Imagine waiting for a call back from a job interview. You’re worried, anxious, and excited. The phone finally rings and your heart sinks when you find out the company you’ve applied to is in a hiring freeze. This is the reality for many recent college graduates seeking their first job in a global pandemic.
Covid has caused companies to hold back on hiring. Those that are hiring receive many applications, and competition is fierce. Graduates must find a way to stand out from their competition.
Nate Hasto, a Brockport alumni, and local employer in the finance sector knows what companies are looking for.
“The number one thing that the pandemic has created is the need to have a solid online presence. I’ve looked at a good amount of students linked-in profiles and it feels that it’s just thrown together,” Hasto said.
In a work environment that’s evolving, being able to navigate and express yourself through social media is important. Hasto graduated from SUNY Brockport in 2014 with a marketing degree.
“When I was a student, I know that a lot of the internships that I had were through LinkedIn, also interns that we have had in the past have certainly been through LinkedIn as well. I always like checking out LinkedIn in order to get a better idea of who the applicants are,” Hasto said.
Due to lack of experience, many college graduates have a hard time putting together a strong Linkedin profile.
“Even if you don’t have a lot of work experience, it gives people an opportunity to get to know you and the things you’re really passionate about,” Hasto said.
Hasto also explained that companies are more than aware that students coming out of college don’t necessarily have the same technical skills than veterans in the field.
“It’s always great when you can find someone who has a good foundation in technical skills or industry skills. However, they are all learned skills though,” Hasto said.
Using social media as a tool to market your skills is important, but now that the stakes for employment are even greater, social media is playing an even bigger role. The pandemic has increased the popularity of keeping social media accounts up to date.
“One of the things that’s going to be pretty imperative is, that they show the ability to manage themselves more,” Hasto said. “When you look at the setting that a lot of these corporations have at this point, many of them are shifting to mostly or completely remote work. Although they can certainly monitor their systems and people’s activity but people don’t want to necessarily be micromanaged. The ability to think outside of the box is important because you aren’t going to be able to walk over to the cubical next to you, but also have the ability to keep themselves on track,” Hasto said.
With unemployment skyrocketing due to the coronavirus, job market competition for recent graduates is higher than previous years.
“Their ability to be flexible will be a key factor, along with their ability to communicate,” Hasto said.
A good starting point for most is working on communication skills.
“Intentionally going out of your way to become better at communicating now, you can certainly make you better at it prior to graduating,” Hasto said.
Some students feel they don’t have the experience necessary to get a job in their field. Hasto says hiring isn’t solely based on experience and a little kindness can go a long way.
“I believe that if they go out of their way, whether it’s a follow up email or a follow up note, just some way of going out of their way to show appreciation of the time spent is always a great way to add some more value to the conversation,” Hasto said.
Sending a thank you email can leave an impression; a study with career builder showed that 57 percent of job seekers don’t send thank you notes after an interview.
“What’s really the most consistent value you can provide people is putting people in touch. Either with people with similar minds, or could be complimentary. It really is all about who you know and the relationships you can build,” Hasto said.
Having more connections and relationships can improve the chances of getting hired. Career builder in a survey found that 82% of employers rated employee referrals above all other sources for generating the best candidate.
“Let’s say if I were to help a student helping them find tune what their goals are, where they want to go, and how they want to get there and they are out there networking and introduce me to who ends up being a great contact and possibly even a great friend, that would be excessively valuable to me,” Hasto said.
For a college student, looking for their first job in a global pandemic can be stressful.
“I wouldn’t overlook the in-house resource that students have there (SUNY Brockport), if they don’t have an opportunity that a student is in currently, they are a team that will work hard and help bring that to the table for them. I do think that the career services center at Brockport are making it a big focus to align themselves with different opportunities for students,” Hasto said.
Brockport’s Career Services Center provides students with tools, and networks to prepare them for the workforce.
Stephanie Learn, an associate director at the career services center, helps students prepare for the post-COVID job hunt.
“We were able to transition to remote appointments rather seamlessly,” Learn said.
A smooth transition has allowed the team to stay on beat and keep students prepared during the pandemic.
“We begin by reassuring students that options are still available and then start to discuss how best to learn and think about their career path,” said Learn.
Addressing concerns first, let’s Learn, and her colleagues understand what students need help in and what they don’t. Learn says there are many components that are crucial to use well when applying for jobs.
“Setting yourself apart is necessary; your cover letter, your LinkedIn profile, and activity, your professional website or blog — they all are the new marketing tools for today’s job seekers. A personal brand message that lets recruiters and employers know you’ve got what they are searching for can be the thing that gets you selected for a screening call or interview,” Learn said.
In 2018, 95 percent of fortune 500 companies used LinkedIn talent solutions, a recruitment tool employers use to find qualified candidates for an open position.
Keeping up to date on all your social platforms and profiles, making sure they are looking nice is not the only thing shifting in the new workspace. Students who stay positive stand a better in a changing work environment.
“Students need to have what Carol Dweck calls a growth mindset. Believe in yourself and your talents, be willing to learn new skills, and use transferable skills to your benefit,” Learn said.
The pandemic has been unpredictable. Keeping an open mind to gain new skills has shown its importance as more jobs switch to remote work.
“Flexibility and problem solving are crucial. The word of the year is “pivot,” new professionals should be prepared to think critically about an organization’s goals and mission and be ready to pivot tasks to meet a challenge. We call this learning agility: the ability to unlearn and learn new things and apply what you know in rapidly changing contexts,” Learn said.
A recent global study done by Mercer in the United States showed that among companies considering implementing flexible working at a greater scale than before the pandemic, 75% said the reason would be employee engagement and productivity.
While college students can’t control what direction companies will take in remote or in-office work, they need to focus on what they can control: networking.
“Networking is always the first best step. Begin by making a list of people you can ask for help. Look at friends, neighbors, colleagues, and LinkedIn connections. Next, know the job you want and reach out to your network, asking for help,” Learn said.
The pandemic has made the job search harder for recent college graduates. The ability to network, develop the communication (soft skills), and other online profiles are areas students can improve to stand out from the competition.