Finding Your First Job During COVID-19

Posted on May. 17, 2020  /  Insights  /  

By: Amy Insco, Co-Director of Professional Development, Ad 2 Council / Project Manager at Sandlot & Co. 

As students, you spent your final semesters focusing on capstone classes, making rounds at job fairs, networking with recruiters, all in hopes to secure your first job. But now, the world has changed. The novel coronavirus has caused agencies to slow hiring decisions and cancel summer internships, making the job hunt more than a little challenging. So how does a recent grad approach the job hunt during these uncertain times? I’ve teamed up with some AAF-KC club partners for advice. 

Tip #1: Network! 

Heather Freund and Suzanne Wolff of LandaJob, a Kansas City-based recruiting resource for agencies, say it’s best to continue networking, even if that means virtually. Connect with hiring managers and decision-makers through LinkedIn (don’t forget to send a personalized note with your request), follow agencies on social media and interact with their content, and, of course, sign up for AAF-KC virtual events. Staying connected with companies and professionals in the industry you aspire to be in sets you up for success, and puts a face with a name when companies are ready to hire!

Jennifer Spencer, Owner and President of The Spencer Group, a Kansas City-based recruiting firm, advises taking every opportunity to volunteer virtually. Volunteer your skill sets in networking groups, non-profits, and even small businesses like those in the food and beverage industry. Spencer says, “That shows you’re not just all about you. You will feel good helping, plus you might get some awesome experience and, trust me, that company or non-profit will tell everyone!” Remember, getting a job isn’t always about what you know, but who you know. 

Tip #2: Professionalism never goes out of style.  

It’s a hard reality to face, but when asked how new graduates can make themselves stand out amongst their peers when competing for a job, Spencer replied, “Professionalism!” And followed up with, “Please say THANK YOU! SEND A THANK YOU! This is one way companies decide who gets the job.” Remember to always follow up your interview with a thank you. A handwritten thank-you note or email not only shows your appreciation for the opportunity but also provides another touchpoint between you and a hiring manager. 

Another quick tip: Freund and Wolff advise sending a thank-you note immediately after an interview and referencing what excites you about the position and company most (because you did your research, right?), and don’t forget to attach your resume!

Tip #3: Prepare, prepare, prepare for your (Zoom) job interview.

When going into a job interview you should always prepare by doing research. Freund and Wolff recommend taking some time to review the companies’ social media pages, their website, read articles by or about the company, and absolutely read and re-read the job description of the position you are applying for. By doing your research, you appear prepared and excited about the company.  

To prepare for a virtual job interview, set up a practice interview with a friend or a member of your family. Use the same software you will be using in your job interview (a lot of companies are partial to Zoom), ensure your camera and microphone work properly, and your computer has made any necessary updates. Freund and Wolff of LandaJob also recommend making sure your background is clean, uncluttered, and well lit. Jennifer Spencer at The Spencer Group also advises wearing an outfit you would normally wear to a job interview. It is possible to wear a nice shirt on top and sweatpants on bottom. However, if you decide to do so, make sure the camera is positioned from the torso up, otherwise, you end up looking like Will Reeve. 

One final tip for a virtual interview: give your family or roommates a heads up that you will be on an important call. You want to make sure there will be no interruptions or loud noises that might be a disturbance. That being said, please also put your dogs, cats, birds, or any other pets away in another room. 

Tip #4: Go for what you want, but remember to be gracious. 

When asked whether or not recent graduates should be less selective for job openings, even if it means not ending up in a job or agency they had expected, Freund and Wolff recommended recent grads create their “Top 10” list. Your top 10 is a list of agencies you’ve researched and determined are the best fit for your job objectives and are a good fit culturally. Now, see what positions are available at those agencies and what you might be open to. It’s important you don’t jump at the first thing available if it means your own unhappiness, but also to keep an open mind. You never know the things you might learn and the people you might meet by taking a chance. Freund and Wolff follow up with this closing statement, “Do your homework so you can be selective within reason.” 

Let’s say you do get a job offer that you’re ready to take, do you risk negotiating higher pay or more benefits? As Freund and Wolff phrased it simply, yes, you are taking a risk. Freund and Wolff suggest that if you do decide to negotiate, read the situation. Ask the hiring manager, “Is there room for negotiation?” If you don’t feel comfortable asking this question, or fear it may put your job offer in jeopardy, you may ask if there are future opportunities for growth within the company such as promotions, increased PTO for longer term employees, stock options, etc. The most important thing to remember is that everyone is feeling the effects of this pandemic and opportunities are limited. Be grateful for what’s in front of you and know this situation isn’t forever. 

Tip #5: Use this time to make yourself marketable. 

If you’re like a lot of people, you are finding yourself with extra time. Use it! Update your portfolio, make improvements to your website, have your resume reviewed. You can also use this extra time to work on a project that you can add to your portfolio. Even if you are not seeing open job positions, you can be preparing for when that time comes. 

Additionally, if open positions are in short supply, reach out to someone who works at a company you aspire to be at or has the dream job you want and ask them for 15 minutes of their time. Ask if they would be willing to chat over the phone for an informational interview. Chances are, they’ve got some free time as well. If you’re uncomfortable reaching out, set your sights on someone on the AAF-KC board or Ad 2 council. Kansas City is filled with amazing and supportive ad professionals who were once in your shoes. They are always willing to give advice to students and recent graduates, especially as we are all dealing with these uncertain times. 

Special thank you to Jennifer Spencer at The Spencer Group and Heather Freund and Suzanne Wolff at LandaJob for their help and advice. 

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