What I learned from job searching in the middle of a global pandemic

Last December, I graduated with my Master of Public Health (MPH) degree, wide-eyed, and ready to help advance the field of public health through meaningful work. I was aware of the hardships that new graduates would face in the job market. Nonetheless, I was optimistic that I would be able to land something impactful where I could utilize my skills and knowledge. Unfortunately, right as I was getting into the heat of applications, the job market took a major turn as the COVID-19 pandemic gained traction and decimated what felt like my chance at securing employment. However, through this difficult journey, I learned a lot about the job market, employment applications, networking, and how to get your foot through the door. Here are some of my takeaways from the process.

Keep track of all your applications

I often found that when I did receive an interview request and started to prepare for the interview, I would want to refer back to the original posting, qualifications in the job description, and any other important details about the job. However, sometimes when I returned, the posting would be taken down. As a result, the vital information I used to prepare for my interviews was lost. To avoid this from taking place again, I kept track of all my applications in an Excel file. Every time I sent in a new job application, I kept track of the date I applied, the organization, the role, salary range, location, and job description. I copied the job posting if it was not an easily accessible PDF so that on the occasion that I found myself moving forward in the recruitment process, I could refer back to the job description. Secondly, this allowed me to keep track of my progress and made sure I wasn’t reapplying to jobs I had already looked into or applied to (I know that sounds crazy but after many applications, it can be easy to lose track).

Do not be afraid to reach out to connections you know for any potential opportunities

One of the offers I received was not through an external application but a connection of mine. I reached out to this connection to inquire about whether they knew of any potential opportunities in their department/organization and asked if we could meet informally to learn more about their job. This led to them providing my name to a manager in another department who they knew was hiring. Through this exchange, I met the hiring manager (remotely), and they offered me a casual (term appointment). Although I did not end up pursuing this employment opportunity, I began to realize how important connections are in advancing your career and for learning from others with plenty of career experience.

Do not be afraid to follow up after an interview or an examination

If a hiring manager lets you know after an interview that decisions will be made in two weeks and you will be informed within that period, don’t be afraid to follow up after two weeks! On many occasions, after writing an exam or doing an interview, the hiring team provided me with an expected time for decisions. Now, during the current situation (COVID 19), I expected longer than normal times for processes to be completed, decisions to be made and applicants to be informed. However, I still thought it is important to follow up and show how eager and interested I was in the position. Following up paid off as the current permanent position I hold, came from following up with a hiring manager who had informed me due to COVID-19, that the hiring process for the position I had applied to had been terminated, but had recommended me to another hiring manager in a different department looking to fill a similar position.

Take a mental break and try your best to be patient

There is no sugar coating it, the job application process can be mentally exhausting and draining. There were times when I felt very discouraged by the process and after many applications, felt like throwing in the towel and giving up. I found it to be very important for me to set realistic expectations for myself, to apply to an attainable amount of applications a month but take frequent mental breaks and spend time engaging with friends and family, focusing on some hobbies and getting outside. If an interview or examination you do is unsuccessful, ask for feedback from the recruitment team, and if provided, take that chance to learn from your mistakes. Lastly, try to be patient with the job application process (especially during COVID-19 where many of the recruiting processes are slow – outside of your control). For one of the jobs that I applied to, there were 6 months between the time I sent in my application and the time I was placed in a pool of successful applicants for hire. This process included two written tests and a formal zoom interview. I found myself constantly checking my email for new updates, which also caused my overall stress to be much higher. Take a break from your email notifications now and again if you can!

In the current situation, applying to jobs is tough, demanding, and sometimes unrewarding. I am optimistic that we are in a time of flux for public health, and that the importance of our knowledge and skills will be recognized. Good luck!

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this blog are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of my employers.

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