Dear J.T. & Dale: I graduated college with a degree in history right when COVID-19 hit. I wasn’t able to find a job for over a year and then did some hourly work. I am now trying to find my first entry-level, post-college job and I’m coming up short. Everyone keeps asking me what I’ve been doing for the past two years. Isn’t it obvious? I’ve been trying to survive a pandemic. What can I do? – Parker
DALE: Ouch. To graduate right when the pandemic hit was wretched timing, and I’m sure hiring managers feel sympathy – or did. They would’ve felt sympathy back when the economy was tanking and no one was hiring, but as the economy roared back in 2021, I suspect that such attitudes hardened into skepticism. After all, most hiring managers were not just “trying to survive,” they were working. And then they encounter someone who hasn’t gotten into a career job and wonder: What kind of work ethic does this person have? Is this just someone who will drift in and out? Employers don’t want a drifter; they want a grinder, someone who will figure it out and be unstoppable. So, your first task is to come up with a counternarrative.
J.T.: Yes, when employers ask you what you’ve been doing over the past two years, they’re looking for a story. They want to understand your mindset and make sure that you are very clear on what you want to do next. Now, I realize you don’t really know what this is, but you must explain the skill sets you want to build. So start with some career exploration and find a path, one where you can explain how various entry-level jobs will be the beginning of your journey. Otherwise, you come across as lacking any direction and that you aren’t aligned with what they’re doing. Employers need to know that you are self-directed and want to see how working for them will better your career and that you’re incentivized to do so. You can tell the story well and then explain that you weren’t able to fully commit to anything during the pandemic. They will understand that. My guess is it’s less about the pandemic and more about the fact that you’re coming across scattered and therefore not as ideal a candidate as compared to those focused on their career goals.
Dear J.T. & Dale: What is the point of applying online if I’m always going to get automatic rejections from employers? Whatever happened to the days when you could just walk into a place and apply on the spot? – Trish
J.T.: The most obvious reason for no longer allowing people to walk in the door to apply has to do with COVID-19. Honestly, however, employees got away from that practice because they found it quite uncomfortable when people who clearly weren’t fit for the job would show up and they had to politely tell them in person to go away. That said, I don’t disagree that applying online is a waste of your time. Online applications are an easy way for companies to eliminate large groups of people, even the ones that are a fit for the job. I’ve been coaching job seekers for 20 years now, and I can tell you that the best strategy is a proactive one where you identify companies you’d like to work for and then focus on finding people who work there so you can connect with them and find a way to get your resume in the hands of a human being.
DALE: And isn’t that a virtual version of the old “getting your foot in the door.” Done well, J.T.’s strategy should lead to some good conversations and face-to-face meetings that ultimately should yield excellent results. After all, you still need to connect with the hiring manager, and isn’t it better to meet that person when they want to meet you? That is, when they have a job opening and the time to talk about it. So, go walk through some virtual doors.
Jeanine “J.T.” Tanner O’Donnell is a career coach and the founder of the leading career site www.workitdaily.com. Dale Dauten is founder of The Innovators’ Lab and author of a novel about H.R., “The Weary Optimist.” Please visit them at jtanddale.com, where you can send questions via email, or write to them in care of King Features Syndicate, 628 Virginia Dr., Orlando, FL 32803. (c) 2022 by King Features Syndicate, Inc.