Adaptation, perseverance applied during coronavirus crisis will serve job-seeking graduates well, career adviser says

Over the last couple of months, many of us have felt like characters in an apocalyptic film, hearing things like, “We are living in unprecedented and uncertain times” and, “Hunker down and socially distance ourselves.” News reports broadcast surges in coronavirus cases, overflowing hospitals, and the plummeting stock market, further adding to people’s already potent anxiety.

It is a scary time for everyone, but for college students who graduated in May, the uncertainty of securing a job is heightened tenfold. The messaging they are receiving from media is that there will be nothing left for them once the dust settles.

In their short lives, members of Generation Z have already lived through three economic recessions, two wars, a pandemic, stagnation of wages and a vanishing middle class. Reminiscent of the Greatest Generation, this group of young people understands to never take anything for granted and that fortitude and perseverance will overcome any hurdle that lies before them. But they may not be able to see this resilience within themselves.

These skills — adapting to changing environments, perseverance, willingness to learn, personal motivation and creative thinking — are some of the most important assets to employers and will carry them through a lifetime.

During the coronavirus outbreak, we have seen people including our staff, faculty, students and employers, getting out of their comfort zones to learn new technologies. Our students, more specifically, our seniors, have had to sharpen many of their skills to adapt, overcome and stay motivated to finish the semester strong. This need to adapt was compounded by their having to finish their final semester of their college career at home, alone and without a graduation to commemorate this momentous time. What they may not realize is that these skills — adapting to changing environments, perseverance, willingness to learn, personal motivation and creative thinking — are some of the most important assets to employers and will carry them through a lifetime.

As career professionals, we often ask our clients to “reframe” or “reimagine” their careers and life plans if they are stuck or are facing a situation beyond their control. Although this model isn’t new, it helps people see things they may have not been able to see. Focusing on what is possible will help us to also see silver linings during an otherwise frustrating and overwhelming time. This approach has worked wonders to recharge the college students I’ve worked with over the years and empower them to move forward.

Consider the possibilities

Over the last 10 years, when I have asked my clients, “What is most important to you when it comes to work and life?” Nine out of ten times, they say flexibility and stability; in essence, a good work-life balance. Many companies are likely to rethink or reframe how they do business after the pandemic subsides. They will look at new ways of integrating virtual models of work. The use of technology has forced all of us to look at what we do and how we do it and consider the possibilities. This could allow for more flexibility and more virtual work in the future.

silver lining 4
A Norwich student completes an application at a 2015 campus job fair. Career and Internship Center Associate Director Meghan Oliver said the Class of 2020 sharpened its skills to clear hurdles, stay motivated to finish the semester strong amid the coronavirus crisis. (Photo by Mark Collier.)

If you ask career professionals in higher education, many will tell you that most students don’t take the time to really understand who they are, what they offer or develop an adaptable plan for how to achieve their goals. In our field, we often integrate John Krumboltz’s Theory of Planned Happenstance to help our students develop a plan that is open to change and serendipity. This model focuses on curiosity, persistence, optimism and flexibility.

With some of these steps, you can boost your mindset and better position yourself by gaining positive feedback, discovering new paths, and developing your skill sets.

  1. Research: Learn what’s happening in your field, discover employers, reach out to people for informational interviews using LinkedIn, family, friends, alumni and the Career and Internship Center. Let other people help you learn more about different paths and ways to get from A to B.
  2. Assess your learning: Use mind mapping to help you see where you may have blind spots or gaps in knowledge. This is a great tool to use for mapping your plan. 
  3. Log your triumphs. Prepare for interviews by creating captivating memorable stories using examples of successes you have had and the skills you employed to make it all happen.
  4. Take inventory. Assess your interests, skills, values, personality, motivations, and risk taking. Ask others to give you feedback about your skills and character. You will learn so much and find out how others view you.
  5. Prepare a pitch: Develop a personal philosophy or elevator pitch that people will remember you by.
  6. Stay relevant. Consider microinternships, virtual internships, virtual independent contract work or temp positions through staffing agencies if you are finding it hard to find a full-time position. Try volunteering in your community to help others who may need assistance. Experience and skills don’t have to come from a paid opportunity.
  7. Plot your financial goals. Creating a budget and research entry-level position salaries in your field.
  8. Focus on industries that are hiring now. Look into logistics and delivery; food and household product manufacturing; law enforcement; military and National Guard; cybersecurity; health care; biotech and pharmaceutical; gaming; banking and financial; technology and software; and e-learning.
  9. Get certified. Take money you got from graduation and invest in you! Get certified in a program or do a training that will help boost your chances at landing that job you want.
  10. Take care of yourself. Create a routine that focuses on keeping motivation, positivity and progress. Engage in activities that help you to stay balanced. This is especially important now, but it is important in any job search.

Nothing is a given in life; we are seeing that firsthand. The hard work and determination students have demonstrated throughout their lives will get them through this bump in the road yet again.

Always remember that for every one “yes,” you will have 100 “noes.” The Career and Internship Center, the Counseling and Wellness Center, and the entire Norwich family, are all here for you as you begin the next steps on your life’s journey.

Meghan Oliver is associate director of Norwich University’s Career and Internship Center.

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Norwich University Perspectives Project: COVID-19

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