Congratulations, 2020 graduates! Though your ceremonies may not be traditional, and the future feels uncertain, you deserve to relish in the fact that you completed a major milestone in your education. But we know that beneath the pride, there's anxiety about what's next. You're entering the job market in an unprecedented global pandemic, there's an economic downturn, and the media is forecasting only very bleak news. What's there to celebrate? What should you do? How do you navigate a world in which the rules you prepared for have suddenly changed?
Our advice this week will be more personal than usual, because we can relate. We both graduated from college into The Great Recession -- Cindy in 2008 and Angela in 2009. We'd entered college with one expectation for how to find a job after graduation and were faced with an entirely different reality when we were ready to enter the workforce. Neither of us had connections in the entertainment industry, and the competition was more fierce than usual. We each took a different approach; Cindy spent a year interning while living at home in New York and interned/PA'ed again after moving to LA, while Angela enrolled in grad school at USC and completed internships as part of her degree. Meanwhile, our peers took a multitude of different paths, depending on their connections, financial resources, and previous work experience. We all had to navigate a new economic landscape. But over a decade later, we've learned the most crucial lesson: No matter what path you need to take now, you will be okay.
There's no one-size-fits-all approach to figuring out what to do next. You might have the economic freedom to hold out for the perfect first job, or you might have to take the first job you can get. You may not be able to move to LA immediately like you'd planned. That's okay. Don't compare yourself to other people who may have what looks like an easier time than you do. Don't worry that you'll never catch up. You can't control those external factors, so your time will be better spent focusing on the things you can control, like honing your skills, assessing what your true goals are, and building a job search strategy that meets your specific needs.
Trust that everything will work out in the end, as long as you continue to self-assess and consider what you truly want for yourself. Keep in mind that while transitioning into an unfamiliar role can be hard, it's completely doable! And remember that you'll always have a shorthand to explain to future employers why the beginning of your career may not be standard. In fact, your resilience as a 2020 graduate will make you an asset -- you're currently learning critical life and job skills, like creative problem-solving, adapting to new technological realities, and pivoting to find new solutions.
It can be hard to swallow optimism in the face of trying times, but trust us: You will find success on the other side of this. That's not a platitude; it's our truth.
Angela Silak & Cindy Kaplan
The new normal means that you're more likely than ever to have your next interview take place over a video conference software like Skype or Zoom. It can be a lot harder to connect with an interviewer through a computer screen, plus there's the possibility of technology failing, so it's understandable that a lot of job seekers are panicked. But don't fret! Prepare for an interview as you normally would by researching the position and company and practicing answers to common interview questions, and take these extra steps to make sure everything goes smoothly over video conference:
Test your tech.
Although it's impossible to avoid all technical difficulties you may encounter during a virtual interview, do your best to limit them them. First, make sure you have downloaded the proper software. Then, find a spot in your home with a strong wifi signal and test your computer with a friend the night before the interview (notice the word computer here -- you don't want to do an interview on a phone or tablet, unless you have a very secure stand and are using a reliable app). If you're having connection issues, or the image keeps freezing, do some troubleshooting to fix the problem. Even if everything tests out perfectly, glitches can happen -- keep a second device nearby during your interview as backup. Be gracious, apologetic if necessary, and show the interviewer how well you function under pressure!
Perfect your set-up.
It’s no secret that people don’t look their best over webcam, but you should try to appear as polished as possible during the interview. First, look for a simple backdrop. Find a solid wall to sit in front of, so your interviewer won't get distracted by background clutter. Though virtual backgrounds on Zoom can be fun and offer some privacy, a plain wall is a better bet -- you want the focus to be on you. Next, find a good camera angle. Your interviewer does not want to look up at your nostrils or down at your hairline, so make sure your eye line matches the camera -- you can stack books or boxes under a laptop to get the necessary lift. Also, remember to test your set-up at the same time of day your interview is scheduled to ensure you have the proper lighting.
It should go without saying that you should focus on the interview. Close out of any chat software or other computer programs open on your computer and silence your phone. You should also choose a quiet, interruption-free zone for your setup -- even a walk-in closet or a bathroom (if the walls are decent) could work if you're short on space with everyone stuck at home! Two common distraction culprits: dogs and kids. Put your dog in the crate with a frozen treat and find a way to keep the kids occupied. Do whatever you need to do to give your virtual interview the same level of attention you would if you were in person.
Dress to impress.
A virtual interview is still an interview, which means you need to dress like you would if you were meeting in person. Sure, it feels funny to sit on your couch in a suit and tie, but if that’s what you’d wear to an in-person interview, it’s what you should wear now. For women, make sure your top isn't low cut -- this is good advice generally, but you'll want to be even more modest over video conference; a neckline that's perfectly professional in real life may be cut off in your video frame and give the illusion that you're not quite dressed. Though it may be tempting to skip formal bottoms, most people find that it's easier to get into the interview mindset when they're fully dressed, and it's better safe than sorry. Looking the part will help you feel the part -- you’ll be more confident and professional, and that will be reflected on screen.
Be on time.
In an in-person interview, being late is a huge problem, but it’s even worse in a virtual interview. Don't force the hiring manager to stare at her screen waiting for you to sign on. If you make her wait too long, she’ll choose to move on to another task, and you’ll have missed your opportunity. But this is an easy mistake to avoid. Sign on at least ten minutes before your scheduled interview time and accept the invitation from your interviewer (or confirm they’ve accepted yours, depending on what was arranged). When the interviewer initiates the connection, you'll be ready and waiting.
Maintain eye contact.
It's really hard not to look at the little box with your face when you're on a video call. It's like avoiding scratching a persistent itch. But avoid it at all costs! For one thing, your interviewer will notice your self-occupation, and you might even find your mind wandering away from the conversation. More importantly, you want to establish a personal connection with your interviewer, which means aiming for eye contact. If you look directly at your camera, you'll appear as though you're making eye contact, even though you're actually looking above your interviewer's video window. Try to answer any questions while focusing on your camera. When your interviewer is speaking, it's okay to look at their face on the screen. If you make the chat window full screen, you'll be able to balance the back and forth eye movement more smoothly.
Aside from all of this, the rest of the interview should be the same as if you were in an office. And when it's done, follow up with a thank you email and proceed as normal. Because, after all, this is the new normal. If you're able to master the art of virtual interviewing, you'll have a leg up over the competition.
--Angela Silak and Cindy Kaplan
If you’ve got some extra time on your hands these days, you might want to start thinking about how to boost your online presence. Regardless of whether you’re looking for a new job or not, it’s always good to work on your professional brand, and there are many ways build it online. Here are a few places where you can create content, curate content, or simply contribute to professional conversations that will help you stand out as an expert in your field.
LinkedIn. LinkedIn is the most obvious place to start when thinking about your professional brand, since that’s what the platform is designed for. It goes without saying that you should spend time completing your LinkedIn profile (and if this is something you need to work on, we’re here to help!), but there’s more to LinkedIn than your profile! You can share content that you find interesting, which will give you an opportunity to make smart commentary and stand out on people’s news feeds. If you use the right hashtags, your posts will be discovered by people outside your direct network, and you’ll have a chance to build a following. If you have more to say, you can even consider writing your own articles and publishing them directly on the platform!
Facebook. Because it’s viewed more as a social platform, Facebook is a little bit trickier for building your professional brand. You should definitely keep your profile employer-friendly, but you don't need to mix business and personal life if that's not authentic to your personality. Some people use Facebook primarily to promote their business endeavors, but if you'd rather use it to connect with family and friends, or you'd like to keep your own posts to a minimum and just scroll through other people's feeds, that's totally fine. But outside of your profile/newsfeed, one overlooked -- yet important -- feature of the platform is Facebook Groups. There are tons of industry-focused groups with resources for the job search, navigating work issues, and sharing relevant information. Join some of these groups and participate in conversations. If you’re an active member (and supplying useful information), people will start to recognize your name, which is great for your professional brand.
Twitter. There are many ways you can use Twitter to build your online persona. If you're looking to position yourself as an "expert," share a mixture of content you've created along with articles that other people in your area of the industry would find interesting. You'll want to spend some time engaging in dialogue on the platform, whether it's public or through DMs. There are also Twitter Chats you can join to meet new people and discuss a given topic. These chats are scheduled, so you're conversing with people in a real time, which is a great way to make connections and get new followers. You may even consider live tweeting events. Twitter is also a haven for comedians and writers -- you can use the platform to test jokes, share musings, and develop your voice.
Website. Does everyone need a professional website? No. But for some, it can be a very important platform for marketing yourself. For example, if you’re an artist, a website is a great place to showcase your portfolio (just make sure you’re highlighting quality work -- if you’re featuring low-budget projects from college, they may actually hurt you when looking for a job). If you’re selling a product or services online, you should definitely have a website. And if you work as a freelancer, a website is a good way to control what appears when someone enters your name into a Google search. If you’re keeping a website up to date (and you must!), those who search for you will trust that your website contains the most accurate information about your career and have a way to contact you (or your reps). It also allows you to provide information about upcoming media appearances and speaking engagements, or ways to purchase any books or other work you've produced, if applicable.
Blogs. If you want to become a thought-leader in your field, you need to get your thoughts and opinions out in the world! Blogging is a great way to do this. As we said above, LinkedIn is one place to blog, but you could also try Medium or your own site. Additionally, you can expand your audience by seeking guest blog opportunities with organizations or existing popular blogs that might benefit from your expertise. In particular, getting an article published on a blog from an academic institution will rank high in Google search results, so don’t hesitate to reach out to your alma mater for blogging opportunities. Even if your blog doesn't have a strong following, having a regularly updated blog on your professional website is a way to indicate that your website is current, letting potential employers or clients know that you're still a working expert in your field. It's important to update your blog on a regular schedule to keep your audience engaged, so try to be consistent. And share your blog posts with your social networks, whether on your personal pages or through professional accounts -- most blogs will do this automatically if you don't have the bandwidth to create a fresh, creative post each time.
YouTube/Podcasts. If you're comfortable on camera and/or with the sound of your voice, consider creating a YouTube series or podcast! Make sure you have a professional set-up and the time to generate content regularly. You might consider reaching out to other people with YouTube channels or podcasts to collaborate for a few episodes, so you can reach new audiences. Another way to use YouTube: Showcase your filmmaking work or create a web series!
Your online presence is only one part of your professional brand, but it's a significant factor in attracting attention from hiring managers or potential clients. If you have the time while we're stuck at home, consider what message you want to put out there, get creative, and get to it!
Angela Silak & Cindy Kaplan
Now that the job market has become more competitive than ever, it's important to make your resume stand out. Plenty of people have decent resumes, but what makes a resume great? The key is to make the reader understand exactly what you bring to the table that makes you perfect for the role and to get those points across in a way that requires the smallest amount of reading time. These five tips will help your resume stand out from the crowd:
1. Choose a simple format. As you try to make your resume to stand out, you might be considering a flashy design, eye-catching colors, or peppering in company logos and infographics. Stop! A showy resume isn't going to get you the job -- in fact, it may not even get you past the Applicant Tracking System (ATS). Choose a clean, black-and-white format that's easily scannable by a computer and a busy hiring manager. This will allow the reader to focus on the most important part of your resume -- the content.
2. Focus on relevant skills and show how you used them. As you write your resume, you'll want to match the verbiage to the job posting to get the proper keywords, but don't stop there! Hiring managers want to see that you're good at the work you do, not just that you've been hired to do it before. A great resume goes beyond reiterating the skills on a job posting; it shows how well the candidate performed them. So when crafting yours, add context or achievements to paint a clearer picture of how you excelled in the role. Did you win any awards? Is the show you developed the new network anchor? Did you implement a new workflow that saved the company time and/or money? Did you sign new clients or sell a project? Even if your role didn't lend itself to those kinds of achievements, consider what context you can add to showcase the breadth of your abilities. How many people did you manage (or as an assistant, support)? What range of budgets did you allocate? How many projects did you work on simultaneously? These details give hiring managers a sense of how you applied your skills.
3. Use strong action verbs to describe your abilities. When creating your resume bullet points, you should lead them with action verbs like innovated, spearheaded, liaised, ideated, developed, created, crafted, etc. These are the skills hiring managers want to see, and including them as the first word in each line helps call attention to them. A common mistake we see is leading a bullet point with "Responsible for." But that's not an action verb! Rather, it's a description of what you were tasked with and doesn't even indicate that you did anything. Action verbs, on the other hand, showcase specific skills and highlight what you brought to the table in your previous roles.
4. Take ownership of your skills. Once you've listed a skill or two that indicates working well with others, you don't need to bring teamwork into everything you did. If you're able to do something independently, you can own it on your resume. Hiring managers know that most people work with others on projects, but they want to see that you can initiate and not just tag along for the ride. Plus, it will allow you to vary up the action verbs you use to lead each bullet point!
5. Present your main strengths -- no more, no less. A great resume highlights the key strengths that will make you right for the job. But it can be hard to assess your own strengths. We often notice that candidates fail to recognize some of their top skills and/or put too much weight into skills or achievements that aren't particularly relevant. This is why it's always a good idea to get a second set of eyes on your resume. Not only will it help you catch typos or formatting errors, but an objective reader will be able to assess whether your story is coming across clearly and whether you're overselling or underselling yourself. Most job seekers are too close to their own experience to know what they need to articulate and how, so having an outside perspective can help remove biases and ensure clarity. This is a hugely important step -- so much so that when we work with clients, we have two sets of eyes reviewing their materials to make sure we're getting the perspective of a reader who's unfamiliar with the candidate.
Remember that your resume is a marketing document and the product you're selling is YOU. Lean in to the great work you've done, convey your story honestly and with pride, and let your qualifications speak for themselves.
Angela Silak & Cindy Kaplan