How Students Can Work on Their Careers During COVID-19

Twenty actionable tips to help ignite a sense of motivation, positivity and hope.

With newsfeeds blaring stories about a slow job market and unemployment due to the COVID-19 pandemic, students may feel stuck and helpless. However, it doesn’t have to be this way.

Taking steps to gain control over one area of your life—no matter how small—can ignite a sense of motivation, positivity and hope for the future. Check out these 20 actionable tips to work on your career, some of which take 10 minutes or less.

1. Offer to help in whatever way possible. In your next interview, employers will likely want to know how you adapted during the pandemic. Any anecdote to show you’re a problem-solver who’s flexible and helpful will make for a strong answer. Here are some stories Jefferson students already may have to share:

Infographic of researching your favorite company
Knowing these answers will help you write a better cover letter when you apply.

2. Improve a recent project. Your portfolio shouldn’t be frozen in time; it should showcase your current skills (which have likely improved since last year). Go back to a past project and redo one part—the sketching, rendering or presentation. Upload the new-and-improved piece to your online portfolio.

3. Add three numbers to your resume to instantly pack more of a punch. Employers love to see proof of results. Identify three places on your resume where you can add a number, dollar sign or percentage. Planned an event … for how many people? Met a fundraising goal … of how much money? Increased membership of your student club … by what percent?

4. Stage your decor and background for your next video interview. If an employer invited you to a video interview, where in your house would you do it? Figure that out now so you’re prepared. Find a quiet space and pull up your webcam. Is your messy room visible in the background? Is the lighting too dark? Position yourself close to a wall with no clutter behind you and keep decor neutral (plants or paintings). You also can download a Jefferson Zoom background from the Alumni Association’s Facebook page. In Zoom, go to Settings > Virtual Backgrounds, and upload it now. (See example below.)

Example of a Zoom background
Jefferson Zoom backgrounds are available on the Alumni Association’s Facebook page.

5. Follow five new recruiting handles on Instagram. You already may follow your favorite brands on Instagram, but did you know most companies have recruiting handles run by the people directly in charge of hiring? They’re usually the company name, followed by the word interns, talent, hiring, jobs or careers—for instance: @companyinterns. Follow five of those accounts to get you on the radar of recruiters and ensure you’re first to know when that company starts hiring again.

6. Do a deep dive on your favorite company to crush your next interview. Employers often tell us the biggest mistake candidates make in an interview is a lack of knowledge about their company. Think about your favorite brand or company. Do you know the answers to these questions:

  • What makes this company stand out from its competitors?
  • What products or services do they offer, and what differentiates each offering (think price point, target consumer, quality)?
  • What’s their mission statement?
  • What has been their response to the COVID-19 crisis?

Knowing these answers will help you write a better cover letter when you apply and it will impress the interviewer when you explain, for instance, why your sustainability project aligns with their zero-plastic mission statement. Answers to these questions often can be found on a company’s website, Instagram page or LinkedIn company page.

Screen grabs of instagram accounts
Many companies have recruiting handles run by the people directly in charge of hiring.

7. Exchange a LinkedIn recommendation with a classmate. Did you and a classmate click so well that you actually enjoyed being paired together on a group project? Great! Go to LinkedIn and request a recommendation from them—and offer to give one back.

Here’s how: Click the “me” icon at the top of your LinkedIn homepage. Select “view profile.” Scroll down to the “recommendations” and you’ll see “ask for a recommendation.” In the “Who do you want to ask?” section, type the classmate’s name. Be specific with your request: “Can you please write a few sentences about what skills you felt I contributed to our Sprint project? I’ll do the same for you!” Employers will find it valuable to read someone else’s assessment of you, even a peer.

8. Request one professional recommendation on LinkedIn. After practicing tip No. 7, follow the same steps with one close professional contact. This might be a faculty member, internship supervisor, club adviser or volunteer coordinator.

9. Start a Google Sheet with five graduate schools’ requirements. In uncertain times, organizing information can be comforting. Open a new Google Sheet and research five graduate schools (you can start with U.S. News Best Graduate Schools list). Create separate columns for the admissions deadline, requirements, GRE score minimum, program specialties, cost of tuition, number of credits and program length.

You can control the positivity and support you choose to share with others.

10. Sign up for one virtual event or career fair. Virtual events and info sessions are posted daily in Handshake—such as NSA Student Programs and Summer Internships Webinar and Genetown Talent Connect: A Life Sciences Networking Event. RSVP to one of those events, or check out Eventbrite’s virtual Philadelphia events and free career fairs.

11. Find three alumni who work in a job you want or at a company you love. The best use of your time right now would be to connect with people in your field to get information and advice. Alumni are the friendliest connections to start with since you have one major commonality. Luckily, LinkedIn makes finding alumni easy. Here are two ways:

Strategy No. 1: Start with LinkedIn’s Top Companies and go to each company’s page. If alumni work there, you’ll see a link: “X people from your school were hired here.”

Strategy No. 2: Plug your dream job into the LinkedIn search bar. Click on the “people” tab. To the right, click “all filters.” Scroll down to “schools” and type in Thomas Jefferson University and Philadelphia University. Select both and click “apply.”

Employers often tell us the biggest mistake candidates make in an interview is a lack of knowledge about their company.

12. Ask one alum if they have 15 minutes to tell you more about their job. After tip No. 11, ask one alum for an informational interview about their career path. Insider insight into a job or company can save you hours of research, connect you with a contact in the field, and help you stand out during an interview (see tip No. 6).

Here’s how: Click the “connect” button, and type in the “note” box a genuine reason you reached out. For example: “I’m impressed with how you worked your way up from X job to Y job in a few short years. I’m a student at Jefferson, and I’d love to hear more about how you got where you are. Would you be willing to spend 15 minutes talking to me for an informational interview?” Next, check out our office’s Guide to Conducting an Informational Interview.

13. Craft a “STAR” story for your next interview. What’s your proudest moment from your time at Jefferson? Working on a group project, coordinating an event, leading a student club? Focus on your best story, the one that gets you animated when you talk about it. Write it down, using the STAR method: Describe the Situation you were in/Task had to solve, Action you took and Result.

14. Schedule a practice interview. Once you have your story from tip No. 13, practice rehearsing your answers from home using our online interview tool Big Interview. Or schedule a practice interview (over phone or Zoom) with our staff on Handshake by going to Career Center > Schedule an Appointment. You don’t have to practice for the practice interview! We can simply talk through one of your STAR stories.

Infographic of the STAR method
Craft a “STAR” story for your next interview, recommends Jefferson's Ainsley Maloney.

15. Challenge yourself to generate 20 keywords for your major. On an index card, jot down 10 keywords for your major (think of skills, software, specializations and industries). An industrial designer, for example, might write: CAD, Solidworks, sketching, 3D printing, rendering, consumer goods, furniture and medical devices. Now, challenge yourself to add 10 more keywords. Toss in industries not normally associated with your field—especially those deemed essential by the government during COVID-19—such as healthcare, pharmaceuticals and telecommunications.

16. Mix up 10 keyword combos to unearth new jobs or internships. Using your index card from tip No. 15, log into Handshake and mix up keyword combinations in the search bar to generate new and unexpected job and internship search results. Try this on every job board, including ZipRecruiter, Indeed and LinkedIn. Read through the job descriptions and circle on your index card which words appear most frequently.

17. Plug top keywords into your resume and LinkedIn to jolt your searchability. Using tips No. 15 and 16, take a fresh look at your resume. Are the top keywords sprinkled in there? If not, your resume may not get past a computer’s applicant tracking system. Weave them into your sentences. It’s often as simple as changing one word—for example, “drawing” to the more popular “sketching.” Then, go to your LinkedIn profile and add these keywords to your “skills and experience” sections. Now, when recruiters search for these skills on LinkedIn, your name will pop up in their feeds.

Alumni are the friendliest connections to start with since you have one major commonality.

18. Apply to one job or internship you find. Don’t overthink it. Don’t worry about whether the company is hiring or not. Don’t wait to feel ready. What’s there to lose? Act first. Then, you’ll feel ready.

19. Share one article on LinkedIn (it’s so easy). You don’t have to generate an entire post or article to gain visibility on LinkedIn. Instead, the next time you read a LinkedIn article about an uplifting COVID-19 story, click the “share” button. Write a simple sentence (“Love what this company is doing!”), use the hashtag button for tag suggestions and click post. You just got your name and picture in front of your network in the simplest way—and staying on employers’ radar right now is key.

20. Send a thank you to one person who helped you. This is an easy win, and it’s also great practice on how showing gratitude and maintaining connections are excellent fuel for a successful career. Send a short thank you email or LinkedIn message to one person today. Showing gratitude will not only brighten that person’s day, but it also will serve as a reminder that when you can’t control what’s happening to you, you can control the positivity and support you choose to share with others.

Ainsley Maloney is associate director of industry relations at Jefferson. Listen to her webinar “How to Search for a Job or Internship During a Pandemic.”

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Business, Life at Jefferson