On March 23, 2020, I got an email from my employer stating that I am being laid off from my internship, effective immediately. This was the third time in five years that I had been laid off from a job. Did I see this coming? Yes. Did it still shock me? Absolutely. I, along with millions of other people in the United States, had lost my job because of COVID-19.
A month passed and I was chatting with a friend on Facebook Messenger, checking in with each other while following our respective states' stay-at-home order. "What have you been doing since quarantine started," she asked. To be honest, my days consisted of logging into my Zoom classes while lying in bed, making lunch and playing Animal Crossing while watching TV. “Oh, nothing much,” I said. “How about you?”
While I was on a mission to watch every episode of Criminal Minds, my friend, on the other hand, had become proficient in Adobe Photoshop. As a marketing major, she told me that her extra time in quarantine was an opportunity to learn a transferable skill that could give her an advantage in the job market; she was right. While I knew employers weren't going to ask why I wasn't employed, they would certainly ask what I had done in lieu of working.
Professional growth isn’t measured by how quickly you land a job after graduation or how many certifications you have. Rather, it’s about the ability to lay the groundwork for your career by staying engaged and continuing to improve personally and professionally. Instead of putting all my focus into finding a job, here are four other things I did to grow as a new college graduate.
#1: Expand connections through online networking
There's a common saying in the PR field that it's not what you know, but who you know. Like many of my peers, I met most of my professional connections in a face-to-face setting, either at a networking night, club speaking event or something similar. This meant that many of my connections were limited to Seattle and the surrounding area.
The forced transition from meeting face-to-face to entirely online was frustrating, even for a tech-savvy young adult like me. However, I found that this shared frustration combined with excess time saved from not commuting to work helped me connect with professionals across the country. Even with the uncertainty that their job may not survive the upcoming months, many of the people I talked to were supportive of my goals and were willing to give me advice. My goal was to move to a new city after graduation and connecting with people outside of my immediate area helped lay the groundwork for job opportunities outside of Seattle.
#2: Take advantage of online skill and career-building programs
Many academic and professional institutions have started to offer a range of free programs and courses through platforms such as Coursera and edX. LinkedIn Learning offers a wide variety of free and paid courses from Time Management Fundamentals to Figure Drawing: Tonal Rendering to Social Media Marketing Foundations.
Personally, I wanted to find a free program that could help me grow in the field of public relations. After scrolling through LinkedIn, I came across the PR Council's Agency-Ready Certification,which was designed specifically for college students and recent college graduates to learn more about the ins and outs of working in a PR agency environment.
Usually I would say that education doesn’t make up for a lack of experience. While this certification didn't make up for my lack of agency experience, it shows that I have taken the initiative to broaden my professional skill set.
#3: Use the quarantine to learn a new skill
Whether transferable or not, learning a new skill shows employers that you are taking advantage of an opportunity to grow personally and/or professionally. I had studied Japanese for a year during college but forgot most of it by the time summer was over. I had been meaning to practice, but it was always put on the backburner. Since then, the extra amount of free time that I had during my day was the perfect opportunity to practice Japanese, even if it was for 30 minutes every day. While I am in no position to translate or use it in a professional setting, the small victories of being able to understand what a passerby is saying tells me that I'm making progress.
#4: Set small goals to stay motivated, on task and at least a little organized
While I worked on long-term career goals, I never stopped applying for jobs. Every day, I set a goal to apply to at least five entry-level positions in public relations or a similar field. By the time I graduated, I had an Excel sheet with a list of over 100 completed job applications. Unfortunately, I was usually met with the generic "Thank you for your interest. Unfortunately, we are not hiring at this point because of COVID-19 but will keep your resume on file for future opportunities," reply email. However, I would rather get a rejection than to wonder if I had missed the perfect job opportunity. I also set a goal to only have one snack between lunch and dinner. Sometimes it’s the small wins that keep you going.
I recognize that my ability to utilize my time in quarantine is a privilege compared to others who may be dealing with financial issues, taking care of their family or just don’t have the time or capacity to be working on other projects. Nobody could have predicted the experience that we are all going through. This is an unprecedented time for all of us, and we all deserve a little slack for just making it day-by-day.
For many of us, this is not how we wanted to be starting our careers. My experiences throughout the last few months have shifted my expectations and helped me realize that the journey towards my dream job was never a single road, but rather a series of paths leading to the same destination.
With a little bit of luck and a lot of hard work, I recently accepted a position with Feintuch Communications, a strategic relations firm based in New York City. Even in the midst of a global pandemic, I’m thankful that I’ve been given the opportunity to utilize the skills I’ve gained in a more professional setting.