Career Series: Strategies to Practice When Your Job Search Collides With a Pandemic
Updated: Nov 12
It has been known that job search is a numbers game. Some people are lucky that they get an ideal offer at their first try, while many more people are at the verge of giving up before they get an ideal offer. Being ignored or rejected can elicit so many feelings that are hard to internalize, and I am sick of people saying, “You can do it”. But how? After being on the job market for six months and still searching, I want to share three strategies to cope with the anxieties, the uncertainties, and the disappointments during the job search process under the COVID pandemic.
Job search is hard and job search during a pandemic is even harder. Being glued to my computer, constantly refreshing my inbox and sending messages to people on LinkedIn have become part of my life. There are so many things that we cannot control in the job search process. For example, My resume might not pass the applicant tracking system to be seen by a human’s eye or my interview time might never be scheduled because the company is not as organized as I wished. Other times, the position has already been filled at the time I came across the job post. Even if I were deemed qualified after the final round interview, no offer is extended in the end because the candidate competing against me is internal, or the start date is not ideal, or that I need VISA sponsorship. So many factors can lead to a fruitless job application, and oftentimes the candidate does not know why. To cope with the uncertainties, here are my tips:
1. Utilize your institution’s career office
Job search is all about getting yourself out of your comfort zone to be judged by others and often rejected before someone says “yes”. I realized in the beginning of 2020 that I had six months to figure out what I want to do and who wants me, then COVID hits. I was incredulous to this new reality and I panicked: where do I even start? And how? Although I have attended career development seminars, I was at a loss. I reached out to our institution’s career office for career exploration, resume critics, search strategy, interview preparation, salary negotiation and so on. I was directed to some very useful online resources to advance my job search process. Whenever I get stuck or discouraged, I turn to them to get reenergized. Keep in mind that it is an office full of job search experts that understand what you are going through and can support you in any way you want. I know it is hard to gather the energy to take the first step into the job market, but once you do, job searching will become the new norm of your life.
2. Practice, practice, practice
First, practice tailoring your resume and cover letter to different positions. My resume and cover letter structure have changed a lot in the past six months due to constant improvements from watching countless job search webinars and getting critics from different people. It now takes me less than 20 minutes to tailor my resume and cover letter to target positions to maximize its chance to pass the applicant tracking system.
Second, practice networking and conducting informational interviews. An informational interview is a short chat for you to learn about the real-life experience of someone in a field or company that interests you and start building a professional relationship. It can be daunting when you first start conducting these informational interviews: what if there is awkward silence? What if I ran out of questions to ask? However, the more you do it, the better you are at handling the conversation flow and getting the most out of the conversation. Most professionals have had many of these chats and are open to conversations that are short. I limit my informational interviews to 15 minutes so that people feel their time is valued and will be open to follow-up conversations. These informational interviews can help you start building a long-term professional relationship, which may lead to job referrals or even job offers.
Third, practice submitting job applications. If you see a role that you can see yourself in, go ahead and submit a job application. Do not wait, do not worry about the start date, VISA sponsorship, etc. The goal is to get face time with people in that company and give them the chance to know you as a person, not just descriptions on a piece of paper. Even if you are stuck at the first round of interview or do not end up with an offer, you have built connections with people in that company and they might serve you in the long term. Plus, you get all the practice of preparing and getting through an interview. That is valuable!
3. Changing goals is NOT a bad thing
Having a set goal at the beginning job search is ideal, but you do not have to have one to start applying for positions. The more job posts you look at and the more people you connect with will likely reshape your career goal and job search strategy. For example, I started out applying for research and development scientist positions at agricultural biotechnology companies. However, being a fresh PhD, I find myself competing with people with extensive postdoctoral experience who obviously have more insights into the research and are more flexible to start the job. Especially during the COVID pandemic, many postdocs are flooding into industry because of the shrinking academic job market. I then switched to focus on positions related to scientific communications, which is what I am passionate about. When I changed my goal, I felt so disappointed in myself that I had wasted so much time on something I had very little chance to begin with. Well, as the old saying goes, it is better late than never. It is good to have some targeted positions in the beginning, but be flexible to change throughout the process and try not to blame yourself for it. After all, we are all learning our way through the job searching process.
Job search is something that we do not get much training for while in school. Sometimes, we overlook the amazing resources around us that will help us in this process. I have learned so much about myself and understand more about the job search process in the past six months. I will share my personal experiences and invite people who had experience in agricultural fields to share about their career paths. Please know that you are not alone on this journey. We are here for you!
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This article was written by WAgS collaborator Yingyu Liu