Handling the Summer Job Hunt Amid the Coronavirus Emergency

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Is now the right time to start seeking a summer job?

With the World Health Organization (WHO) declaring COVID-19 a pandemic, colleges transitioning to teaching courses online, markets plunging and businesses closing, implementing hiring freezes or laying off workers, it may sound ridiculous to ask the above question.

However, as certified HR generalist Vanya Kaloferova emphasizes, "We will get through this and time invested today will pay off tomorrow," even if tomorrow looks bleak right now. In addition, though the health crisis and accompanying uncertainty have disrupted normal operations for employers and employees alike, demand for roles in some industries is surging. With that in mind, you may want to take advantage of being stuck inside and spend this newfound time on job search and career development.

Under normal circumstances, you would start as early as possible the process of researching available options, cultivating meaningful relationships and positioning yourself for success. Under the current circumstances, taking the above actions can also alleviate some of your anxiety and help you take care of yourself.

Though searching for a summer job now may seem like a waste of time, I encourage you to avoid succumbing to despair and worry. Instead, focus on what you can control -- staying in, following recommendations for social distancing, washing your hands properly and spending time clarifying your career vision and exploring options. Below, I've outlined steps you can take in the coming weeks to address the latter.

Conduct Research

Despite the health crisis, hiring is still happening; in fact, many jobs are considered essential to keep us moving forward. As such, you can approach the job search the same way you would under normal circumstances: by starting where you are, conducting research and evaluating current workforce demands and needs. Research what's possible, what's available and what's grabbing your attention.

Consider first what your academic institution provides. Most already have online resources to help with the job search and many are venturing into hosting virtual events, including employer information sessions. For example, my team and I have opted to explore the option of hosting a virtual career fair so that employers and talented candidates are able to connect without leaving the safety of their homes.

You may also want to check out virtual fairs offered through affinity organizations such as Prospanica. Consider registering for such events, and when you do, be sure to research confirmed employer attendees to determine which ones are looking for candidates like you. Evaluate employer products, services and culture and prepare to present yourself as someone who is a match.

Another way to research opportunities is to follow employers who are hiring for roles in high demand during the current health crisis. Though many companies are staying away from committing to hiring decisions right now, others are increasing their openings. If you are curious about exploring roles within health care, technology, online learning, remote work, child care or shipping and delivery, you may want to monitor openings with such businesses as Zoom, Amazon, Meijer, Samaritas, Grubhub and other similar companies.

Reflect and Clarify

Hunkering down also allows you ample time to slow down and reflect. Reflect on what you have accomplished so far. Reflect on what has inspired you or made you curious. Reflect on what could lie ahead, despite the uncertainty. Think about your skills, motivators and interests and consider how you can contribute value to an employer in a world that's a bit out of whack right now. If you are not sure where to even start, you may want to take free online assessments to help you identify what makes you tick. Next, jot down thoughts and insights that come to mind as you review your results.

As you reflect and clarify what's of interest to you and where you'd like to go next, consider identifying target employers and keep a spreadsheet of vital information: company mission, products and initiatives; ongoing projects you could contribute to; possible opportunities; any open positions; potential contacts; and social media accounts. An easy thing you can definitely do is "sign up for job alerts," Kaloferova advises. Even if prospective employers aren't hiring right now, you want to be ready when they resume looking for qualified candidates.

Even if the opportunities available right now don't spark your curiosity, you can take advantage of staying inside by clarifying what does appeal to you. You could explore online learning, polish your LinkedIn profile or finally design the personal website you've been thinking about but haven't had the time to work on.

Grow Your Online Network

Social distancing is very much needed to flatten the curve and save lives, but it doesn't mean completely disconnecting from the world. Staying home doesn't mean you can no longer cultivate relationships and grow your network. In fact, this is your chance to enhance your online presence and reconnect with classmates, friends, teachers, mentors and other personal and professional contacts you may not have spoken to in a while. Be a human and check in on them -- it will be good for your well-being and theirs. The focus of your outreach is to show you care, to rebuild and strengthen meaningful connections, and to minimize feelings of isolation.

In addition, you can grow your network by reaching out to people you admire and who inspire you to explore a certain path. Initiate contact, all the while being respectful of their time, as they are probably also experiencing stress and anxiety. Another way to boost your online network is by creating and sharing your own content. Be intentional and strategic so that your content reflects who you are and what motivates you without ignoring what's happening in the world. You could share your own situation and how you are handling it; you could share how you've been adaptable and made the most of the circumstances (perhaps by polishing and gaining skills employers value); and you could share what you are doing to improve the current situation.

Prepare for the New Normal

At this time, it's safe to assume that in the next few months, much of recruitment, hiring, onboarding and work will happen online, remotely. To prepare, spend time learning about virtual interviews and remote work. Though virtual interviews have been around for a few years, the recent health crisis has pushed businesses, institutions and organizations to go virtual out of necessity. As such, it'll be difficult to avoid being interviewed online, so you may want to become familiar both with platforms employers use (Google Hangouts, Zoom, Skype, Slack) and strategies to ace such interviews.

A few things to keep in mind during virtual interactions include maintaining eye contact by looking at your camera (not the computer screen), wearing an entire professional outfit (not just an appropriate top), eliminating distractions in the background and using favorable lighting. An online resource to help you prep for virtual interviews is the LinkedIn Interview Preparation feature, which gives you information about and sample responses to 26 common interview questions and allows you to record yourself and share your response with a connection for feedback on both content and delivery.

Stay safe and healthy, everyone!