MSNBC Appearance: How College Graduates Can Make Their Job Applications Stand out during Coronavirus

I recently had the opportunity to join an MSNBC Q&A panel, where members of the college Class of 2020 shared their fears and uncertainties about entering the current job market. 

The panel addressed many topics, including graduates’ emotional health, the state of scientific research in the age of social distancing and tactics for landing a job in a depressed economy.

During the segment, we fielded questions from 2020 graduates, but due to on-air time constraints, we couldn’t answer every consideration in depth. That’s why I decided to write a separate blog post to shed more light on the important topic of graduates finding jobs in the coronavirus economy.

To all the college graduates of the class of 2020, I’m rooting for you!


How long will it take for me to find a job?

I cannot predict how long the coronavirus crisis will last. I definitely can’t put a timeframe on your job search. However, it’s very possible that you could find a job tomorrow. 

What is most important is that you don’t miss out on opportunities because you don’t apply for them.

Companies are still hiring. The catch is that you might need to be more flexible about industry, job function and location. I think a lot of college students think that all job opportunities have dried up overnight. That’s not the case. There were 750,000 jobs posted during the first week of May!  

Will you land your perfect, top-choice job in the next month? Probably not. You might need to take a temporary stop-gap job and keep an eye on job postings. You might even consider taking a part-time, unpaid position at a company that might be able to pay you once the economy recovers. 

The economy will bounce back. You will find a job sooner or later. And just like college graduates entering the workforce during the Great Recession, you might need a little creativity to navigate these turbulent times.

I’ve been feeling down about losing my graduation ceremony. How do I move past it?

I’m truly sorry for all the college students who didn’t get a graduation ceremony. I know many of you were looking forward to this day. You made it through so many long nights of studying by imagining yourself up on that stage, receiving your diploma. 

So before you start moving on, let yourself feel sad. It’s ok. The loss of your graduation ceremony is significant.

Please know that there’s a lot of empathy for you right now. Whenever I speak with business owners, someone’s bound to make an empathetic comment about graduates. In addition, you will always have the knowledge and memories of the last four years. Coronavirus can never take that from you.

How do college students best market ourselves and stand out in job application pools?

My number one piece of advice is to take advantage of your college career center. The building on campus might be closed, but the career center staff is working remotely and offering valuable resources for you. By scheduling a virtual session with a counselor, you will have the chance to improve your resume, explore new job opportunities and prep for interviews. 

Your college career center is also a clearinghouse for alumni networking and job postings targeted to students and recent grads like you. Your counselor knows which alumni own businesses in your area and might be able to connect you to graduate-friendly businesses that are hiring. Many employers recruit from their local colleges and universities.

Another way to stand out is to do your homework on any employer you apply to work for and customize your resume and cover letter accordingly. The more you can clearly show how your skills, experiences and interests are aligned with the employer’s, the more you will stand out. Include keywords from individual job postings on your resume to show a good match. Follow the employer on social media and mention something you learned about the organization in explaining why you are the best fit. Specifics matter when it comes to standing out.

And, finally, the absolute best way to stand out is to have a personal connection to the company. Talk to your friends, professors, family friends, former bosses and colleagues and anyone and everyone you know about your job search. Your resume has a significantly better chance of being noticed when it is given to a recruiter or hiring manager by somebody they know and trust. Networking is critical.

I’m worried that graduate schools will reject me because I elected to take a class pass/fail this semester. Am I overthinking things?

Based on conversations I’ve had with higher education professionals and employers, graduate schools won’t accept or deny anyone based on a pass-fail course. Even before coronavirus, institutions were moving toward a more holistic admissions process. Some schools have even dropped standardized testing requirements. 

Thankfully, graduate school admissions departments are run by real people. They understand what you’re facing and the unprecedented situation you are in as a member of the Class of 2020.

Applying to graduate schools is a lot like applying for a job. You hear about programs that only accept 10 to 15 students a year. Well, that means programs are going to look over applications very carefully. They’re going to pay attention to who you are, and you’re a lot more than a pass/fail grade. If you feel like your pass/fail courses will hurt your application, devote yourself to the personal essay section of your application and emphasizing achievement in extracurricular activities and let your story show why you’ll be an excellent addition to the program.

For even more tips on telling your story through resumes and online profiles, read tip number four in my 15 Expert Linkedin Strategies To Impress Recruiters And Land A Job Now post.

Finally, I know news headlines make it seem like the coronavirus has changed life as we know it. Although many things have changed, the principles behind finding your first job haven’t. In my book, Getting from College to Career, I unpack the ins and outs of landing your first job. This book is the definitive guide to building the experience, skills and confidence you need to succeed in your post-college job search. 

Stand out in a competitive job market. Order Getting from College to Career today.

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Lindsey is a globally recognized career and workplace expert and the leading voice on generational diversity. She has spoken for more than 300 audiences including Google, Goldman Sachs, Estee Lauder, Stanford and Wharton. Lindsey is the author of four career and workplace advice books, and her insights have appeared in media outlets including The TODAY Show, CNBC, NPR, the Harvard Business Review and the Wall Street Journal.


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