Due to COVID-19, the job market for college graduates has become much more competitive. Building a brand and networking are just a few tools experts recommend when looking for employment.

Due to COVID-19, the job market for college graduates has become much more competitive. Building a brand and networking are just a few tools experts recommend when looking for employment.

Photo by Zachary Manning

New grads face altered landscape during COVID-19

By: Zachary Manning | C&G Newspapers | Published March 11, 2021


OAKLAND COUNTY — As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, the job market continues to suffer.

Many are still left unemployed or working at less than full-time capacity. This has caused the job market to become as competitive ever.

With a thin job market, there are only so many things you can do to separate yourself from the rest of the pack.

As the director of career services and cooperative education at Oakland Community College, Donna DuHame-Schmidt advises her students to reach out to her for advice.

Among the things she tells students who seek advice is to be ready for everything that can be thrown their way. Some applications require a test, while some are just a one-click apply.

As a general rule, getting familiar with technology is advised, especially with more interviews going virtual. Being able to understand multiple forms of technology helps show a well-rounded candidate.

Being able to showcase multiple skills and assets to a company are always positive. Having internships and other work experience will show that a person is doing what it takes to put themselves out there.

“I try to get to know them a little bit personally and look at their overall experience, not just what they’ve gone to school for. Maybe I’ve got somebody who went to school to be a (computer-aided design) designer, and all they’ve ever done is work in a restaurant setting. But what kind of skills did you develop there?” DuHame-Schmidt said. “You’re developing customer service skills, you’re assisting others, you’re part of a team. It’s helping them identify the transferable skills that they’ve developed that can be utilized in whatever position they’re holding.”

Vince Thompson, the author of the book “Building Brand You: How to Use Your College Experience to Find and Win Your First Job,” notes that college graduates may have it the hardest when it comes to finding a job.

As people get laid off and become unemployed and displaced, many workers are willing to take lesser jobs than before just to pay the bills. Typically, these entry-level jobs would be for college graduates who are looking to break into the workforce.

Thompson uses a fishing analogy to describe the type of wide net some people are going to have to cast.

“You had to make 100 casts to get eight bites to get two job leads. Now I think it’s going to be 500 casts,” Thompson said. He advises those entering the job market to work on a few things as they look for the right opportunity.

For him, building a brand is a key aspect of putting one’s self out there. Being well-rounded and involved in a variety of areas can go a long way. Employers are looking for people with a wide skill set and who are quick to learn.

Marketing is also a big aspect for those looking for jobs. Having consistent and professional looking posts and information on all platforms can help.

Networking has become a huge tool for job seekers as well, and Thompson notes that building a strong network is key to finding a job. He adds that almost 75% of new hires happen through networking.

“My first question is, what did you do to improve yourself and others during COVID-19?” Thompson said. “Did you feel sorry for yourself and binge watch or binge drink, or did you learn a new skill or practice your passion and then apply that passion to helping others and did you use that in a good way?”

In the COVID-19 era, virtual interviews have become more mainstream with Zoom or submitting video responses to questions, but employers are still looking for that face-to-face interaction.

DuHame-Schmidt notes that virtual interviewing doesn’t differ much from the traditional in-person method, but there are some things to look out for.

Picking a background that isn’t distracting and limiting noise throughout the interview tells the employer that a person is serious and looking for work.

Additionally, doing research on the company and understanding the job are crucial to having a strong interview process. If a person doesn’t show interest in the company during the interview, why should an employer think they will if they are hired?

Similar to a traditional interview setting, it is best to dress professionally and make a mental note of keeping good posture.

“What I’ve done over this past year is really taken my traditional workshops and made them more friendly to the environment we’re now in,” DuHame-Schmidt said. “It’s not just getting dressed up anymore. It’s taking care to look at, if you’re using a camera, what’s in your background? Be cognizant of what’s behind you as well as your posture, what you’re wearing, all that stuff.”

DuHame-Schmidt works at the OCC Orchard Ridge campus and can help with a variety of items, such as resumes, virtual interviewing techniques and branding, among other things.