The class of 2021 is entering a tricky job market in a time of transition. Many segments in the social-impact sector have been hit hard by the pandemic—and though some organizations are bouncing back, they may not be hiring at pre-COVID rates.
The pandemic has caused many employers to rethink the way they do business. These changes may be apparent in general workplace policies, like making remote work a long-term possibility—or even getting rid of the office altogether. And some businesses have found the need to pivot their programs to maintain their funding streams.
These changes could make your job hunt more challenging, but they could also open up new opportunities. Two skills you have in your corner are resilience and adaptability—your last years of college or graduate school probably looked a lot different than you expected, but you made it work and got your degree anyway. You should be proud of yourself! Take a few minutes to savor your accomplishment, then get ready for the next steps.
Prepare for the long haul
Realistically, you’re not likely to find the perfect full-time job—the one that fits all your interests, launches your five-year career plan, and sets you up with health insurance—in a few months. It may be reassuring to relieve yourself of this expectation, and to think of the search for the ideal job fit as a marathon, not a sprint.
That doesn’t mean you won’t be busy in the meantime. The weeks and months after graduation are a great time to think about what’s really important to you in a career, what you want your life to look like, and what skills you’d like to develop; you can even start an ongoing list if that’s your style. The skills can be concrete and work-related, like learning a software program or a foreign language, or they might be broader competencies, like techniques for time management or handling stress.
While you keep your eye out (and keep applying) for aspirational jobs, bridge the gap with work that fits for "right now" even if it’s not exactly what you want to do. If you’re interested in a competitive job that requires global travel, for instance, you could start with an assistant, associate, or supporting role at an organization that operates internationally. You won’t be traveling right away but you’ll learn more about what international fieldwork requires, and if a position opens up you’ll be better prepared to apply.
Most people go through plenty of job changes in their careers, and you’re not committing to a job for the rest of your life. You can still work toward your long-term goals (which might also change!) by keeping up with news and developments in the field you want to enter.
Especially if you find yourself with extra time on your hands, this is a good opportunity to build your career support network.
- If you’re acquainted with people who have jobs you’re interested in, ask for informational interviews—these are low-pressure and can even be fun.
- Check in with former mentors, like professors and supervisors. Update them on your career progress; many teachers love to hear how former students are faring.
- Get in touch with your school’s career counseling center. They may have ideas and resources you haven’t thought of on your own.
- Browse organizations where you might like to work, and follow them on social media platforms. Over time you’ll get a better sense of their culture, values, and priorities, and you’ll be ahead of the game if you apply for an open job in the future.
- Plug into any online alumni networks your school offers.
- Polish your resume and experiment with its format — practice tailoring a resume, as well as a cover letter, to highlight skills relevant to each specific job.
You never know when networking might pay off, so be patient and focus on building relationships rather than hunting down leads.
It’s smart to have a plan, and it’s even smarter to understand life doesn’t always go according to plan. For instance, you may not find work related to your major; in most cases, your college major won’t predict your career path. Instead think of your studies as a foundation, giving you skill sets you can build on in multiple areas.
Some career advisors suggest picking a "theme" or concept that motivates you, then consider work that might fit with that theme. Maybe you’re passionate about creative expression, disability activism, or environmental causes, or you’re proud of a certain trait — like your uncanny ability to crunch numbers or your enthusiasm for building relationships. A theme gives you greater flexibility, since you’re likely to find any number of jobs that match with this core skill or passion.
And don’t discount temporary jobs or gigs; they might be a stopgap to keep money coming in, but at best they can open into full-time opportunities or unearth skills and interests you didn’t know you had.
Volunteer for experience
If you have time and energy to take on unpaid internships or part-time volunteer work, you can look for opportunities that are relevant to your career path. Or you may choose to volunteer in areas with the greatest need where you live (or remotely).
Not only can volunteer stints be used strategically on a resume, they’ll introduce you to new contacts and help you stay motivated. Whether you’re doing administrative work or direct service, you’re busy developing skills you can use on the job.
Above all, take it easy on yourself—it’s normal to be frustrated and impatient during a time when nothing seems certain. Once you do land that hard-earned position, you’ll be much better prepared to handle whatever comes your way.
Recent grads, what techniques did you find helpful for job hunting, staying busy, or hanging in there? Share your tips with us on Facebook.
Amy Bergen is a writer based in Portland, Maine. She has experience in the social impact space in Baltimore, Maryland, the educational museum sphere in Columbus, Ohio, and the literary world of New York City.