Marching to a Million: How to Navigate the Post-COVID Job Market

While the U.S. job market is slowly recovering from the soaring unemployment rates seen in April and May, it remains an exceptionally challenging environment – particularly for young adults who were preparing to enter the workforce just as COVID hit. In the first of a two-part blog post, Retirement Director Ben Rizzuto offers actionable strategies for young adults who may find their career prospects dimmed in today’s job market.

Millions of young adults started this year prepared to embark on a career search. As they counted down the months and weeks until graduation, many of them looked toward the future with a mix of excitement and trepidation, expecting 2020 to be the year they would enter the workforce and claim their independence.

The coronavirus had other ideas.

The U.S. unemployment rate jumped from 3.8% in February 2020 – among the lowest on record since World War II – to peak at 14.4% in April. By May, just as many students were facing the sad reality that their long-awaited graduation ceremonies would be virtual, if they happened at all, unemployment was still around 13%.1

To say that many young people have found it difficult to find a job in this difficult labor market would be an understatement.

So, what can young people do if they find themselves jobless before their job search even got off the ground? Or, for those who have jobs, how to cope in a situation where upward mobility may be lacking for some time?

In the first installment of this two-part blog post, I’ll share some actionable strategies and advice to help readers navigate the post-COVID job market.

Human Capital vs. Financial Capital

Before we get into the action steps, I think it’s important to mention the distinction between human capital and financial capital – because it happens to be especially relevant for younger members of the workforce.

Young people are at an advantage in the job market because they have a great deal of human capital, which is the ability to earn and save money. After all, they’re young, with a lot of years ahead of them. What they’re typically low on is financial capital, or total accumulated assets. And the current economic situation may severely limit their ability to build the financial capital, which could impact their ability to save for retirement and other goals down the road.

 

But young people still have human capital on their side. How can you tap into that energy and potential to put yourself in the best position to find a job or improve your current trajectory?

Following are a few strategies that can help improve jobseekers’ prospects – even in the most challenging environments.

LinkedIn: The Best Place to Market Your Personal Brand

LinkedIn serves as the primary networking forum for professionals and should be one of your first stops. If you don’t have a LinkedIn profile, take some time to create one – and by “take some time,” I mean put some real effort into it. Remember, your LinkedIn profile is more than just an online resume; it can be a powerful tool to sell yourself and advertise your personal brand.

First and foremost, be sure to use a professional profile picture. Sure, it’s easier to use a photo that’s already on your phone from a recent event where you got dressed up. But you’re probably not going to be wearing your “going out” clothes to the office. Get a professional headshot taken if possible. Or, have someone who’s good with a camera take a high-quality photo of you wearing professional attire.

Once you have your profile created, don’t just “set it and forget it.” Take advantage of LinkedIn’s other features. Below are just a few to consider:

  • Skills Section. Completing this section will help employers and recruiters understand what you’re qualified to do quickly. It will also increase the probability that you’ll be contacted by hiring managers and may help you show up in Google results, which employers use to search for jobseekers with certain skills. LinkedIn reported that those who list five or more skills are contacted (i.e., messaged) up to 33 times more by recruiters and other LinkedIn members and receive up to 17 times more profile views compared to those who do not list as many skills.2
  • Open to Work. If you’re looking for a job, make sure recruiters know it. When editing your profile, near the top of the page you can turn on the “Open to Work” option. Not only does this let people know you’re looking for a job, but you can also specify the type of job you’re looking for; whether you’re looking for full-time, part-time or remote work; locations where you’d be open to working; and who will and won’t see this status.
  • This is not a “feature” per se, but rather the inherent purpose of the platform. Be active. Build connections. Post valuable content a couple of times a month (e.g., links to relevant articles about the industry you’re looking to be hired into – with thoughtful commentary explaining why you’re sharing it). React to and comment on others’ posts. Join groups that align with the kind of jobs you’re interested in and follow companies where you’d like to work. Introduce yourself to those in the industry and ask them questions once you get in touch.

    Remember, those who are most interesting are those who are most interested. Think of all of the above as creating a professional following.

Finally, consider posting videos. You might say, “Who wants to listen to some recent college grad with no experience?” but you’d be surprised. What you’re going through right now is different than many of us have ever experienced. Describe how it feels and what you’re learning from it.

Other Platforms and Outlets

Along with LinkedIn, there are several other sites that not only list jobs but also provide the opportunity to interact with professionals and peers. For example, the Goodwall platform (www.goodwall.io) aims to connect students, those just out of school and professionals in an inclusive community where members can learn, showcase themselves, and discover learning and earning opportunities.

And then there’s Facebook. Many see the platform as just for socializing, but there are a variety groups on Facebook that can help you network or just get a feel for what’s it like to work in a certain industry. For example, my wife is a nurse. She is part of a nursing group on Facebook with thousands of members from all over the world who pose questions about what they’re seeing in the clinical area, share best practices on how to deal with certain symptoms and patients, and learn from each other through their conversations. It’s a great forum and a great way to network.

For those of you who may want to get into financial services – specifically investments and financial planning – consider looking into your local Financial Planning Association (FPA) chapter. The FPA has over 80 chapters across the country and focuses on the next generation of financial professional through their aptly named “Next Gen” program. It includes students, aspiring financial planners and professionals in the early stages of their careers. By becoming a member, you’ll be able to attend meetings, access educational content and network with financial professionals.

Clean up Your Online Presence

You’ve spent the last several years creating memories that have been documented on all your social media accounts. While those are certainly important events in your life, some of them may not be put you in the most flattering light (trust me, I’m relieved that social media was in its infancy when I was younger).

Regardless of your chosen profession, I would encourage you to “cyberstalk” yourself and view what you find through the lens of a prospective employer. More and more employers are looking at social media accounts when considering prospective candidates, so this is something that you need to be aware of and ensure that what’s out there puts you in the most “hirable” light.

Ongoing Education

You’ve already completed this section on your LinkedIn profile, but it’s important to continue to build and develop your skills. There are numerous ways to do this, many of which are virtual and cost little to nothing.

For example, LinkedIn Learning provides hundreds of classes and tutorials that span minutes to hours and cover subjects as foundational as time management and communication to more complex subjects like SQL, Python and app development.

There are also platforms like Coursera, Udemy and edX that offer longer format classes from universities around the country. These are in many cases free, unless you’d like to receive a certificate of completion. They cover numerous topics, are taught by well-known professors and experts, and allow you to work at your own pace. I’ve personally taken courses as diverse as “Finding Purpose in Your Life” to “Principles of Macroeconomics.”

Find a Mentor

Lastly, I’d encourage you to develop a relationship with a mentor. Learning from someone who’s been “around the block” can be invaluable. Whether you’re just starting your career or are on your second or third job, we all need guidance. A mentor can provide that through their experience and provide you with a different perspective.

Where to find a mentor? Start with your own network. You will likely find that you already have at least one person who regularly offers you advice. And you don’t need to ask someone, “Will you be my mentor?” It’s fine to approach this informally and let the relationship develop naturally. Finally, as you think about who you’d like to have as a mentor, be sure to define what you want your career to look like in the short, mid and long term. This will help you focus on what you need to learn to get there.

Job searching – just like career building – is a process. And it will take time. But by taking a few steps and spending a consistent amount of time with the right resources and people, you’ll be able to better navigate this new chapter of your life and career.

In our next post, we’ll talk about a few things you should do once you land that new job to ensure you’re set up for financial success.

Marching to a Million: The Millennial Journey to Retirement

Resources to help engage clients' children and prepare the next

generation for retirement.

1Pew Research Center. “Unemployment rose higher in three months of COVID-19 than it did in two years of the Great Recession.” June 11, 2020.
2Source: “5 Steps to Improve your LinkedIn Profile in Minutes.” LinkedIn Official Blog, August 2016.

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Janus Henderson is not affiliated with Financial Planning Association (FPA).