Advice for Job Seekers During Coronavirus Pandemic

May 14, 2020 | Op-Ed, UToday, Alumni, Business and Innovation
By Amy O’Donnell

“I was just.” I shudder every time I hear that phrase from a student in the midst of building a resumé.

It all starts somewhere, right? I tell students in order to be considered for a position they need to have a resumé for the employer to review and assess their potential.

True, yet somewhere along the line, a significant number of students presume that the only way they will get hired for an internship is if they have experience in their desired field.


Now, how can that happen if it is the internship that gets them the experience? How do we convince students that their experiences are so much “more” than they realize? If I had a nickel for each time I heard, “I was just a

• Server;

• Caddy;

• Babysitter;

• Cashier;

• Fill in the _______,” I’d have retired long ago and retreated to my favorite 14th-floor destination in Puerto Vallarta.

It’s hard enough convincing students and job seekers that all experiences matter and that transferable skills — those skills we build in one environment that transfer to our desired careers — are developed and fostered in everything we do.

Add to that a global pandemic that has impacted the economy and hiring plans in unprecedented ways, and you find a bunch of downtrodden, internship-hopeful students who think they’re never going to get a break.

Times are hard now, but they will change. And when they change, you need to be ready. So, unless you work for a healthcare provider, a grocery store, or are a delivery driver for the most popular takeout in the city, you’ve got time to consider how your skills are so much more than you realize and package them properly.

Applicant Tracking Systems scan those resumés that are uploaded to job boards or company career sites “looking” for those keywords or skills that are required for the position.

LinkedIn’s algorithm performs in a similar manner. Sources conduct keyword searches looking for candidates to present to employers. If you’re not aware of the required skills for your industry and how to work them into your job search materials, you will remain “just a______.”

Pro tip: Those required skills are more likely to be the soft transferable skills you have built over your lifetime. I’ve had conversation after conversation with employers who always tout soft skills over technical skills.

Can you communicate? Get along with others? Work on a project longer than you spend trolling TikTok? Done — there’s a job out there for you. Now you just need to believe in yourself and trust in the value of your skills. And, of course, tell the story.

We all start somewhere. Even the richest, most influential people in the world started humbly. Oprah Winfrey was a grocery store clerk. Warren Buffett was a newspaper delivery boy. Jean Nidetch worked in a furniture store. Tom Hanks pushed stadium peanuts. Sound glamorous? Maybe not, but those people learned how to capitalize on their strengths and tell their story. You can, too.

Where do you start? Let me suggest what I do with my students on the first day of class. Ask yourself, “What are my top three skills?” Start small and don’t overthink it. Some of the most common skills are what employers crave.

For example, topping the National Association of Colleges and Employers’ list of attributes employers seek on a candidate’s resumé (Job Outlook 2020) are:

1. Problem solving;

2. Ability to work on a team;

3. Strong work ethic;

4. Analytical/quantitative skills; and

5. Communication.

Here are some real-life examples:

Problem solving: Ever have to figure out how to get your sister to softball practice 20 minutes away when you need to be at work in 15 minutes?

Ability to work on a team: Have you played team sports, participated on the debate team, or picked up sticks in the backyard with siblings? Yep, teamwork.

Strong work ethic: Realize you haven’t looked at the clock for the last two hours while in the midst of a project, or you arrived early or stayed late because it was the right thing to do?

Analytical/quantitative skills: I had an accountant friend of mine tell me he was always running his personal stats in his head — baskets made versus shots taken while he was on the court.

Communication: Can you tell a story and keep people’s attention? Better yet, can you compose one with appropriate grammar?

You’ll find those skills in the most common of places. So, get started. Here is a step-by-step list of how to move forward:

1. Create a list of skills.

2. Without even going to the resumé, develop and type stories recalling how you developed those skills.

3. Compose action resumé statements using those skills and plug them into your resumé — think:

a. What did I do?

b. How did I do it?

c. What was the result?

d. Begin them with action verbs and work in numbers.

4. Reach out to Career Services, the College of Business and Administration Business Career Programs, the College of Engineering Shah Center for Engineering Career Development, and the College of Law Office of Professional Development — they are still working during this shutdown. Check their website to see how they are providing services. This goes for current students and alumni.

5. Move those cleaned up statements into your LinkedIn profile.

6. Identify companies where you want to work.

7. Look for people in the roles you want to play.

8. Reach out with customized invitations and ask to connect — follow career expert JT O’Donnell’s advice in this YouTube video.

9. When they say “yes,” ask for 15 minutes of their time to talk about their career path. Believe me, most everyone has 15 minutes.

10. Listen to how they tell their stories and how they built their skills. I bet they sound the same as yours.

If you apply yourself, in a month’s time you’ll have a bang-up resumé and 25 new influential LinkedIn contacts. Once the economy starts to turn, you will be positioned to transition. So, score the “more.” If you cannot recognize the value of your experiences and articulate them in writing and eventually verbally, you are destined to be “just.”

Amy O’Donnell is Distinguished University Lecturer of Career Development in The University of Toledo College of Business and Innovation.

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