By Michele Lanza

To say it’s a challenging job market right now feels like a total understatement. Just a few weeks ago the job market was promising for graduates. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in February 2020 the economy gained more jobs than economist predicted, unemployment fell, and wages slightly ticked up. Fast forward a few weeks and the world is a very different place – and job market – amid the COVID-19 crisis. No one is quite sure how long this will last or the true impact the virus will have on the economy, but one thing we know for sure is finding a job just got a lot harder.

The angst new job seekers are feeling about the current state of the job market is coming through loud and clear on social media. For 2020 grads who have not landed a job yet, the fear is almost palpable. While it’s not an ideal time to be on the job market, there are things you can do to build you resume and skills through this downturn.

Network, Network, Network!

Building a network has always been an essential part of helping candidates grow their careers, but now it’s even more critical. Take the time to develop your professional community. First things first, build out your LinkedIn profile and then invite the top 10 people in your chosen field to connect with you. Next on LinkedIn, join industry-related groups and start posting and commenting on industry-related content.  In addition, you should look for niche sites dedicated to your profession and check out professional social platforms such as Fariygodboss and Work Wider to enhance your professional support system. Full disclosure, I’m the founder of Work Wider, a comprehensive career ecosystem for underrepresented talent. We provide curated content to make you smarter about your industry and more educated about your community, while supporting active professional communities across all underrepresented groups.

In addition to using online tools to network, also make sure to connect with professors, former bosses, and friends and ask them to make connections to people in your industry.

Informational Interviews Work

Identify the top companies you want to work for and get relentless about making connections at these organizations, and then use those connections to ask for informational interviews. While many companies have paused hiring, all smart companies are using this opportunity to build their pipeline with top talent so they are ready to make hires when things turn around. This is the time to leverage your networking efforts. Remember those ten people you connected with on Linked In? Reach out to them and see if they are willing to do an informational interview with you. And don’t forget that awesome new site Work Wider (I know shameless plug, right?) It’s a great platform to start a career conversation, seek out mentorship, or find people to connect with in your industry. Don’t be shy. Ask for 15 minutes of someone’s time. Many people are looking for a way to give back right now. What better way than to help a new job seeker?

Work for Free or Volunteer

The idea of working for free might feel a bit painful. But if it’s a financial option, you should consider it. Startups or nonprofits are often looking for help. Think strategically about where to give your time. Give thought to the skills you are missing to land the job you want and find an unpaid internship that provides you with the opportunity to gain that knowledge.  If finding an unpaid internship proves to be challenging, consider volunteering. Follow your heart and volunteer at an organization you believe in or work on a political campaign. These opportunities help fill holes in your resume and enable you to learn new skills that make you more marketable.

If doing an unpaid internship or volunteering is not an option, there are still ways to gain skills while you are on the job hunt. Consider blogging or writing about a topic of interest in your industry and publish on Medium or Work Wider (I know! There I go again). Published work impresses recruiters and hiring managers.

The job market will likely be sluggish for a while. What I hope for those starting their careers now is that the skills you are gaining through this experience – resilience, fortitude, and grit – will serve you well in a long and prosperous career.

Michele Lanza is Senior Vice President of Global Talent Acquisition & Retention Strategies at Ketchum and also the founder of Work Wider.