CS Grads: Job Hunting Tips Amid COVID-19 Uncertainty

With colleges and universities across the county cancelling in-person job fairs and closing student housing due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the job hunting and hiring process will certainly be different—and more challenging—for this year’s crop of computer science and engineering grads.

Indeed, some soon-to-be grads have posted about having their offers revoked on social media. Those who have accepted offers from hard-hit industries and companies could be the most vulnerable.

Here’s a look at how the hiring landscape has shifted over the past few weeks, and how you need to adapt your job-hunting strategy and the way you interact with prospective employers to land your first full-time gig.

The Job Market is in a State of Flux

Many companies have already factored the money for talent into their annual budgets, and they intend on sticking with their current employment agreements. For example, employers seem to be honoring the job offers previously made to spring grads at Iowa State University, according to Brian Larson, director of Career Services for the College of Engineering. 

“Employers want to be in a good position when the economy comes roaring back,” he observed. However, he also acknowledged that this is a dynamic situation. Succeeding in a market that is literally changing by the hour requires awareness, perseverance and constant communication with recruiters and employers.

One CTO has taken the initiative to compile a crowdsourced list of companies that have declared hiring freezes, layoffs and those that are still hiring. While this is a good start, further research is needed.

Students and new grads need to stay informed and read the announcements from companies in case their hiring needs change, advised John Beck, associate director of Engineering Career Development at the University of Kentucky.  

If you’ve accepted an offer from a company, be ready to offer solutions such working remotely, starting out as a contractor, or postponing your start date until late summer (when current staffers will have more bandwidth to train new hires). 

And whether you are still looking for an offer or have accepted one, it’s important to maintain communication with the hiring manager. Not touching base or following up after an interview can make you seem uninterested in the position. The more you can show the hiring manager that you are willing to contribute during this difficult time, the better your chances of getting hired or holding onto an offer.

In other words, keep selling yourself until you start your new job and beyond.

Grads, Expect the Unexpected

Grads simply can’t rule anything out these days. You may need to reopen your search and be more flexible in terms of the roles, companies or areas you are willing to consider. Looking at new possibilities not only helps to dodge rejection—it could also lead to exciting new career opportunities, especially during an economic downturn.

Working for a bank or grocery chain may not have the same appeal as working for a major tech company, but if you can keep learning, you’ll be in a good position to advance your career in a year or so when the economy rebounds, Beck pointed out.

Also, because the market is shifting, its not a good time to roll the dice on a risky career move. Don’t renege on an offer you’ve already accepted if you receive a better offer from another company, or “ghost” an interview with a potential employer, Beck warned. Follow professional etiquette—you don’t want to damage your reputation before your career even gets started.

Master the Virtual Handshake and More

With in-person campus interviews and job fairs being replaced by remote recruiting, job hunters need to adapt their approach and be ready to sell themselves to prospective employers in an online environment to be considered for the job. How?

 “When the economy slows down, every student needs to become a marketing major,” Beck said. For instance, prospective employers will spend more time reviewing online profiles, recommendations, code samples and project portfolios when they can’t screen students face-to-face, so amp up your online presence and master the art of the virtual handshake

Take advantage of the shift to online learning for the rest of the semester to practice for video interviews and hone your communication skills. Remember, body language, eye contact, posture, facial expressions and tone of voice still matter in a video interview, Larson advised. In fact, a face-to-face interview lasts longer, so you can overcome a slow start; with a phone or video interview, you may only have 10 minutes to make a positive impression.

Forget texting. Now’s the time to master the art of writing a professional business email, or to go the proverbial extra mile by creating a project addendum or cover letter to accompany your résumé. The shift to remote recruiting shines a light on a candidate’s written communication skills.

Finally, be patient and resilient. The hiring process may be longer and different from prior years, but if you stick with it and strive to improve, you will land your first job.

For more COVID-19 content, check out the COVID-19 Jobs Resource Center.