By Caroline Kennedy, Career Development and Employability Manager at National College of Ireland.
At this unique time in history, final year college students face the immediate and very real concern of looking after themselves and their families during global pandemic, while knowing that they will likely graduate into a recession. This can only be disheartening.
In response to this changing environment, Careers Services at NCI has been researching trends and talking to employers, asking them for their insights and advice.
Explore Further Study Options
If you have recently lost your job, you may be thinking of upskilling or reskilling. The Government of Ireland and the European Social Fund, as part of the ESF programme for Employability, Inclusion and Learning 2014-2020, cover 100% of fees for those currently not working and 90% of fees for those in employment, who undertake Springboard+ courses: these are courses in areas that have been identified as bridging a ‘skills gap’ – areas desperately in need of more qualified employees. At NCI, this includes diplomas in cutting edge programmes such as Cybersecurity and Data Analytics (delivered part-time in the evening), but there are many subject choices at colleges nationwide, delivered both in-classroom and online. This year’s options will be announced on www.springboardcourses.ie early in June.
You don’t have to wait until June to invest in yourself, as Adrian McCarthy, Manager of For Purpose, Ireland’s Not-for-Profit Graduate Programme, notes: “There are lots of accredited short courses available online on websites such as www.ecollege.ie, in areas like project management and graphic design, all of which are currently free in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. These courses can keep you fresh and sharp, and show potential employers that you can act on your own initiative.”
There may also be a case for this year’s graduates to consider continuing in education, progressing to a masters’ degree, for example. Postgraduate study could allow you another year (full-time, or two years part-time) to further specialise in your chosen area of expertise, while the world recovers from COVID-19. NCI’s next Open Day for postgraduate courses is happening online from 5-7pm on June 10th. NCI also offers a variety of scholarships, some of which are specific to those staying on at the College to continue their education.
One way or the other, if you are still in education, you are in the enviable position of not being alone as you make the decision for your next steps. The careers team at NCI has adopted new ways of engaging with students to continue to provide support, advice and networking opportunities. From discussing career plans and strategies to practical advice on CVs and webinars on specialist topics: you must engage with your college’s career service to take full advantage of the resources on offer.
Make Targeted Applications
It is true that the jobs market is not the one graduates were expecting to enter. Some students have had their work placements cut short, interview processes stall, or offers put on hold or rescinded. This is not a total economic meltdown, not all industries are suffering. Employers hire graduates for long-term leadership pipelines, so experience tells us that graduate-recruitment will still continue. It is likely, however that there will be a fall in the number and range of opportunities available. Jobseekers must adjust both their expectations and strategy in this new world and focus on things they can control.
Clara Amarante, People and Talent Partner at Auxilion, acknowledges that this global pandemic has put everyone out of their comfort zone: “This is a time that requires jobseekers to be resilient, flexible and adaptable. There might not be many open job opportunities now, but the application process is much more than responding to an ad. Start researching companies you’ve heard good things about to see if you would like to work for them. Try using media other than the company website to do that: Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn; see how people speak of these companies and learn how they speak about themselves. You will be informed and prepared when the market opens up again.”
Up to January 2020, it took an average of 5 to 6 months to source a career opportunity. The market has shifted: it is likely that it will now take longer than this to find your ideal role and you may need to look at jobs you were not considering a few weeks ago. Be flexible and proactive, look for other opportunities and consider the knowledge and experience you can develop in these that will add to your skill set. If you consider a non-linear career path, you can still get there, it may just take a few additional steps.
Build your Professional Network
It is hard to focus on the positive, but Helen Groarke, Senior Recruiter at Hays, reminds jobseekers: “Never before has there been this much time to make an impact on potential employers. I recommend thinking outside the box: once you’ve identified individual companies you would like to work for, connect with people in the company; ideally, hiring managers in your preferred field. LinkedIn is an excellent tool for networking and to build relationships with companies even before you get involved in the hiring process.”
Helen’s advice is doubly important when we consider the fact that, in a booming economy, about 70% -80% of jobs are secured through networking. That only becomes more pronounced in a difficult job market; therefore, it is vital to build and develop a network. Rather than spending most of your time making applications through jobs boards, spend 70-80% of your time networking and having conversations with people that can help you, and 20-30% of your time applying for jobs.
Make quality, targeted applications. Sending out the same generic CV to 300 roles is unlikely to have a positive result. Don’t lose heart; keep applying, even when you receive rejections. But remain focused. Take the time to tailor your CV for each role you apply for.
Prepare for Online Job Interviews
Face-to-face interviews are not happening at the moment, so get ready to compete online. NCI students can access a video interview practice tool through career services. Attend webinars and observe the speakers that catch and keep your attention, so that if you are asked to present as part of the recruitment process, you will know the approach you would like to take that best suits your subject area. If you don’t have the support of a college careers service, you can still ask your friends to do video interviews with you, where you can practice classic interview techniques such as STAR (Situation, Task, Action Result), while getting used to being on camera.
Stay Active with Online Projects
With fewer in-person interactions, your online profiles will become an information source for recruiters. Think about your digital footprint. What happens when someone googles your name? You have a chance now to delete old social media and to ensure your LinkedIn is up-to-date and shows very clearly what you bring to the table, with a header that is rich with the relevant keywords and terms that recruiters search for. Engage online in a way that showcases you professionally: be strategic about your comments, tweets, etc. Stay visible: keep yourself at the top of people’s minds.
“There’s never been a more important time to stay active. Where possible, within your domain, contribute to online projects. This is a great way to apply yourself, practice and enhance your skills, and have a beneficial impact on others, at the same time as making contacts and socialising. You’ll also have something creditable to which you can refer any prospective employer,” advises Joe Keating, Chief Data Officer with Glantus.
Of course, you may not have time to upskill, undertake research or build your online profile right now, as you may be caring for an elderly relative or home-schooling young children. You should still make a note of what you are doing at this time and shape your own work-related story, because one thing is certain: everyone in the world right now is having their own experience of COVID-19. You are guaranteed a very rare thing in every interview you undertake over the next couple of years: to have a shared reference point in common with your potential employer.
If you're interested in continuing your studies or returning to education, take a look at our full and part-time courses in business, computing, psychology and education which are currently open for applications.