A masterclass in job hunting during the pandemic

Posted on Monday, May 11, 2020

Closeup of student's hands typing at a laptop.

Forget summer jobs in bars, restaurants, movie theatres, pools or summer camps this year. The need for physical distancing has put a stop to all the go-to jobs that students normally look for.

But don’t despair; opportunities are out there! Many companies are still hiring, and there are still lots of ways you can develop your skills while getting paid.

The University of Ottawa’s Career Development Centre has tons of useful resources. They also host weekly webinars that can help you navigate the current employment landscape. You can contact the Centre via email if you have questions, or book a virtual consultation session with one of their staff.

Check out their list of tips and resources to help you look for jobs in the right places, build a resume and cover letter that stand out, and up your online interview game.

  • Broaden your search. You may need to look for jobs in other fields than you’re used to. Think of the industries that are active right now, as they are more likely to be hiring. Industries such as healthcare, delivery, medical manufacturing, finance, telecommunications, supply chain and remote-work technology are good places to start.
  • Know where to look. Check the Government of Canada job bank for leads on companies that are hiring in the midst of the pandemic, go through the different job searching sites or check out the Federal Student Work Experience Program (FSWEP). LinkedIn is a good resource too, as well as other social media platforms, but check the validity of the company before you apply. You can also try the ‘cold calling’ route, which can help you tap into the hidden job market.
  • Find out about Government support. Did you hear? The federal government recently launched the Canada Emergency Student Benefit to help take the edge off post-secondary students and recent grads who do not qualify for other benefits or who cannot work because of the current pandemic. Check the various programs in place that could help you!
Student at his laptop.

  • Take stock of your skills. Identify what employability skills you have and make a list. Employability skills are ones that are transferable to any job and make you a desirable candidate for employers. Problem solving, adaptability, decision making, leadership and teamwork—those are examples of skills that employers are looking for, especially if you don’t have extensive work experience. You’re more skilled than you think, so give it some thought.
  • Don’t sell yourself short. As you list your work experience, you might think ‘I worked in a grocery store. There’s not much more to say.’ But there is. Instead of simply listing tasks like restocking shelves, working the cash register or directing people to items, focus more on what impact that may have had on customers or how the store may have benefited from your work. Working at the cash means you handled money—you’re reliable and have math skills—and you dealt with people on a regular basis. If you brightened people’s day with your winning personality, that’s a great quality to highlight. Good customer service goes a long way, especially in a pandemic when people are craving positive social interactions.
  • Vary your language. The synonym dictionary is your friend, so use it. You want to vary the adjectives, verbs and adverbs you use to describe your skills and responsibilities. Challenge yourself a little—find words that have a stronger impact. Maybe even turn it into a game—how many different ways are there to say ‘good’? Proficient, excellent, capable, experienced, adept, skilled at XYZ. Having fun yet?
  • Highlight what’s most important. Make sure to emphasize the skills and/or work experience that matters most to the job you’re applying for. That means tailoring your CV and cover letter to each job application. I know, I know—it sounds like a lot of work, but it’s worth it. Your efforts will not go unnoticed. Use the job listings as inspiration: what are the most important qualities they’re looking for here? What language are they using? Borrow some of the language used in each job listing as inspiration. It’s not stealing!
  • Choose the right format. Did you know there are different resume models? Using the appropriate CV format will simplify the exercise of writing your resume.
  • Find out who’s on the other end. Make a call to the company and ask who you should address in the cover letter if it’s not already mentioned in the job listing. Avoid writing ‘To whom it may concern’ because you don’t want to risk the person on the other end saying, ‘Not me’ and tossing your CV in the recycling bin. Also, avoid addressing it ‘Dear sir or madam’ because it’s possible the person reviewing your application doesn’t identify as either of these. When you call to find out the person’s name, feel free to also ask how this person wishes to be addressed (Mrs.? Mr.? Dr.? Ms.? Don’t assume.)
  • Let your sparkling personality shine. The uOttawa Career Development Centre has templates and excellent tips for writing a good cover letter, including what information to highlight, details about length, font and formatting, etc. The cover letter is your chance to value yourself and to enhance your resume with a personal touch. That is why it is so important that your letter be customized for each job and for the company. It’s also your opportunity to show them how you write, whether you can formulate clear, concise sentences without typos. Which brings me to my next point…
  • OMG, proofread. We cannot stress the importance of re-reading your work—several times! We know, it’s tedious and it’s very difficult to overcome the ‘I’m sure it’s fine’ feeling. But do it. Just do it.
Student at her laptop.

  • Presentation is key. If you’re invited for an interview during the pandemic, it will likely take place virtually. Wear something professional and make sure the room you’re using is tidy. Don’t let the hiring panel see that pile of dirty clothes you’ve been meaning to wash. Make sure the camera is at eye level—no one wants to see up your nostrils—and make sure the background is not too busy or distracting. YOU are the focus of this interview, after all!
  • Lighting. Choose a space that has natural light, if possible, and make sure your back isn’t facing a window because the person on the other end will just see a dark silhouette. This isn’t a ransom call—you’re not trying to hide your identity here.
  • Test your hardware and software. The day of, test your hardware and software before the interview. Give yourself enough time to check your audio levels, familiarize yourself with the software if necessary, and maybe even plug in an Ethernet cable to make sure your Internet connection is stable so you don’t cut out or drop the call.
  • Do your research. Learn everything you can about the company or organization you’re applying to. It shows that you put some thought into your application and that you want to be part of their team. That can make all the difference.
  • Practice makes perfect. Doing a mock interview can be a productive way to get ready. Many websites offer ’50 questions an employer might ask you’ – running through the list can be good practice. Is the position bilingual? Try practicing your answers in French. You can even do it while grocery shopping or while on your walk. No one’s around to judge you anyway.
  • Master the art of the humble brag. You can’t be accused of bragging if you are stating facts. For example, you can say you increased the team’s efficiency by proposing a new procedure. Focus on the outcome of the projects you were involved in. Be precise about how you contributed to those projects. Reflect on your strengths and identify them. It will be easier for you to share them once you have clarity on what they are.
  • Ask questions when they prompt you. You always want to be ready with a few questions. That shows the hiring committee that you’re serious about the job. Feel free to ask about work environment, what your day-to-day would look like, how managers measure success, etc. You can even ask them how you can better prepare for the position. It shows initiative and a desire to improve.

Looking for more interview tips? The Career Development Centre has got your covered. Browse through their lists of Dos and Don’ts for before and after an interview.

Having trouble finding a job?

You can further develop your skills this summer by volunteering or taking a course. The most important thing is to find opportunities to continue your growth.

Consider volunteering to develop your skills, while giving back. There are multiple ways to get involved in the community, namely helping local organizations during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Another option you can consider is to use your time this summer to continue your learning. It’s not too late to consider enrolling in summer classes. But if that’s not a possibility for you, consider learning through resources like LinkedIn Learning that are free for uOttawa students.

Back to top