How can I find a job during the COVID-19 pandemic?
This question runs through the minds of many University of Virginia students as they face an unprecedented employment landscape. For most students, the job search process is already daunting; during a global pandemic, it feels almost impossible to navigate alone.
Luckily for these students, UVA’s Career Center has spent the last year cultivating resources and talking with professionals around the country on how best to help students during this time. The UVA Career Center serves as a resource for students to seek help in all aspects of the employment process, including finding a career direction, building résumés, preparing for interviews and negotiating salaries, just to name a few.
Andrew Savage, one of the center’s assistant directors, joined us to answer some questions about the services offered to students and what the workforce will look like in the coming months.
Q. For students just starting their job search process, what Career Center resources offer the most guidance?
A. I think every student is kind of entering the job search from a different place. So, I think it depends. I’m a huge advocate for just connecting with one of us and talking about your journey, and then we can point in the way that you might want to go.
I also think getting involved in Handshake [an online recruiting platform] is always a good place to start.
Q. Many companies have canceled on-Grounds visits. What are some tips for networking virtually?
A. UVA has such a robust network of alumni that chances are someone is working in the field or at the company where you’d like to work. So, exploring LinkedIn, finding an alum, reaching out, introducing yourself and your interests, and learning more about their role is a great way to learn about an organization through the lens of someone that shares your connection with UVA.
Also, students can check our mentoring platform, Virginia Alumni Mentoring, which also has a pretty robust group of alumni who have self-selected that they want to help students. They can be your conduit into more contact at an organization to really get you rich, deep information that could help you with that next step to get that job or internship.
Q. What are the best ways for students to enhance their online interview skills?
A. I think a lot of students are feeling the stress of being good at connecting in person, but finding virtual interviews much more difficult because they feel so impersonal. One thing I say is just to practice. The Career Center offers mock interview appointments with a counselor, and we also have a resource called VMOCK to help with eye contact, posture and vocal inflection.
Q. How should students explain résumé gaps caused by the pandemic to future employers?
A. One thing I say to students is that employers are going to understand the circumstances of the pandemic. Also, students have a lot more skills and experience than they think. If they talk to one of the Career Center counselors, we will help them find something that they can talk about on a résumé or in an interview. An example might be leaning more on class projects and work done in an academic setting. You want to be able to tell your story and drive your own narrative, this is why practice can make a huge difference.
Q. How will COVID-19 affect summer 2021 internship opportunities?
A. I think in 2020, companies were just unsure of what to do because they hadn’t yet learned how to adapt to remote work. For this summer, in the numbers that we’ve seen, opportunities look better because there’s a little bit more certainty.
I’ll also say there are other structured programs for students to gain experience outside of traditional internships. Some programs include Launchpad, Propel and the Hoos Internship Accelerator. These great other opportunities that can allow students to gain skills.
Q. What about the likelihood of summer internships being offered virtually?
A. It depends, because some organizations require more in-person work – think about a hospital, for example – but then there’s other work that can be done remotely. Most organizations with virtual capabilities haven’t gone back in person yet, but company size is a big factor here. The larger organizations may not be able to go back this summer, but smaller ones may be able to because they have less capacity and more ability to do that.
Q. For students exploring graduate schools, how has COVID-19 changed the application process?
A. The application process has mostly changed structurally in requirements for test scores. We’re not seeing as much of a requirement for the GRE and those types of exams from schools. This has opened a lot of doors for access, which I think is really incredible.
I think graduate school is a great educational experience. We just encourage students to, before they decide to invest in a graduate program, be mindful of what you’re really looking for. I think sometimes, in going into the workforce, you’re able to really dive into your interests more and see what you’re really excited about.
Q. What will a Career Center Counseling appointment look like?
A. We offer appointment types of all ranges. A mock interview appointment is an hour long. Before a mock interview, a student may share that, for example, they are going to interview for an internship at ZS Associates. Then I’ll go into Glass Door and Handshake, and I’ll look at what types of questions ZS Associates is asking. Then we’ll go through a mock interview and talk through feedback to help increase confidence before the real interview.
A more traditional Career Center appointment is about 30 minutes. I’ll ask the student, “Hey, what brought you in, and how can I help?” Then we’ll see what types of questions student has, and then we can figure out what resources will be the most helpful. We have a really individualized approach to our counseling and encourage students of all stages to engage with us.
Q. This past year, much of what we’ve done has been virtual. Are websites like LinkedIn more important now?
A. I would say so. The absence of in-person networking events has made places where you can connect virtually more important because they are one of the only places to create connections.
LinkedIn is designed to kind of keep track of your network. It opens doors because students can connect with people throughout their time at UVA, and when they go to search for a position, they can say, “Hey, that fourth-year that I had a class with when I was a second-year now works at an organization I’m thinking I want to work for. Let me reach out to them.”
Q. How has the job and internship market changed, for college students, since the beginning of the pandemic?
A. In the beginning, we saw certain industries that were surging and certain industries that were struggling. Technology, EdTech and health care were surging the entire time. Other industries were really struggling because some places had not previously functioned virtually.
Now throughout the pandemic, as people became more comfortable and companies figured out what to do, I think we’re recovering really, really well.
Q. Is there anything else you want to add?
A. Our offerings are a little bit different than they were in person. We’re doing virtual drop-in advising every day from noon to 4. More information about our drop-in advising can be found here.