Graduate during the COVID-19 Pandemic: What Are the Best Steps

College seniors have been thrown into a surreal situation. First, you’ll be missing traditional commencements and attending virtual graduations, and then you'll be facing the prospect of finding a job in unprecedented times. You were probably getting ready to send out applications and resumes when the COVID-19 pandemic reached your cities and states.

Graduating during pandemic

The current job market creates a challenge for the 3.5 million 2020 college graduates in the U.S. If you were preparing to land your first “adult” job in a strong job market, it certainly doesn’t resemble what you expected.

If you're a graduate during the coronavirus pandemic, here are five steps you can take to strengthen your candidacy and prepare yourself for your first job.

1. Start building your professional network

Even before the pandemic, most jobs weren't found through traditional methods. The old adage, "It's not what you know, but who you know," definitely rings true. A majority of available positions are never openly posted and are often filled through personal connections.

  •  Create an attractive LinkedIn profile with a good headshot.
  •  Join online industry communities, learn the lingo, and start to connect with people.
  •  Post items of interest and ask professional questions.
  •  Be careful to avoid being pushy or "sales-y" in your approach.
  •  Show off your soft skills

Start steadily building your reputation and making connections now. In time, your network may help you tap into the hidden job market and increase your chances of finding employment.

2. Find industries currently hiring

While many industries have been forced to displace workers due to the pandemic, several others are actively hiring. Even if these opportunities don't align with your dream job, it's a good way to start earning a salary and help you build your resume. Show future employers you're a mover and a shaker, even in downtimes.

3. Clean up your online presence

In 2018, a CareerBuilder survey found 70 percent of employers check the social media accounts of applicants, and when the time comes to look at yours, you want your profiles to be something to be proud of.

  • Delete unprofessional posts, photos from weekend parties, or ones with language that would be frowned upon at a job interview.
  • Don't remove your entire account (employers are increasingly suspicious of people with no online presence).
  • Take a professional approach to social media and build a positive online presence.

If you've spent the last few years making posts you wouldn't share with your boss, go back and clean these up.

4. Seek out virtual job fairs

While upcoming job fairs across the U.S being canceled, virtual job fairs are starting to crop up. Chances are in the upcoming weeks and months virtual job fairs could become far more common. Keep an eye out for these opportunities (and remember to dress to impress when you attend them). See if you can get someone to practice with you so you get the hang of virtual interviews and meetings.

5. Consider additional school or training

Many grads wait a few years before pursuing a master's degree, but now might be the time to think about going for that grad degree if it was something on your road map. History has shown us college enrollment increases during a recession, as this strategy might pay off down the road once the economy re-stabilizes, and everyone is competing for these opportunities. If grad school is out of the question, consider online courses to build your professional skills and gain some credentials.

Despite previous opportunities being shut down, don't pull yourself out of the search. The reality is this pandemic could go on for months. While you might not be landing a job right away since many employers are forced to close or scale back during the COVID-19 pandemic, you don't want to be behind the job curve later. Use this downtime to grow your professional standing.

The future feels uncertain at the moment, but the more you establish yourself now, the better it'll pay off down the road.

Search for your next job now:


Back to listing

The Washington Post Jobs Newsletter

Subscribe to the latest news about DC's jobs market