How to find your 1st job out of college during the coronavirus crisis

From social media interactions to virtual interviews, there's plenty you can do to keep the job search going.
Confident young female student sitting at desk
Klaus Vedfelt / Getty Images
By Casey DelBasso

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Amanda Nachman, the 35-year-old CEO and publisher behind College Magazine, has made it her mission to empower students to take action instead of passively looking at job boards for the "right" role. With the job search taking on a new format during the coronavirus crisis, that action-focused mindset has become more important than ever.

With a keynote TEDx under her belt and a new book, "#Qualified: You Are More Impressive Than You Realize," coming out this summer, Nachman is sharing her guidance with college seniors who are looking to secure that first job during an uncertain time.

TMRW: It is a particularly challenging time for college students who are deciding what their next step in their career path is while finishing their semester remotely. What tips can you provide to students who are attempting to enter the working world and pinpoint their career choice?

Nachman: Talk about a daunting time. I encourage students to examine the things that they could do for hours on end and not even know that time is passing. What makes you light up inside when you talk about it? What are some of your strengths? Reach out to friends because oftentimes, it's really tough to see our own strengths, but when you talk about your best friend, you always see all the good stuff about them. Have your friends do the same for you. Ask them, "What do you think are my strengths?" Then examine your values, how do those align with your interests, traits, and values to a career?

Amanda Nachman's new book aims to break through the stress and uncertainty of the job search.Courtesy of Amanda Nachman

Let’s talk about the students who will be graduating soon and are starting to apply for positions remotely. Most likely their interview will be online. Can you share some tips for nailing a virtual interview?

Instead of just freaking out about the interview, they need to think about what kind of message they're getting across in just the initial visual on a video interview. So, what does it look like in your rectangular frame?

I encourage students to do a practice run with a friend to see what shows up in your frame. If it's your bedroom, you'll make sure it looks like you know how to adult. Make your bed and make it look organized. Make sure it's brightly lit. Tell your roommates, “Hey, I'm going to have an interview, can you keep it quiet?” You don't want your mom walking behind you during your interview. Make sure you put the thought into what shows up behind you. That really shows that you're taking the interview seriously.

Then, once you are on the screen, take a deep breath. Make sure you do your superwoman pose before you hop on to that interview. Let your passion shine. Come prepared with questions about the company you are interviewing with. One really simple and great question to ask is, “What do you enjoy most about working here?” You can ask that to anybody at any company. You'll see people light up because you're asking them about them. You're showing that you care and that you want to learn about their personal experience and about their company.

College students often downplay their college experience. They refer to their accomplishments over the course of their education as “just a college project." Can you share some examples of how college seniors can use their experience to their advantage?

We perceive graduation as this great cliff that we're going to jump off of into the real world. Many graduates feel like a blank slate. I help them see all the ways in which their experiences, their strengths, the clubs they're in and the projects they've worked on are transferable to the real world.

Every story that you have from college, including that video that you made for your film class or that presentation that you gave when you created a PowerPoint and visualized your thoughts, that is what you're going to be doing in the real world every day. You can level up your contribution at whatever company you work for by bringing ideas from your schoolwork, your projects or your internships. You have something bigger to offer this company than just doing the job — this is what employers want.

When is the right time to apply for a position? Is it OK to apply before something is posted?

To me, there's never any right or wrong time to apply. Yes, for some corporations, there's a cyclical process to applying, but I'm talking about the 14 million companies that have under 100 employees. Go after jobs at those companies.

I encourage students to really rethink where they want their first job to be to build their career journey. Only so many students will work for those top 1% brands that you can list off the top of your head. So put your story out there, make connections and get introduced to smaller companies where you might get the opportunity to be more hands-on right away. Apply before those companies are even looking. Think about it, if 80% of jobs are not listed, why are we spending the majority of our time on job boards?

In this turbulent time of social distancing, students are home and they're endlessly scrolling on social media. What can young people do to either utilize their Instagram to be a potential star candidate or even utilize social media as a job scouting tool?

Stop scrolling and start thinking about how you can build your personal brand on Instagram. If you enjoy Instagram, think about the way that Instagram can communicate your passions. So let's say you're passionate about yoga and wellness, you want to work in that industry one day and you're already doing yoga poses every day. Could you take a photo of one of your poses and share with the world on Instagram about what that pose means to you and why it is important? Could you do a video every day demonstrating what you're doing? Could you, if you're reading a book about wellness, take a quote from that book and share it on your Instagram? If you're reading articles and learning about the industry, you can be sharing something that you’ve learned. This will differentiate you.

Should students be using direct messages to communicate remotely with potential employers?

I encourage my students to send a direct message, usually with LinkedIn, but only one a day to someone who's in their dream career or in a field that they are inspired by. Don't always go straight to the top to someone who's super busy and may not have the time to message with them or may not see their message, but maybe look for someone who's just one step ahead of you in their career path. Ask how they got to where they are today. I think that when you reach out through those direct messages, the connections are so powerful in creating an intentional career journey.

What if this is a cold email to someone who you have never met in person?

You can cold email. The purpose of that email is really to set up an informational interview. It's all about setting up 15-minute conversations with someone in your dream career at your dream company. Reach out and tell them that you are really interested in this organization, it really speaks to your values. For example, if you’re passionate about the environment and you can tell that this company is also passionate about the environment, tell them. Making that kind of pitch to someone and trying to set up that 15-minute informational interview will open doors for you. Even if it's not at that company, you're going to build a connection. Always ask at the end of those interviews, “Is there anyone else that you'd recommend I speak with?”

During this pandemic, how can we get intentional about our career journey?

Hit the pause button on going through the motions. Carve out the time to think about your career goals and write them down. Just think about the story that you're currently telling about yourself.

How can you paint a picture of what you're doing? That's going to help you in all the connections that you make. When people understand your "why" — why you're doing what you're doing — they're going to be able to connect better to your story.