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June 23, 2020, 5:03 a.m. EDT

How to approach a job hunt in a recession: Tips from career coaches

Whether you’re a new grad or recently laid off, here’s how to stand out in a tough job market

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By Kelsey Sheehy


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This article is reprinted by permission from NerdWallet .

Dear Class of 2020: You are graduating into one of the worst economies in history. But this isn’t news to you. Many of you have already felt the impact, with summer internships and full-time job offers pulled out from under you as the depth and duration of the coronavirus pandemic truly sets in.

As a product of the last  recession , I’m here to tell you that all is not lost. You will eventually land a job. It might not be in your field, but if you’re scrappy and creative, you will get there.

My path looked like this: A call center job (to pay the bills), plus a freelance writing gig (to build my résumé), then graduate school (to expand my network) followed by a temporary job with a textbook company (again, to pay the bills). Then, finally, a reporting internship that turned into my first full-time journalism job.

Your path may not look like mine or your parents’ or your classmates’, and it will likely look different from what you planned. These tips from career coaches can help you stand out from the other newly minted associate’s, bachelor’s and master’s degree holders — not to mention the over  40 million newly unemployed workers .

Beef up your LinkedIn profile

“You don’t have as much face-to-face opportunity, so it’s important to optimize online visibility,” says Debra Rodenbaugh-Schaub, a career services consultant at the Alumni Association of Kansas State University.

The place to do that: LinkedIn.

The professional networking platform is heavily trafficked by recruiters and hiring managers, making it crucial to put your best foot forward.

Also see: The coronavirus recession is destroying millennials’ retirement dreams and they need to act now

Amp up your profile with links to websites you’ve created, articles you’ve written or presentations you’ve given. You can even upload recordings to highlight public-speaking skills.

Look at profiles of people who are leaders in the industry you’re targeting to get inspiration for what to highlight and how to present yourself in your own profile.

Network virtually

Social distancing hasn’t killed networking; it’s just made it virtual.

The usual players — trade organizations, alumni groups and professional organizations — are all still meeting via webinars and videoconferencing.

Moving online can make networking less intimidating for newbies. You can ease into building connections, absorbing information and building the confidence to eventually become a more active participant.

You can, and should, also make meaningful one-on-one connections. Not doing so will put you at a distinct disadvantage, since jobs are often filled via an employee referral.

Lisa Kastor, director of career planning at the College of Wooster in Ohio, recommends building a “mentor map” with at least three mentors who can help guide you and make introductions.

“I coach students to identify a person who has at least 10 years of experience, one that knows them well academically and one who knows them well professionally,” Kastor says. “Start with who [you] know, articulate what [you] want and always ask for the recommendation of two more people to reach out to.”

Tailor your resume

Understand what a company is looking for in a candidate. Then, customize your resume and cover letter to that specific job posting. This is an important step under normal circumstances but it is critical now, as the economic upheaval of the pandemic has increased competition for available jobs.

Read: Cut these 5 outdated things from your resume

“Don’t be self-defeating and copy and paste the same thing into 100 job applications. That is not the right approach.” Rodenbaugh-Schaub says.

Avoid simply listing skills or tasks. Instead, give them context. Highlight how your experience and actions delivered measurable outcomes.

Tailoring your resume also means including keywords or phrases from the job posting, since companies use software to sift through the initial barrage of applicants.

Consider alternative career paths

“COVID-19 is unlike anything we have seen, so you have to be flexible,” says Glenn Hellenga, director of career and employability resources at Tri-County Technical College in South Carolina.

That might mean working in a short-term contract role in your field or accepting a job that is completely outside your career path. After all, you’ve got bills to pay.

Taking a detour doesn’t mean abandoning your goals entirely. Instead, find opportunities to develop the tools you’ll need for your dream job. Pick up freelancing gigs , find volunteer opportunities and proactively seek out projects wherever you land.

See: The best side gigs you can do from home

“You can show that you’ve been actively pursuing, enhancing and honing your skills,” Rodenbaugh-Schaub says. “Employers love that.”

More from NerdWallet:

Kelsey Sheehy is a writer at NerdWallet. Email: ksheehy@nerdwallet.com.

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