Life @Harvard

Career Planning Tips during Covid: Important Guide for Students’ Success

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Here’s what every student should be doing for career success during the pandemic. We discuss crucial resume building ideas and career planning tips for college students.

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It’s never too soon to start planning your career, and this article will take you through the basic steps. Career planning is different for every student, and for every field. Depending on what you’re studying, you may get many job offers to choose from, or you may be scrambling for just one even after months of search.

In the current scenario, fresh graduates are finding it difficult to get jobs, as the job market is tough, both due to Covid and due to current technology. So it’s a good idea to plan early and prepare for the worst, too.

Personally, I have spent months looking for jobs, given a dozen interviews and worked at a couple of companies. But learned more about how careers work only now that I myself am in the recruiter’s shoes – interviewing people, conducting internships and hiring full-time staff. And the career planning tips in this article are from all those experiences combined.

One can’t plan everything in life. But whether you’re a college freshman or in your final year of master’s, you should start building your resume as soon as you can. Here are some ways to ensure you find the right opportunities for your skill-set and interests.

Career Planning Tips during the Pandemic

Analyze the Job Market in your Field

Understanding whether it’ll be tough or easy for you to find a job when you graduate is the first thing to do, and you may already be doing so subconsciously. Recent graduates of every college often come up in conversations when they secure good positions at fancy companies. So keep learning those facts, or keep yourself updated by reading the latest news about your field.

Have any companies deferred the joining dates of new hires? How many students from the previous class found jobs within 3 months of their graduation and how many had to relocate for work? Knowing these is one of the first career planning tips.

Set Realistic Expectations about College Placements

I got my first full-time job through campus placement, which was in fact, one of the two job offers I had. So naturally, when I later went to Harvard for my master’s, I expected to land a good job before my graduation too. Little did I realize that the job market was very different in the US, and that their career fairs didn’t work the way I had expected.

The career fairs invited the top firms in the area, but most either didn’t have vacancies or were hiring, but not giving out offers immediately. Some weren’t hiring international candidates, or some were only giving out internships. As a result, I tried without luck for months, sending out 200 resumes and making countless calls before I found a job.

Career fairs or placement cells even at the top universities don’t guarantee a job, not even to top students. Yes, if your college has good career counselors, they’ll help you as much as they can with your resume, network-building or getting your foot out of the door. However, it’s really up to you to work hard and secure that job offer.

Also read: How Should a Student Prepare for Campus Placement?

career success during the pandemic

Networking

Networking – uh, one of the career-planning buzzwords you start hearing (and detesting) as soon as you reach college. It’s one of the top career planning tips everywhere! For introverts like myself, networking events are something we never look forward to. And the notion that we’ll suck at them doesn’t help either!

Well, the truth is that it’s really important to make connections in any industry if you want job offers, gigs or even business collaborations. People tend to give jobs to people they already know or trust rather than new ones, even if they seem more competent.

Networking initially sounds like going to career events and doing boring small talk with people you don’t know or care about. But essentially, it’s about making connections, and really finding people that you do care about, or at least admire and respect. And along the way, you’ll meet yet others. Slowly, you will get to know different people in your field, any of whom may be your stepping stone to big or small successes later on. And you will be for theirs too.

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The first step to networking is something that you’re already doing – getting to know your classmates and professors. The next step is to really be present at college events and being polite to the people on and off campus. Try to be on the first name basis with professors, staff and senior students. If you’re an introvert, that’s completely okay. You don’t have to force yourself to make conversation. Just be yourself, be polite and there will be people who will still have something in common with you.

Find Part Time Jobs in your Area of Expertise

It’s really common for college students to find part-time jobs in a local café, or at the college library (like I did) or being a teaching assistant. And that’s a great way to earn some extra cash while you’re in school. Plus college curriculum leaves out a lot of spare time to take up something.

However, if you’re planning on getting a part-time job or internship during college, the best idea is to search for something that can help you build your resume, too. Find a job that can help you gain a particular new skill, or in the field you’re planning to enter. Not only will it help you make connections in the field and give you an added resume-advantage, but may even be converted into a full-time job upon graduation.

Summer Internships

Summer internships are the best use of your 3-month long vacation, which would otherwise be used to watch TV, procrastinate or do other unproductive things. And many students land their first jobs out of college at the companies they interned for. Plus they’re a great way to get strong recommendation letters.

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However, with all their advantages, summer internships aren’t all that common among students. The reason is that very few companies offer internship opportunities, and many of these aren’t paid. Furthermore, students often apply just a month before or even after the break starts, and by the time, most companies have already recruited students, or even fresh graduates, as interns.

The trick is to plan really early. Successful students usually start applying for summer internships in Feb or March. But you can start working on your resume and portfolio even during your winter break. Start applying as soon as you can, and this will give you ample time to research good firms, build necessary connections or set up interviews during the spring break.

Keep Working on a Strong Resume

Creating a good resume takes time, and we’re not just talking about putting it all together. What really takes time is actually planning and doing those things that will eventually go into your resume. And for that, you have to start in high school. But even in college or university, you can still think of plenty of ways to make your resume top-notch.

The best way to do this is to generally keep up your grades, and participate in a couple of extra-curricular activities. You don’t have to do everything, in fact, you shouldn’t. Just concentrate on doing what you love. Sports, poetry, coding, debates, whatever you like – just focus on that. A company would be more interested in looking at the resume of someone who was the head of the debate team rather than someone who’s done a bit of 20 things but never focused on any in particular.

Next, visit your college’s career counselor and show them the first draft of your resume. Get their opinions and keep improving it, polishing it until it’s great. My Harvard career-counselor used to say that if you have under 2-3 years of experience, your resume should be no more than 1 page. Here’s my complete guide to creating a strong resume, from formatting to editing.

Career Events & Career Trips to Local Firms

We’ve already talked about the importance of networking. If you’re serious about getting a good job, keep on the lookout for career events in your university. If any of your favorite firms are visiting the campus, even other departments, it never hurts to go there and meet them.

Most good colleges organize career or networking trips, if not you can organize your own. Get in touch with local firms and set up meetings with them for you and other interested students. While I was searching for a job, I visited many firms in Boston and NYC either for interviews or with our professors or students as a part of career trips. Not always fruitful, these nonetheless, are a good way to learn about the industry.

Form Good Relationships with your Professors & Student Body

Professors are always happy to see students move ahead in life and get good jobs, as it increases the prestige of the college and bolsters their role as educators and mentors.

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While it is helpful, making good relationships with them should not feel like a task. Instead, just be on good terms with the professors whose vibe you naturally like. Offer to help them with their projects, etc. or ask them if they need you as a teaching assistant. Accept their lunch invitations and you may get to even meet other professors or students.

You never know when they may guide you to get your next interview or write a recommendation letter for your dream job. Even after graduation, it never hurts to just drop a hello, thanking them for their mentorship or telling them about your latest job.

Network with Recent Graduates of your School

Senior students are a great resource for mentorship, career advice and more. So making good connections with them always pays off. Once they graduate, keep in touch with them. Understand where they work, or how the job market is. Most are helpful to other students and will even put you in touch with senior professionals or HR teams at their companies.

In due time, you’ll do the same for students of the next class, and so on the chain of positive karma will continue.

Play on your Strengths

You may hear tons of stories while you’re at school about what the coolest fields are, or which companies offer the top salaries. And when you’re young, it’s easy to get swayed by public opinion or peer pressure. You may sometimes feel the need to prove yourself by going for the toughest-to-crack jobs or taking difficult classes that you don’t even enjoy.

Career Planning Tips during Covid

But one of the important career planning tips is to just follow your gut when it comes to your career planning. Know your strengths, what you love doing and what you ultimately imagine yourself working hard in all your life. That’s what’s the coolest to you.

Get in Touch with your Old Contacts

It’s easy to forget that you can still turn to the people you left behind. If things get tough, there are still people you can trust, whether it is for a job, or even just friendly advice. So don’t hesitate to confide in your closest friends or family members if you can’t find a job, or seem to not be doing as well as you had initially hoped.

There’s no shame in going back to your roots, finding a job at your ex-company, or even asking someone younger than you for help. Life teaches us a lot of things and humility is the most important lesson of all.

Be Open to Different Career Options, WFH & Relocation

When I was looking for a job after graduating from Harvard, someone gave me this great advice – a job is the right balance of three things – your skills, your interests and the industry demand. Ideally, we should build skill-sets in up and coming industries, or be ready to move to places that have big companies in your field.

If you’re finding it hard to get a job, it may be because one of these three things isn’t working in your favor. So always be open to changes, working remotely or even moving abroad at some point. Even after you find a job, it may still not be what you hoped for, in which case you should be open to looking again, or changing your role, etc.

Find Productive Ways to Spend your Jobless Time

One of the biggest fears of job search (other than the financial one) is how that time will look on your resume – a big empty gap! But if you really can’t find a job, there are still plenty of ways to fill up that time. While bulking up a resume is important, it’s really not your life’s goal. So choose things to do with your time that you enjoy and are passionate about. Something you can be proud of.

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You can take up an internship, join someone to assist them on a project, join a startup, start a passion-project, work at a local non-profit or teach at your school part-time. You can even help your dad at his company or learn a new skill through online classes. All good options, as long as you’re being and mostly, feeling productive.

Hope these career planning tips were helpful. I invite you to share your experiences in the comments below in order to help me improve or build upon this guide. All the best.

Read next:

How to Get into Harvard Business School: Criteria & Application Tips
Harvard Application Process: Easy Step-by-Step Guide for Beginners

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