April 30, 2020

Finding a Job During a Pandemic: An Alum’s Perspective

2013 Alum Eleanor Meegoda spent her Fellowship at Detroit Venture Partners as analyst where she oversaw deal flow, supported portfolio services, and managed the venture capital firm’s internship program. 2013 was a critical time for Detroit – it was entering the beginning stages of a painful bankruptcy that would drastically shift its trajectory and those of its residents.
Unless you’ve been serving as a contestant on Big Brother, the chances that you’re witnessing an event of historic proportions – much like Eleanor – with the current pandemic are pretty high. You may have been impacted by it indirectly, become privy to just how deep the health and economic tolls are, or wondered what it means for your job prospects. Similar to Detroiters at that time, there are a lot of questions about what’s next.
On the job front, Eleanor has been working to answer some of those questions. Eleanor co-founded JobStep with Nikhil Deshmukh. JobStep is a career coaching platform that helps job seekers find, transition, and succeed in growing careers. In response to the growing pandemic, they created a guide and shared their thoughts on finding a job when things get bumpy. 

Be on the lookout, take it easy, and get creative.

Nikhil Deshmukh, Co-founder of JobStep
Nikhil Deshmukh, Co-founder of JobStep

“Despite the ongoing pandemic crisis, we have some good news. We’ve found that companies are still hiring. While many firms are posting on job boards, keep an eye out for other channels like social media or informal networks, which are often lower-cost ways to reach job candidates. Search accordingly – ask professional contacts, friends and family if they know of opportunities and search on social media for hashtags like #hiring, #openings, etc.,” said Nikhil.
“Be creative about your job search and make the most of your time. Even if you don’t see roles for you, but you feel enthusiastic about a particular company, consider reaching out to them directly. Many employers will have openings that they circulate to their networks first. By reaching out, you can get to the top of the pile. We’ve also seen that freelance and shorter-term contract work can be a bridge to longer-term opportunities, though it is important to protect yourself and your interests.”

Set yourself apart.

Eleanor Meegoda, Co-founder of JobStep
Eleanor Meegoda, Co-founder of JobStep and 2013 VFA Fellow

Eleanor says “the best candidates are both curious and interested in solving the problems that the employers need solving. As you network, ask questions about the industry, the day-to-day work, and the business challenges. Ask your contacts how they acquired the skills necessary to address those challenges. Asking good questions is often a better way to show your capabilities than trying to have all the answers. Plus, it shows you’re coachable, which is a big trait that employers look for in entry-level talent.”
“And once you have a sense of the problems you’d solve in that role, show that you have the skills and qualities to solve those problems,” she also says. “In your resume and interview, summarize experiences where you’ve successfully used those skills in the past. If you keep getting feedback that you’re missing some critical skills, go out and learn them and then freelance, contract, or volunteer your new skills to prove you can do it.”

Hone in on a set of skills or qualities. 

The skill that Nikhil has come to appreciate the most is being resourceful. “To me, someone who is resourceful identifies problems by asking smart questions and also takes the initiative to solve them. In my own experience, being resourceful happens more naturally when I have put in a certain amount of preparation and diligence ahead of time, and keep an open mind about what possible solutions might be.”

Seek out employment resources and tools when starting your search.

Eleanor encourages you to check out their “Finding a Job During COVID-19” guide which shows you how to build connections and respectfully network into your next job. She says “studies show job seekers are nine times more likely to land a job when they have a referral. We designed our course to even the playing field and help you get referrals.”
She also loves Patricia Mou’s The Ultimate Job Resource Stack Google Sheet. “She’s done an amazing job curating normal and remote hiring boards, updated hiring lists, and job skill resources.” If you’re looking to bolster your experience, Eleanor suggests looking up freelancing platforms or Craigslist for gigs. For skills-based volunteering, they recommend Catchafire.

Follow this job advice during the pandemic. 

Nikhil recommends getting to know people – mentees, peers, mentors – and staying in touch with these acquaintances as you move through your career. “Maintain these connections by reaching out on occasion to catch up, or better yet, by asking how you can help out. This help need not be a large commitment: it can be sharing resources, recipes, articles, ideas, offering to read resumes, or just checking in to say ‘Hi’,” he says. 
When you have the bandwidth, he also suggests considering volunteer, freelance, and contract opportunities outside of work. In Nikhil’s words, “these are great ways to build new communities of friends and create opportunities down the line. You’ll activate a community of people who can speak to your work and recommend you. When you eventually need to call in a favor from your community, it won’t feel transactional. And, please, help however you can during this pandemic; checking in on friends, family, and community members, supporting community efforts to fund-raise for our most vulnerable neighbors, volunteer, and maintaining physical distance to ease the burden on our health care system – these are all great things to be doing.”

Take care of yourself along the way.

Nikhil cautions job seekers to “watch out for job search burnout. It takes a lot of work and bravery to put yourself out there, so make sure you’re paying attention to how you’re feeling over time and take breaks.”
“The most important resource for your job search is your emotional well-being and confidence. Find out what fills your “energy bucket” and do that. The job search, for most people, requires you to put yourself out there, and that can be draining. Do things that replenish your energy, daily,” said Eleanor. “Some tools I use to keep myself balanced and motivated include Woebot, a therapy chatbot, the DownDog yoga app, frequent calls with my friends, and anything written by N.K Jemisin.”