December 23, 2020

Class of 2021 – The Pandemic Grad

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Written by Maggie Pack | AccruePartners Social Media Intern, Upcoming Graduating Class of 2021  Clemson University

Senior year of college. Our entire adolescence prepared us for this pinnacle year, concluding the “best 4 years of our lives”. Leading up to senior year, I pledged to make the most of it with weekend trips with my best friends, attending all the football games, and enjoying every minute on campus. COVID-19 had different plans. We presumed we were just getting an extended spring break and would return to our normal lives after a few weeks. Fast forward 8 months and classes are still being held virtually, human interaction is minimal, and we are still trying to savor ‘the best 4 years of our lives’. However, senior year isn’t all weekend trips and football games, the reality is that we are about to enter adulthood, most of us do not have full-time jobs lined up, and there’s a pandemic going on.

Challenges Facing a Pandemic Grad

The Class of 2020 faced one of the most challenging job markets for young people in decades, with an unemployment rate for 20-to-24-year-olds above 20%, according to the Labor Department. Michigan State University conducted research surrounding the upcoming job market for college graduates, they found that 48% of employers that were surveyed believe it will take two to three years to recover the college labor market with another 15% predicting it will take even longer. With these statistics, as an upcoming college graduate, it can be hard to hold onto the hope of finding a job. Searching for a job is stressful enough and it can be easy to doubt yourself when you get the automated “Thank you for your time but after careful consideration, we have decided another candidate would better fit the position” response.

If I have learned anything throughout this pandemic, it’s that opportunities are not going to come knocking on my door. Here are some useful practices that I have utilized during these unforeseen times to make myself as qualified and equipped as possible while applying for jobs going into 2021 as a Pandemic Grad.

Capitalizing Your LinkedIn Network

Goodbye “Snapchat”, hello adulthood! LinkedIn should be and will be your greatest asset in job searching. When I first began college, I heard about LinkedIn and it seemed so irrelevant to my priorities. Sophomore year, I realized the importance of having an account and the opportunities it offered. After creating a profile and using it for the past 3 years, I’m amazed by its capabilities.

Building Your Brand on LinkedIn

Leading up to senior year I realized that I needed to make sure my profile reflected all the skills, job experiences, and certifications I had that would be relevant to the jobs I will be pursuing. I added a professional profile picture, changed my bio stating my major and the positions I was interested in, perfected my resume, and began to make connections. Remember when all we cared about was how many likes we got on our Instagram picture? Yeah, that type of obsession overcame me with connections. Friends, friends of friends, friends of parents, professors, literally anyone. Turns out, connections are more than just numbers on LinkedIn, the people you connect with can offer valuable information, advice, and perhaps opportunities for you. So, I began to make connections with purpose and intention, if it was someone I thought would offer valuable insight or advice, I added a personal note which almost always resulted in a conversation.

Utilizing Your LinkedIn Network

You have to put yourself out there, people now more than ever are willing to offer all the advice or tips they have, due to the circumstances surrounding the pandemic. The pandemic caused businesses to close, internships to be canceled, and we Pandemic Grads were forced to sit and wonder what to do. Employers want to know what you did to fill your time. They understand that internships were canceled, and businesses were not hiring part-time employees, so what did you do? Did you use the time for self-reflection? Research different jobs and actions you needed to take to secure those jobs? Did you use your free time to get certified in different platforms? Don’t be ashamed that your internship was stripped from you, instead be proud of the work you did. I used my time to find a part-time job where I was able to practice social media marketing while researching different platforms to get certified in. Not everyone was lucky enough to find a part-time job, which is okay! But tell employers how you filled your time instead of pulling the guilt card that your internship was canceled, every other candidate was in the same boat. Set yourself apart by being positive and strategic with the extra time you had during quarantine.

Explore Personal Connections

At the beginning of the fall semester I was determined to find an internship, since mine along with every other college student, had their summer internships canceled. I knew that I needed to add more relevant experience to my resume to be an ideal candidate for future jobs. My stepmom and her business partner, owners of AccruePartners in Charlotte, NC, launched a new company, ggLocators in February of 2019. ggLocators is a recruiting agency for the Interactive Gaming, Corporate Gamification, and Esports industries, cool right? Amy and Patty both mentioned how amazing their head of marketing, Cate Pace, was and that I should reach out for advice. I connected with her and sent her a message asking for a time to chat about the opportunities available in the current marketing industry. One week later we had a phone call, she offered advice for interviews and certifications that I should take advantage of. Cate mentioned that she was looking for a marketing intern and that I would be a great fit. Fast forward another week and I had a marketing internship, which was not on my radar at all. My takeaway here is that the people you connect with can open doors for you or put you in contact with someone who can. Be intentional on LinkedIn and put yourself out there, you will be amazed by how willing people are to help, especially during these times as a Pandemic Grad.

Career Fairs and Career Centers

Most colleges offer resources to help their students find internships and jobs, such as resume feedback, interview coaching, and career fairs. I’m lucky to attend a university that prioritizes its students by offering these amazing services. Typically,  Clemson University offers a fall and spring career fair where many students find internships and full-time jobs upon graduation. Career fairs allow students to get face-to-face interaction with employers and see the variety of positions available in their selected field. Additionally, career fairs enable students to develop their professional skills while learning about different companies. This year, Clemson’s Career Fair was virtual with fewer companies than usual. It’s obvious that students and employers would rather be face to face, but it just wasn’t a possibility this year. For students graduating, the virtual aspect was more relevant than ever, assuming that a majority of interviews will take place virtually. It is difficult to gauge a person through a computer screen, so this gave students the chance to practice their communication skills online. Personally, I was doubtful of the benefits associated with a virtual career fair, but I still took advantage of the opportunity. Even though none of the companies were for me, I was able to practice different techniques to connect with potential employers. One technique that I found particularly helpful was using body language, it’s easy to just sit in front of the screen and talk. But I began to use my hands and made sure my eye contact was spot on during every interaction. By doing this, I felt more confident, more connected with the employer, and found myself more engaged and purposeful in the conversation. My advice to you is to take advantage of every opportunity you have to interact with employers, virtual or not. Communication and interview skills take time to adopt and master, each time you interact with a company, you are improving and mastering your professional appearance.

Inspect Your Social Media Presence

We are the first generation to have complete access to the new digital world; with Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and now TikTok all at our fingertips. The revolution of technology and social media is amazing, but also comes with responsibility. Employers have access to our lives and how we portray ourselves with a simple search. It has been instilled into my mind to be very careful about what I post on social media, but not everyone has been given the same coaching. It is easy to think a simple post is harmless until you are declined a position due to a post 3 years ago. One of my favorite mottos is, “What would your grandma say?” I like to think of this because grandmas have no issue telling you the truth and have a very old school way of thinking. Before every post, I think of the possible ways I could be portrayed from a stranger viewing the post. If you haven’t already, here is your sign to go through all your social media and do a cleanse, if you have to debate it, delete it. Your career and future are way more valuable than a post from years prior. We are the generation with technology at our disposal, lets defy the stigma around our generation by presenting ourselves in the best way possible.

Goodluck, Pandemic Grad

We are living in an intimidating and unpredictable world, but we are all in this together as fellow Pandemic Grads. While senior year looks a lot different than we all anticipated, it is up to us to make the most of the situation. If you haven’t already, make a LinkedIn account and begin connecting with your friends, professors, and previous employers; from there, start looking for companies, along with their employees, in order to connect with a personal note. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice or a phone call, most people want current students to succeed. Research what career services your college has to offer, it’s a no brainer to get feedback on your current resume. Take advantage of all your school has to offer, a lot of the available services go unnoticed – p.s. they’re also free! Check out this helpful packet to prepare for interviews and this guide for crafting a successful resume from AccruePartners. Cleanse your social media, if your grandma wouldn’t approve, delete it. It is difficult enough to get a job, you don’t want a post to be the main reason you’re denied a position. These are some simple practices that can help make you an ideal candidate as a pandemic grad.

Enjoy your senior year, continue to make memories with your friends, and take advantage of every opportunity that comes your way, remember these are “the best 4 years of your life”.