Job Hunting in a Pandemic

Published: Tues., November 17, 2020

Looking for a new job can be stressful under the best circumstances, but add in a global pandemic and it becomes even more daunting. The good news is there are still many jobs out there! The goal of the Professional Development team in Graduate Studies is to help you prepare for your job search so that you can approach your transition from student to employee with confidence. We want to make sure you have a strategy in place for executing a successful job search. Because while COVID-19 has changed so much, it won't stop you from progressing in your career if you have the right tools.

Continue to build and utilize your network

Now, more than ever, your network is your greatest asset in a job search. Candidates who have an internal referral are 40% more likely to be hired than those who don’t. Training new employees is a costly and time-consuming process, so hiring managers often would rather invest their resources in a known commodity. When you start looking for jobs, let everyone in your professional AND personal networks know. Don’t be afraid to use personal connections. You’re not asking for a handout or for someone to give you the job that you aren’t qualified for, you still have to earn the position. But the old adage of “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know” still rings true.

As a graduate student, consider how you can take advantage of the network you have developed on campus. Talk to your advisor, other faculty members, fellow classmates, and staff members about possible career opportunities. Even if they don’t personally know of any job openings, they might be able to connect you with others who do.

Now, if you feel like you don’t have a big enough network, don’t fret! It is still possible to make new connections, even in the time of social distancing. Platforms like LinkedIn and other social media sites are great ways to build your network. When reaching out to a new contact, here are some general rules to follow:

  1. Keep it short. 100 words or less is perfect.
  2. Don’t mention that you’re looking for a job in the initial contact. You have to lay the foundation before you can build the house.
  3. Put your connection first. How did you find this person? Are they a UNL alumni? Did you both work for the same company? Including this fact can help people understand why you are reaching out to them specifically.
  4. Generalize your interest. This initial email isn’t the time to go into the specifics of what you are looking for.
  5. Maintain control of the follow-up. Don’t put it on them to reach out to you.

Here is an example:

Dear Ms. Andres,

I am a graduate student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and I found your information in the UNL Alumni LinkedIn Group.

I am trying to learn more about Community Planning in Austin and Southern California, and your insights would be very helpful. I recognize this may be a busy time for you, so if we are unable to connect by email, I’ll try to reach out next week to see whether that’s more convenient. Thank you for your time.


Jamie Martinez

Research who is hiring

In addition to building your network, you’ll need to understand of how the current economic situation has impacted your field by doing some additional research. As health departments tighten or relax local health measures, this information is constantly changing. Here are two websites that you might find useful:

  • LinkedIn has a running list of companies that are hiring, which is updated regularly. Don’t overlook companies in retail and fast food markets. While some positions are seasonal or temporary, these companies also have openings in managerial or technical positions that require graduate degrees.
  • If you are needing to work remotely, Flexjobs has compiled a list of companies who are specifically looking for candidates who can work from home. Another way to find out who is hiring is to talk to people you know in your industry. 70-80% of jobs are never posted to online job boards, which is why it’s so important to build and use your network to see what’s available.

Brainstorm activity

Take 5-10 minutes and make a list of 20-40 companies you are interested in working for. These could be industry leaders, local start-ups, or wildcards that you don’t know much about. Remember, during the brainstorming process, the goal is to see how many you can list, not to focus on any of the details. Once you’ve created a list, it’s time to start eliminating companies that either aren’t a good fit or don’t have any openings. By using this targeted method, you can identify specific companies you are interested in, and tailor your job search and materials to their needs. This is much more effective than just randomly applying to jobs that you stumble upon.

Other Top Tips for a Covid-19 Job Search

  1. Understand that the hiring process is taking longer than normal currently. It’s certainly okay to follow-up, but remember that patience is important right now.
  2. You might have to rethink your career path, at least for now. If you are in one of the harder hit industries but need a job once you graduate, consider looking for a temporary job that will allow you to develop skills employers will be looking for once the recession is over. Many hiring managers have stated that they understand 2020 (and likely 2021) is an unusual year, so don’t stress about this impacting your future career opportunities.
  3. Make sure all of your online profiles are up to date. Recruiters are leaning heavily on LinkedIn to find candidates, so be sure that your profile is completed.

Additional Resources

The Office of Graduate Studies has created an open Canvas page with modules on multiple career and professional development topics. As you embark on your job search, be sure to check out this page to get additional information on resumes, CVs, cover letters, teaching portfolios and statements, interviewing, utilizing LinkedIn, and transitioning to the workforce. You can also set up a consultation to have our staff help review and provide feedback on your job documents or set up a mock interview on the Graduate Studies Consultation Services website.