With a pandemic looming over our heads, the pressure on those entering the workplace to find a position may feel heavier than ever. Is anyone even offering jobs with all of the hiring freezes? Are companies trying to expand during these uncertain times? Is it worth beginning a job search right now? If you are asking these questions, you are not alone. Thousands of graduates are facing similar challenges, and there are things to consider when job hunting during the pandemic. In this article, I will discuss some tips and tricks to adapt your job search to a virtual world, and share advice from a University of Toronto alumni who secured a job in her chosen field amidst the current pandemic.
Tip # 1: Build your network
The number one piece of advice that everyone receives when they are intending to enter a new field is to build meaningful connections and try to find a mentor to aid your transition into a specific field.
I approached my friend Dr. Katherine Halievski (hereafter referred to as KH), a Medical Writer at INVIVO Communications, who recently completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Toronto, to discuss tips on building a meaningful and broad network – something she has always been good at. She stressed the importance of connecting with people whose career paths are interesting and inspiring to you, and asking to talk about their career journey. If you can secure a meeting to talk to someone that inspires you, KH suggests bringing something of value to them, such as an informative article that may interest them, or a list of events and resources that they may find helpful. KH also recommends connecting with someone because you are genuinely interested in their story, so that the connection leaves a lasting impression and is memorable to both you and the other person.
The practical ways to network and meet people have definitely changed. Meetings, conferences and events are largely virtual or have a major virtual component. While this can intimidate and dishearten those new to networking (how can you show your awesome self through a screen while constantly muting and unmuting yourself), there are several advantages that you can focus on. Virtual meetings mean you can attend any meeting without geographical restrictions. For example, if Boston is the place you want to land a job, you can find Boston-based conferences and events that you can attend remotely from your couch. Plus, without the geographical barriers, you can now widen your search and attend more meetings. So get out there, unmute yourself, and build as many meaningful connections as possible. Follow up with people you connected with over LinkedIn, and build an impressive LinkedIn profile that highlights your skills and attracts future employers. If you don’t know where to start, attending the LSCDS mini-networking nights is a great start. There are many resources offered by the University of Toronto and elsewhere online that can help you amp up your LinkedIn profile (see below).
Tip # 2: practice your virtual meeting presence
Virtual interviews will likely stick around for a while, and you will probably have to do these types of interviews in the near future. So, your best bet is to get comfortable in virtual meetings and ensure that you can present yourself authentically and professionally. To get started, practice zoom calls with friends and ask them for constructive feedback on how you present yourself. Do you fidget too much when on camera? Do you look into space and make it hard for people to connect with you while you’re talking? There are a number of behaviors that make it hard to hold a productive conversation with someone online. For example, some distracting behaviors include: having your arms crossed, looking away from your screen, looking down at your phone screen or reading a notification on your computer while someone is speaking to you, slouching on your chair, or constantly fidgeting if your seat is uncomfortable. So, in preparation for your virtual interview, choose a comfortable but sturdy chair that you are used to, in a well-lit and quiet room, sit up tall, dress in your interview-appropriate attire, silence notifications from your phone and computer and maintain eye-contact as much as you can. You can also run practice zoom interview sessions, where you and your friends ask each other typical interview style questions. After the interviews, give each other constructive feedback and repeat the process until you feel confident being yourself in front of a camera. This is also great practice to make sure that your background looks neat and does not distract others, and that your audio and video work well.
Tip # 3: take the time to learn what career fits you best
One of KH’s top recommendations is to start building a list of your strengths and interests and reflect on the kinds of careers that fit with them. KH took advantage of career counselling and concluded that a career in medical writing felt like the best fit for her; in her words, choosing that path “felt right”. During her career counselling process, KH also conducted informational interviews to learn about medical writing, which eventually led her to a job opportunity and her first role as a medical writer. Before progressing through each step, KH remembers preparing a lot, regardless of whether it was for an informational interview or a job interview. Her resume and cover letters were prepared well before they offered her interviews, so that when the time came, she was ready to present her best self. The good news is that you can access career counselling services from home, and now may be a great time to start as you prepare for your job search. You can also use this time to perfect your resume and tailor it to the exact type of job you want, perhaps sending it to your mentors for their feedback.
When asked about the practical skill learning and knowledge building steps she took, KH recommended attending as many conferences, workshops, and talks as possible, so long as they are useful to you. These events provide opportunities for skill development and networking. Collaboration with other labs and groups, both within your city/country and at an international level is also a major opportunity to learn from peers in similar fields with different perspectives. She also recommends taking advantage of tools that offer free and useful courses, such as Coursera.
Although it may feel like finding a career path that suits you is far out of reach at the moment, there are opportunities out there and employers are still hiring. Don’t be discouraged, and know that you are not the only one going through the tumultuous process of transitioning into your career during a pandemic. The tips we talked about in this article apply during the pandemic and well beyond it. Reach out and connect with people that are in similar fields as you, refine your virtual interview skills, and build your skills towards the career that interests you as early as possible.
Here is a list of relevant resources to get you started:
https://www.glse.utoronto.ca/career-development – GLSE is a great resource offered by university of Toronto to graduate students.
https://glse.utoronto.ca/event/evening-career-chat-host-nana-lee-featured-bioscience-career-guest-dr-peng-leong – Dr. Nana Lee is hosting career chats during COVID.
https://its.utoronto.ca/lynda-com-now-available-on-linkedin-learning/ – U of T staff and instructors can take advantage of access to LinkedIn Learning, an online learning resource with high-quality instructional videos taught by recognized experts.
https://lscds.org/events/seminar-series/ – Professional speakers from a wide sector of industries are invited to speak on their positions and career paths.
Etiquette and body language tips during a virtual interview:
Thank you to Katherine Halievski for her time and invaluable knowledge that she shared with us in order to write this article. Katherine is an alumni of the Neurosciences and Mental Health Department at The Hospital for Sick Children and works as a medical writer at INVIVO Communications.