in your chosen career may be scarce, but that doesn’t mean you have to wait around for opportunities to drop into your lap. You should identify what skill sets employers in your chosen sector value – especially for more senior positions – and work on learning those skills yourself.
For technical skills or soft skills (like management skills) that you’re lacking, consider attending workshops or courses to arm yourself with them. Another way to learn a desired skill is to teach yourself (the Internet is chock full of free tutorials), and practice with personal projects.
If that sounds suspiciously like building a portfolio, that’s because it is. A properly constructed portfolio will help demonstrate to prospective employers your unique interests, talents and skills, which is important in finding the right job.
Your dream company may not have a full-time opening for a junior exec at the moment, but how about an opening for a temp or an intern?
If possible, try to get your foot in the door to your ideal career by securing a position as a temp or an intern.
By taking on the grunt work, you’re proving you are willing to start from the bottom. Even if you’re grossly overqualified for the data-entry they’ve stuck you with, you should take the opportunity to prove you can be a reliable and useful team player. Make the right impression and you’ll boost yourself to the front of the queue when it comes time to expand headcount.
Another advantage of signing up for temp positions is the opportunity to check out what it’s really like working there. You’ll get the chance to know the personalities and culture of the department, which can save you the trouble of having to quit on a great company with that not-so-great micromanaging manager.
At the best of times, job interviews are a pain. But with Covid-19 forcing meetings into the virtual space with laggy video and stuttering audio, impressing your interviewer over a video interview is now that much harder.
To improve your chances of success, invest in a good laptop and a reliable Internet connection. You may also want to consider a good headset with a mic attached, so you can hear and be heard clearly during the interview.
Make sure to choose a well-lit room to attend your interview, but beware of any overhead lights that cast your face in shadow. While it’s ok to have the interview in your house, be sure that your backdrop is clean and tidy, free of any distracting objects or household mess like discarded clothes. Same goes with your aural background – make sure the fan isn’t blowing directly into your computer’s mic, which will only muffle your voice (read also “Here’s How To Look & Sound Good On Video Calls“).
Remember to give your interviewer complete attention and stay on your interview screen at all times. Maintain an appropriate level of eye contact, and don’t even think of sneakily checking your email or WhatsApp messages when the other party is speaking – your darting pupils are a dead giveaway.
Finally, just because it’s a virtual interview and you’re at home doesn’t mean you can dress like a slob. Be sure to be neatly groomed and put on an appropriate level of makeup. Slapping on a power pantsuit can make you look unnatural and stiff (see: your ex-classmate’s financial planner namecard), and can deter your interviewer from connecting with you. So, instead, dress comfortably, but professionally.
Doing a trial run or two to check everything above is usually a good idea.