I know it’s a cliche you’ve heard one hundred times, but it still bears repeating. This year is unique. Unless you know someone who graduated university in 1918, 1930, or 1942 the Class of 2021 faces unimagined challenges. Your education was likely upended by last year’s lockdowns. If you’re under age 30, your risk from the coronavirus was extremely low –– meaning you were corralled into what was essentially the first quarantine of healthy people in history.
Now as vaccinations spur reopening and economic recovery, you’re still facing what author Vince Thompson recently called, “…the toughest job market in our lifetime.” Yet even before the pandemic, around 41 percent of recent college graduates in 2019 were underemployed or working in jobs that don’t require a college degree. These sobering statistics mean you must be on your game. So, here is some career advice for graduates.
1. Polish the Resume
Chances are your resume will be the first thing a hiring manager sees. So make it your best. Unfortunately, lots of freshly minted grads struggle to fill a page. Don’t despair! If you’ve worked as a bartender or a barista, you likely honed the sort of soft skills employers crave. Emphasize how your job improved your communication skills and empathy, the ways it taught you teamwork and a work ethic. If you volunteered or interned, that should be front and center. As your experience grows those items can be eliminated –– along with common computer skills like MS Office or PowerPoint. Before you know it, you won’t need to include your GPA either.
Be cognizant of applicant tracking software –– using keywords that match ones in job postings –– while understanding that with a bit of luck a real live human will eventually read your resume. Although around 75% of resumes are discarded before being seen by human eyes, you don’t want your keyword emphasis to render your resume unreadable. So don’t write it for a robot. Use bullet points that address how you improved a business or took on added responsibility. Don’t get bogged down with minutiae or information that doesn’t show your best self. Consider connecting with your cohort to review each other’s resumes and practice interviewing. Proofread and edit; install grammar software, like Grammarly, which will catch mistakes you or your friends may have missed.
2. Cleanse Your Socials
Online privacy is hard to come by. Sites like Instagram and Facebook are notoriously open and unfortunately could be the first thing that comes up when your name is plugged into a search engine. Maybe your “Finsta” is filled with spring break selfies, but the profile employers will see should make your grams proud. Delete, delete, delete. Twitter can be an invaluable resource to connect with potential employers. It has also probably ended as many careers as it has begun. A party that seemed innocent enough three years ago or a tweet that struck your friends as funny should probably be removed. Yes, 70% of employers conduct social media searches of potential hires. Except one-third of all employers decide not to hire people based on their socials.
Don’t forget that your resume and your social media may well be an employer’s first impression. This year it’s far less likely they’ll first meet you face to face. Which brings us to our last bit of career advice for graduates in 2021.
3. Your Only Face Time Might Be FaceTime
When I covered this subject a couple of years ago, I included advice about how to handle a job fair. It’s unlikely that campuses will see a resurgence in career fairs and recruitment. That means you need to work on your remote game. Practice video conference interviews with friends. It doesn’t matter that you’re a digital native, communicating with a hiring manager is vastly different from Skyping with a bestie or a boyfriend. So, make your background pristine. Wear a complete outfit (in case you jump up unexpectedly and display the ever popular blazer and cutoffs combo). Consider investing in a ring light and other equipment to improve your video’s quality. If your phone is newer than your laptop or desktop, there are apps that will let you combine their screens with your smartphone’s camera.
Not only will you face remote interviewing, there’s a good chance your job will be remote as well. Even as the year ends, Global Workplace Analytics estimates almost one-third of employees will work from home at least part of the time. Look on the bright side. You’ll have a far better excuse for moving back in with the folks than 2019 grads did.