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Career Coach Answers Questions About Job Hunting During A Pandemic

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

At the best of times, looking for a job can be daunting, right? Polishing that resume, wording that cover letter just so - but add a global pandemic to the mix, and that task may seem unbearable. So we asked some of you looking for work what it was like.

CLAIRE MORVILLE: I guess I'm just nervous about, how do I make sure that I'm continuing to learn and grow?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Claire Morville, a senior at the University of Maryland at College Park - she's 22. Claire said that because of the pandemic and the racial reckoning gripping the country, she wanted to be part of finding solutions. As a result, she's pivoted her career from information science to crisis management. But she wanted to know how to do more.

MORVILLE: I know a lot of people talk about having secure and stable jobs, but I don't want to relax and possibly get complacent. How do I avoid that and keep advancing in any given role?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: We put Morville's question and some others you sent us to career coach Akhila Satish.

AKHILA SATISH: Hi, Claire. You sound like a highly proactive individual who sees something wrong in the world and wants to take a step forward to change it. But to keep advancing and growing in your career, I would recommend two things. First, maintain a high level of productivity to accompany that proactivity. It's easier to seek out new opportunities for growth, whether that's leading a new project or taking an online course, if you can stay on top of your existing work. And second, cultivate your personal resilience. Really focus on how you can be the calm in a very chaotic environment.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Sixty-year-old Laura Hazen was in the middle of a community health care certification when the pandemic kept her from doing the mandatory field community service. And now Laura's worried that her age and lack of practical volunteer experience will hold her back when applying for work.

LAURA HAZEN: I'd like to know if there's a good way or a better way to show my work history without making it look like I'm too old. I guess I would like advice on what's the best way to present my work experience to show that I am still vital and can contribute and not just an old person.

SATISH: Hi, Laura. I can hear a lot of pain and frustration there. You've worked hard all your life. You've learned these new skills, and it feels like you're hitting this invisible wall when you want to share those skills in a new role and be vital, as you said. I would start with identifying your hidden talents. If I had to guess, based on your background and question, you're deeply people-centric, and you have a strong ability to connect to others, build and maintain relationships and view interpersonal interactions from different perspectives.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Forty-one-year-old school counselor Julie Montgomery also got in touch. She wanted advice on the logistics of landing that job.

JULIE MONTGOMERY: What would you recommend to kind of calm those nerves - right? - before the interview? And then my other question would be the follow-up on your interview. So once you've had the interview or even after you've applied, how do you show interest in the position but not come across as being desperate?

SATISH: Hi, Julie. I think interviewing virtually during the pandemic is such a challenge. It is so nerve-wracking, especially when, as you mentioned, you have all that pressure that you feel. I think one of the best ways you can set yourself up for success is actually by broadening what you bring to the interview before the interview. So one of the great things I've seen people do for that is to supplement their resume with a personal website that allows you to dive deeper into specific areas of interest, strengths and more. With regards to follow-up timing, I don't think they're hard and fast rules. To show interest in the job without seeming, like you said, desperate, choose aspects of the job that stand out to you specifically and have compelling reasons for why. Because it's targeted to that job, you'll be able to make that desperation feel more like specific enthusiasm for that job and for that role, which will help you stand out again.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Last is 28-year-old Aroob Abdelhamid, who has a PhD in chemistry. She's unemployed right now, looking for work as a data scientist, and she's finding it hard to make connections. She asked Akhila Satish how she can hone some important job skills to help her move forward.

AROOB ABDELHAMID: How do you build a network in remote settings such as Zoom conferences when you have a group of many people, and you would like to connect with one of them?

SATISH: Hi, Aroob. It can be really daunting to network in the middle of a pandemic. This pandemic has really helped us find room for reflection on what matters to us most, and I believe that kind of clarity can really help you determine what your next path is. That might be a potential starting stone for the narrative of why you chose to move from chemistry over to data science. I think there is a story there. It's an interesting story. And sharing that story in a compelling manner will help you build rapport with individuals who may have been on a similar journey to you.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That was Akhila Satish giving advice to Aroob Abdelhamid, Julie Montgomery, Laura Hazen and Claire Morville. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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