Let’s face it: the transition from college life to “real life” was hard enough before a global pandemic. But by getting organized, avoiding negative self-talk, and being realistic about your job search progress, you might find the process isn’t quite so daunting. In this post, Ecology Project International (EPI) former intern Heather Lindsay shares some insightful and practical tips for getting a post-graduate job—which can benefit anyone living in a post-pandemic world, too.
P.S. Heather recently landed her dream job working in conservation!
Eight Tips for the Post-grad, Pandemic Job Search
1. Focus on self-care.
Transitioning from university life can be tricky and we often don’t give ourselves the space to grieve the loss of lifestyle and identity that happens during that change. Take some time to invest in your hobbies. Do things you genuinely enjoy—not because it will look good but because you actually want to.
2. Keep on studying.
If you miss being a student, keep studying what you like! You don’t have to be going for a degree to take free online courses on new topics (or some throwback ones). Nontraditional learning platforms are fun too! Podcasts, YouTube videos, Khan Academy, public library resources, and free educational content produced by nonprofits are great ways to stay plugged into learning environments. For example, I had an itch to learn how to code in a new language, so I spent a few weeks going through a free Cousera course on Python.
3. Maintain a regular schedule.
Try to keep a regular schedule even if the job search is all you’re doing. Although I do recommend working during your “career job search” (1. because money puts food on the table and 2. structure and socialization are good for you), some people are either lucky or unlucky enough (depending on their situation) to not have anything else going on. If that is you, build structure into your life. You will thank me later. Otherwise, you will either get nothing done or you will spend all of the hours of the day scrolling through LinkedIn, mass applying to orgs you’ll never hear from again. Set goals for yourself but also set limits. No one is patting you on the back for applying to 20 jobs in one sitting. It is such an easy trap to fall into and such false productivity. It gives you a little boost at first, but in the end it is an exhausting and, quite frankly, often ineffective way to get what you want. Quality over quantity, my friends. Only apply to jobs you’d actually take if you got the offer.
"No one is patting you on the back for applying to 20 jobs in one sitting. It is such an easy trap to fall into and such false productivity."
4. Tell a story in your resume and interview.
Focus on building a narrative throughout both your resume and your interview. Tell a story about how all of your past experiences have been building up to this point. If they ask you where you see yourself in ten years, point to a cause/mission/set of values as your “career north star” rather than picking out a specific job title or company. It shows that you are inventive, resilient, and dedicated to something bigger than yourself. Even if you don’t really know what you want, come up with a story (that is believable to both you and them) about why this opportunity is the logical next move for you. Convince yourself that you are worth investing in and they will believe it too.
5. Keep a spreadsheet for tracking job progress.
Especially if you have a hard time keeping track of deadlines, emails, and when to follow up. This is a handy tool to see how much progress you’ve made over the course of your search. Also, having templates for different cover letters and resumes (which, yes, you should customize for each job) saves a bunch of time. Just make sure you take a good look at each document before you send it in—obvious organization name mix ups won’t get you very far.
6. Rejection is inevitable and necessary.
As cliché as it sounds, redirection is a painful, yet crucial part of the process. It’s so easy to spiral into negative self-talk. Spend time reminding yourself how far you’ve come and how this one rejection (even if they seem to be stacking up) does not reflect your worth as a person. In retrospect, there was usually a good reason why something didn’t work out for me. Spending time with friends and family can help you re-center. But don’t always talk about the job search when you’re with them. Pick yourself back up and keep going.
"Spend time reminding yourself how far you’ve come and how this one rejection (even if they seem to be stacking up) does not reflect your worth as a person."
7. Reach out for informational interviews with people in roles that interest you.
Come prepared with questions you’d like answered, having done a little bit of background research into their organization. This will allow you to get a better sense of what it is that they actually do and how they got there. They may even be able to give you ideas for who to talk to next. Figure out your goals for the conversation before you have it. Less awkward silence is always better. Be thankful. They are taking time out of their busy schedule to give you advice.
8. Volunteer your time, strategically.
If you have extra time, reach out to organizations that interest you and volunteer your help, like I did with EPI. You will learn valuable information about what you do and don’t like about different industries/functional areas. And as a plus, you can acquire new skills and add them to your resume, showing future employers that you are taking initiative to gain experience.
"When you are thinking about what to do next, try not to go to grad school if it is out of fear."
BONUS TIP: When you are thinking about what to do next, try not to go to grad school if it is out of fear. Leaving undergrad is uncomfortable because so much of your identity is wrapped up in student life. Only go to grad school because you really, really want to and because you can come up with multiple reasons why you and your career would benefit from it.