The pandemic has affected many industries, which, in turn, has displaced millions of people out of work ever since the lockdown started.
Enter the younger demographic of the workforce: from fresh grads navigating the reality of their chosen career paths to twentysomethings trying their best to keep working in the middle of a crisis. The idea of adulting is already scary. But being stuck in it, with the uncertainty of things to come constantly in our minds, is a lot tougher.
To help us get into that mindset we need for our careers, we talked with two experts on career development: Jo Ann Asetre, managing director for consulting firm Lee Hecht Harrison and Doreen Cooper, a freelance training consultant from PeopleStrong’s core group of trainers.
We tackled some of the key issues that young jobseekers are facing right now during the pandemic, from the difficulties of landing job interviews to worries of retrenchment.
They gave us their own tips on helping jobseekers stand out in the current, competitive job market, which go beyond updating resumes and creating cover letter templates.
Bank on your soft skills
On every job posting, you’ll find a list of requirements for the position you’re vying for. You may find specialized skills like computer literacy, knowledge on certain software, data analysis and writing, along with competencies like collaboration, leadership and communication. These are called soft skills―your people skills, basically.
Doreen cites the World Economic Forum’s insight on soft skills. Back in 2015, business leaders around the world voted on the key skills that they think would be useful in the world of work by 2020. The top 10 of which, interestingly, are all soft skills:
- Complex problem solving
- Critical thinking skills
- People management
- Coordinating with others
- Emotional intelligence
- Judgment and decision making
- Service orientation
- Cognitive flexibility
“This tells us that the key skills for 2020 are universal skills that anyone can learn and anyone can benefit from. Kahit ano pang background mo, you can benefit from honing these skills,” said Doreen. “Pandemic or not, it’s important for us to know how to solve problems and think of out-of-the-box solutions.”
Jo Ann notes that while collaborating with others is good, it’s also important to learn to be independent and resourceful. It’s “kind of a paradox,” she says, but people who can pivot quickly (and can demonstrate that) are who companies are looking for.
In the world of work, you’ll be dealing with a lot of different people whether you choose to work as a company employee or be your own boss and start your own business. These soft skills come in handy when we’re talking to potential clients or getting along with team members.
Some of the other things they suggest you can do to add to your soft skill set include:
- Reading at least one article a day, because it’s important to be well-read and hold conversations on a variety of topics
- Learning how to run and participate in online meetings (including dealing with video call fatigue), because many companies are moving to the online world
- Something that may be nice to have in the future, like learning a new language (hello, Duolingo)
Jo Ann advises that it’s great to start on these even when you’re still studying: Go out and make friends. Join your school’s organizations. Run for officership. Do volunteer work. Get the recognition you deserve.
Though academics is good (and kudos to you guys who excel there), engaging in extracurricular activities is “where you learn your competencies,” says Jo Ann. By joining orgs, you have the opportunity to meet people and exchange ideas, collaborate with them and even manage teams if you run for officership (c’mon, soft skills).
But keep in mind that you shouldn’t volunteer just for the sake of volunteering, or join an organization just to add something to your resume. Your decisions with whom you want to be affiliated with should be relevant to the things you wish to pursue in the future, and that includes your career.
And when you let people into your network, it should add value to your connection because these people will be the ones to vouch for you and your work ethics some day, and they won’t do that when clearly your only objective is to flex to the world that you’re buddies with them.
Maintain a good online presence
If you’ve got a handful of kalat tweets floating around on the internet, now’s probably the best time to delete any traces of them. You’ll be thanking yourself for letting those impulse tweets stay in your drafts too because your online presence can make or break your chances at landing job offers.
Doreen and Jo Ann both advise to be mindful of your social media profiles because employers do check on them when they screen applicants.
This means making sure your social media profiles reflect you as a person (hint: check your tagged photos). Not to say that you shouldn’t post on social media ever while job-hunting; just that it’s best to keep in mind that recruiters could be looking at your profile at any time.
So before you post that angry tweet or share that hot take on a trending topic, think for a sec if this is the image you’d want an employer (or literally anyone) to see or associate with you.
Also, a little tip from the professionals: Take advantage of LinkedIn. You don’t have to be on it as much as you are on other platforms but it pays to keep updating your profile when you learn new skills, for example, because there are times that the site could even match you with potential jobs, even when you’re not looking for one.
Get comfy with this thing called “constructive criticism”
Ah, yes. Feedback.
While you may have our own image of feedback in your mind right now―your boss’ comments on your performance lately, your client’s revisions, a customer’s angry review of your product or service―the online world also presents you with other forms of feedback, like the number of likes and shares. The number of views your videos got. The comments on your posts.
Whichever way you receive feedback, you have to remember that this is not based on something personal but rather on your actions, decisions and output you made.
“It’s never about you as a person. You have to focus on the behavior that you exhibited,” Doreen reminds. This means that the feedback you get, whether positive or negative, is meant to “keep us on track,” as Jo Ann put it.
“It’s never about you as a person. You have to focus on the behavior that you exhibited.”
Others give feedback not because they want to attack you, but quite the opposite: They want you to do better, and they know you can do better. Feedback helps us see what we’re doing from others’ points of view, giving us a fresher take apart from our own perspective.
Taking feedback is also important in honing most of the soft skills mentioned above. We can’t collaborate with other people if we refuse to hear feedback. It’ll be difficult to negotiate if we’re only seeing our side and not the other parties involved.
And also: Be ready to admit your past mistakes.
“It’s good to be transparent but focus on the lessons that you learned in terms of the mistakes that you had,” Doreen says.
We’re all about growth here. Recruiters are bound to ask about the challenges you faced while working in previous jobs, and the best route to go here is to be honest and use this opportunity to demonstrate how you handled those situations.
You may have failed several times, and that’s okay: The world of work isn’t looking for perfection. It’s looking for individuals who can adapt and are willing to keep pushing themselves to grow. No one has a clue what post-pandemic work will look like, but recruiters believe that those who would likely succeed are those people with the drive to keep improving.
Art by Jan Cardasto