Advice for College Students Preparing to Comb a Competitive Job Market

Student working on a computer

I’ve spoken with several people who have kids heading into their senior year of college. They’re not only concerned about their students’ safety, but also about the job prospects their soon-to-graduate students will face in light of the pandemic. I reached out to some career search experts to see what advice they have for college seniors who likely will encounter a tight, very competitive job market when they graduate next spring.

Jill Tipograph, co-founder of Early Stage Careers and a member of Forbes Coaches Council doesn’t pull any punches about what lies ahead.

“COVID-19 caused a brutal job market that no one expected. And the lasting impact will pervade 2021 hiring — and likely beyond — for college grads,” Tipograph cautions.

But as she and other industry pros note, there are what Tipograph calls “actionable steps they should take now to set themselves up for success for 2021 hiring.”

1. Become a skills master.

“Upskill” is the word of the moment — something employers are looking for during COVID-19 and will look for beyond the crisis, Tipograph says. “They are expecting workers, especially college grads, to have mastered new skills … as well as [to have developed] deeper proficiency at ones they need. Use this time wisely to research such skills and get credentialed in as many as you can,” she advises.

Mark Hayes, head of marketing at Kintell, concurs. “Start by learning something new,” he says. “Consider taking a design/writing course or get started with Adobe XD — it’s completely free design software, and it’s incredible.” As Hayes notes, “Both of these opportunities teach you valuable skills that you can use to both transform your CV and your resume and enrich your future workplace. Plus, it sounds impressive when you’re asked, ‘What did you do during the pandemic?’ and you share that you learned a completely new skill, unprompted.”

2. Get your marketing playbook in order.

Tipograph says this step includes fine-tuning your resume, LinkedIn profile and overall social media presence — and making sure “all parts of your public brand are consistent and positive,” she says.

LinkedIn is an especially important job-search tool considering approximately 70% of jobs are obtained through networking, according to Tipograph. “Become a LinkedIn expert user; its powers are far reaching,” she says. “Ensure your profile is robust and join alumni and interest groups. Become an engaged user and find thought leaders to connect to.”

3. Prepare for virtual recruiting.

Tipograph doesn’t see in-person recruiting coming back for quite some time. “Virtual job fairs with large numbers of companies are the vogue starting in September,” she says. “Everyone is equal on a Zoom meeting, visually and figuratively … Students need to learn how to stand out in a memorably positive way.”

4. Become a virtual virtuoso.

Tipograph predicts that most work will remain remote through 2020, and that many companies will consider a hybrid approach next summer. “Demonstrate to prospective employers that you have been a successful remote worker, [highlight] projects you’ve collaborated on, how you have maneuvered a virtual internship,” she advises. “This is also the time to reach out to gain virtual internship experience … Look into micro-internships and see if a professor can use help on a project.”

5. Schedule informational interviews.

Mark Anthony Dyson, founder of The Voice of Job Seekers, calls this “a vital strategy” for students who want to gain insider knowledge about their future career path.

“Informational interviews are conducted with professionals working in their target industry,” explains Dyson, who says these interviews offer the chance for students to ask questions that will help do three things: determine what their next moves need to be, what additional skills they’ll need, and who else to talk to for more insight.

“All seniors with normal class loads can do one informational interview a month, but many can do two dozen or more in their final year,” Dyson says. “The university’s career center can be instrumental with [helping] seniors interview alumni.”

6. Don’t panic!

It’s easy to feel the job search will be hopeless if you focus on unemployment figures and talk about the “hidden job market.” But Dyson says not to panic. “Jobs are segmented or splintered but no one is hiding jobs,” he says.

“As a senior, you can start joining industry-specific organizations to network with professionals and also find out about sectors of your industry that are hiring. You can also get job leads before they’re posted if you’re an active member of the organization. Many of them have discounted (sometimes free) pricing for student members.”

7. Volunteer.

This is always a way to increase your knowledge and career options too. Dyson calls volunteering, “a must to expand your possibilities. “There are virtual volunteer projects online and possibly could result in a job or internship,” he says. “Volunteer work enhances your network and increases your value in the eyes of an employer.”


(Article written by Kathleen Furore)