Ziemann: How to job hunt in a pandemic

Columnist and graduating senior Megan Ziemann offers her best tips for securing postgrad employment during a pandemic.

Megan Ziemann

Usually this column asks the big questions. I keep the content thought-provoking and controversial for a reason  it sparks conversations we need to be having.

This week I don’t have a big question. This week I want to talk about something a little smaller. A little more personal.

Because this is my last semester at Iowa State. I’m graduating. And because of that, I am ears deep in the job search process. 

Like most things, job hunting looks a lot different this year. Iowa State is not having in-person career fairs, which means I don’t have to buy resume paper, Copyworks is probably not having the best sales season and everything from applications to interviews to onboarding is done online. 

Out of every generation, Gen Z (us) is arguably the most equipped to deal with the new challenge of finding a job over the internet. After all, we grew up with computers, are all too familiar with video calls by now and have been slammed with so many changes within the past year that nothing seems too surprising anymore. 

It seems at the surface we’ll turn out just fine despite the pandemic. We’re young, resilient and educated. Unfortunately, new research is saying otherwise. Gen Z is more likely than our millennial and baby boomer peers to experience burnout and anxiety in an online workplace, according to the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM). 

Researchers at ReGenerations, an organization dedicated to understanding generational gaps in the workplace, speculate this is because we’ve had so much thrown at us in our formative years, like the aftermath of 9/11, the 2008-2009 recession and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Jessica Stollings-Holder, president of ReGenerations, calls these events our “defining moments.” Because our defining moments are overwhelmingly negative, our world outlook, in turn, is more likely to be negative.

It makes sense. Entering the workforce right now is scary. According to College Finance, because of the pandemic, 65 percent of Gen Z Americans are thinking about pursuing a graduate program or returning to higher education. 

For a short while, I was one of those 65 percent. I was thinking about grad school so much I conducted a series about it for this column and explored my personal grapple with choosing to pursue a graduate degree or entering industry directly after undergrad. 

But grad school is not for everyone. It’s not for me, at least not right now. So, from one stressed out job searcher to another, I’m going to give you some tips on how to navigate this new normal of postgrad life. 

First, embrace your identity as Gen Z. We have internet skills, and that’s a huge advantage in an online job market. Chances are, you already have a LinkedIn profile, but don’t be afraid to explore other job search websites like Indeed, Handshake and Glassdoor. Better yet, find a website that is made specifically for your target career field.

For example, I’m planning on going into digital marketing in the Chicago area, and a lot of Chicago-based ad agencies use SmartRecruiters to host their applications. You bet I’m keeping my SmartRecruiters profile just as spiffy as my LinkedIn. Not getting as many connections as you were hoping for? When in doubt, diversify.

I’m sure this one comes naturally to a lot of us, but always save everything as a PDF, not a Word Document. Word can mess up your beautifully formatted resume, and you may be accidentally giving recruiters editing access to your files. PDFs look much more professional, print great and will keep your formatting exactly the way you want it. 

Speaking of resumes, ditch the template. Recruiters look at hundreds of resumes a day, and now that you can’t physically shake their hand and give them a copy of yours, that resume design means more than ever. Your resume should represent you and your personal brand (hello, marketing major). I’m energetic and design-oriented, so my resume shows that with professional but modern fonts and a little color. 

Not all resumes are created equal. A technical, analytical mechanical engineer’s resume is going to look different than an innovative and creative architect’s. Make your resume an extension of yourself. 

And don’t even get me started on matching your cover letter letterhead to your resume.

Fortunately for those of us not obsessing over fonts and hex codes, the look is only one part of your resume. The content on it has to make sense too. Luckily, we’re attending a large Research I university with the resources to accommodate career coordinators for each of the six academic colleges.

These career services offices are dedicated to helping students in that particular discipline with their postgrad plans, and they’ll do everything from reviewing your resume to hosting mock interviews to just letting you vent. 

Contrary to your career coordinator, I’m not going to ask you to wear nice pants to the Zoom interview (even though you should, you’ll feel more professional and confident) because let’s be honest here, how many of us even bother to get dressed for online lectures anymore?

What I am going to enforce is the thank you letter. Obviously, thank yous are going to look different this year, and to be honest, they’re a hurdle I don’t know how to jump over yet. I feel like a good thank you constitutes more than an email, but I’m not sure if I want to send a physical card if I’m not going to be physically there with it. So, I’m leaving this one up to you.

No matter how you do it, thank your interviewer. Thank your recruiter. Make thanking them a habit, because with all the pressure they’re also under, they deserve it.

I know reading this was a lot. Trust me, writing it may have been worse. This is an incredibly stressful time for us. So don’t forget the most important step of the job search process — take a breath. Take a break. 

Know that you are qualified and you are worth it.

This will not last forever.

And I’d wish you luck, but we both know you don’t need it.