Career Advice for Recent Grads: Navigating the Pandemic

Landing that first job out of school is often a challenging endeavor in the best of times — and these are unusual times, certainly.

Here are a few recommendations that apply generally to job searching, as well as new factors and opportunities due to the evolving COVID-19 situation.

First, the bottom line:

  • Know yourself.
  • Focus on what IS in your control.
  • Remember this is a marathon, not a sprint.

Understand Yourself

To gain a better understanding of who you are and how others see you, try asking five to 10 people what they think your top three strengths and/or abilities are, in addition to an area where you could grow.

Remember, you have knowledge, skills, and experiences to rely on. Combine those with a basic planning process of visioning and goal-setting, existing conditions inventory then alternatives analysis, and you have a framework for decision making for career planning and job searching.

What Limits You?

Second, identify your limiting factors. Are you bound by geographic areas? By job type (e.g. you know you want to be in transportation planning or economic development etcetera)? Other factors?

Understand the associated impacts to your timeline, strategy, and areas of flexibility in decision making. For example, if you are bound to one location, you will likely need to be very flexible in the type of jobs you are searching for and applying to.

Take Action

Third, be mindful of time and take action. Job searching and landing a job takes time. Worrying about how long it is taking does not speed up the process, but action steps might.

Generally, it is realistic to expect three to six months of applying before landing interviews, and six to nine months before receiving a job offer.

However, these time estimates may be longer as organizations navigate evolving COVID-19 impacts to operations. During this time, leverage your network and make new connections. There are a lot of online resources out there to help employers connect with future qualified employees.

Consider reaching out directly via email, phone call or LinkedIn to professionals having jobs you think you are interested in. When reaching out, be honest about why you are reaching out and be prepared to readily explain your strengths, interests and what type of work you hope to do.

Sign up for all newsletters coming from organizations you are interested in working for, job search listservs, and visit websites weekly to check for opportunities.

Embrace Opportunities

Fourth, embrace the areas of opportunity given the current situation. What are you doing to help your community? How are you contributing to solutions?

Not only is it the right thing to do, but it is also an opportunity to demonstrate your strengths and skills supporting positive outcomes. As mentioned earlier, it is realistic to expect longer timelines to achieve that first job offer. Remain active during this time.

If you are working in a job that is not where you want to be, then, volunteer in roles where you can do the type of work you eventually want to get hired to do.

Leverage online forums and free courses to learn new software programs and keep existing technical skills fresh.

This Has Happened Before

Finally, remember that many prior cohorts have been in a similar situation, whether due to the energy crises of the 1970s, early 2000s dot-com bust, or the 2008–2009 Great Recession.

Return to the bottom line: know yourself, focus on what IS in your control, and remember that this is a marathon not a sprint.

APA Resources for Your Career and Job Search

Connect to a Network of Passionate Planners

Choose from among 22 divisions and join a community of professionals with shared interests. Areas range from city, regional, rural, federal, and international planning to environmental, hazard mitigation, housing, and transportation planning to many more topics.

Volunteer with APA

Get involved with APA through committees, and task forces, volunteer with the Ambassadors program to share your passion and help to advance the understanding and value of the planning profession.

Career Reality Webinars

Practical tips on job search, career paths, professional development issues for new and seasoned planners alike. Sign up for live webinars or listen to recorded webinars.

A Guide for the Idealist

Blog series from a practicing planner and professor of planning. Rick Willson, FAICP provides insights for making choices in the career "launching" phase — addressing decision making, doubt, types of work, and work settings.

Mentoring at APA

Find mentoring tips and explore chapters with mentoring programs.

Mentoring for Planners on YouTube

Videos from APA to learn more about the ins and outs of mentoring, as well as how developing mentoring relationships can expand your opportunities and mindset.

Top image: Hands holding a resume. Getty Images photo.

About the Author
Stephanie Blochowiak is senior environmental specialist at RockSol Consulting Inc.

March 27, 2020

By Stephanie Blochowiak, AICP