How students can use their pandemic time to jumpstart a career or internship search

July 6, 2020

To be ready when the economy starts to rebound, students should make sure they’re doing the stuff on this list.

The pandemic has forced many employers to freeze hiring and backburner internships. But that doesn’t mean students should be hitting pause on their career plans, according to CECS’s Assistant Director of Experiential Learning Tony DeLaRosa. His message right now to recent grads, soon-to-be grads and internship seekers: Use any temporary downtime you have to chip away at essential career-focused prepwork so you’re ready to pounce when the economy starts to rebound. Here’s DeLaRosa’s top five checklist.

Make your resume the best it’s ever been.

Because we’re always accruing new experiences, resumes quickly get out of date. If you’re like many people, you spend the night before the application deadline sprucing it up. But with that kind of pressure, you’re likely missing a chance to give your resume a fuller makeover. DeLaRosa says the big-picture question you need to ask is whether your resume is delivering the information you want to talk about in an interview. “Students often think they have to include everything. But this isn’t a bibliography,” DeLaRosa says. “It’s a window into your current and not-so-past history that highlights experiences that are most relevant to the position you’re applying for.” DeLaRosa says for someone seeking an entry-level position, documenting experiences from your past three to five years is plenty. Keep it to one page, too — and don’t overlook personal experiences. “I once spoke with an engineering student who had all this experience restoring motorcycles, but that was nowhere on his resume.” DeLaRosa says you can list that kind degree-related experience under a heading like “Independent Projects” or “Personal Projects.”

Practice your interviewing skills.

Interviews are probably the most acutely stressful part of a job or internship search, and preparation is key to feeling relaxed in the moment. One of DeLaRosa’s favorite but often overlooked prep tools is The Big Interview, which is available free to students via their umich accounts. Once you login, you can select your field and type of interview, and a virtual interviewer will ask you pre-recorded questions. The best part is that The Big Interview records your answers — which you can then rewatch or critique with your career counselor. DeLaRosa’s other suggestion: Review your resume and come up with a personal story or example for every single item on the page. “If a student is a good storyteller, they’ll be very compelling in the interview. And if you have a plan for every section of your resume, you will be prepared and confident for employer questions.”

Do some virtual networking with alumni.

Getting a good job or internship is still often about who you know and who knows you. And you can do a lot to enlarge your network even during the pandemic. One of the easiest ways is to tap into your alumni network, and the social networking platform LinkedIn makes finding alumni who are working in your field super easy. (By the way, here’s another great link for getting the most out of LinkedIn.) When you find someone you want to talk with, DeLaRosa says a simple, effective entry point is to send them a message and ask if you can pick their brain about their job. Many people like talking about themselves and their work and will be happy to help someone with similar interests. At the end of the conversation, feel free to inquire about internships or positions at their company. Even if they don’t have anything for you right now, you’ve just put yourself on their radar.

Learn or boost a skill through a free online mini-course.

Specific skills are another key section on a strong resume, and it’s relatively quick and easy to add to your personal toolbox. Platforms like Udemy, Coursera and LinkedIn Learning offer thousands of courses — many of them for free. (LinkedIn Learning, by the way, is completely free for students in the U-M system.) If you’ve been meaning to develop a stronger command of specific software platforms that are key in your industry, now’s the perfect time to follow through.

Develop a ‘Plan B.’

In a sluggish economy, be prepared for a longer-than-usual job or internship search. But DeLaRosa says you’ll also want to pay special attention to where you’re hitting a wall. “If you’re getting interviews, but aren’t getting any offers, that’s a cue that maybe you need to really work on your interviewing skills. Likewise, if you aren’t getting interviews, you might want to take a second look at your resume — or make sure you’re targeting jobs that are a good match for your experience.” DeLaRosa says if you’ve done all that and you’re still struggling, you may want to broaden your career search. Look outside your first-choice field and see if your skills are in demand elsewhere. Or, find something a little short of your “ideal.” DeLaRosa says when you’re starting out, it’s far more important to get the experience of that first degree-related position under your belt. Then, keep striving and build that path to your dream job.

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Looking for a job right now? Check out the campuswide job board. Or for additional career development guidance, contact the following student support services: Talent Gateway, Career Services, CASL, COB, CEHHS and CECS

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