Member Insights

Advice from the Board: How to Snag a Job Amid a Pandemic

Applying for jobs is tough. Applying for jobs during COVID is a nightmare. But finding the perfect fit is possible, as proven by two yPIE board members. Kristen Geatz joined the National Public Education Support Fund as an Executive and Operations Assistant in August. Richard Bobo recently took a position as a Full-Stack Software Engineer at Salesforce. We asked them to share some insight into their job hunt experience, application woes, and some tips on how they snagged an offer during one of the most strenuous periods in the IE industry:

1. Can you share a brief overview of your job search timeline?

Kristen: My job search timeline is a little weird, much like everything in quarantine. I was contacted by a recruiter in early March, and set up an in person appointment for March 11. It turned out to be my last in person meeting, and the last time I shook someone’s hand! I wasn’t really interested at first, I just agreed to the meeting because I was curious. By the end of March, I decided to contact them and start the search. I interviewed with my new employer in late June, was offered a position with them at the beginning of July, and started with them on August 3.

Richard: March 2020 – Voluntarily quit my job a week before the pandemic hit (timely!), did a coding bootcamp from March to June

May 2020 – I started weekly meeting with a career coach (provided by my school). Applied to ~10-20 jobs per week on average. 

October – Picked up my first small freelance gig to fill my resume in the meantime and add additional experience

November – Job searched from June to November, had two competing offers by the end of November

December – Started my new job (+ landed 3 more freelance gigs)

2. Which tools do you think are in the essential International Education tool kit?

K: The most important thing in international education is to have an open mind, and be ready for anything. I started in international education on a whim- my senior year of college I was on Twitter and saw an account tweeting about International Education Week. That is how I found IIE, and I applied for all the internships they had open. I interned for them the second semester of my senior year, and then just kept taking new opportunities as they came to me! By the time I reached my 5 year anniversary with IIE, I was flying around the world to support our programs, and it was all because I said yes to whatever came my way.

R: For IE: Social Media Marketing (Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter), Email & Event Marketing (Mailchimp, Eventbrite), Zoom, other virtual engagement tools regardless of your exact role in IE, you’ll like be engaging with or using various digital tools to recruit and engage participants, colleagues, or others in the network. 

Not specific to IE, but helpful in my job hunt:

Accounts on Every Job Search Website — especially LinkedIn. I set up alerts for every organization and keywords for titles & job descriptions that I was interested in to ensure I could apply to a job posting as soon as possible. 

LinkedIn Premium — This was helpful for keeping track of job leads and doing outreach with direct messages. 

An Excel Job Applications Dashboard — I used one provided by my career coach, but it was pretty straight forward in keeping track of applications and outreach so I never left open any loose ends.  

Personal Connections — It’s hard to get through the application process without a referral or personal connection. Even outreach over LinkedIn helped me get through the weeds. In times of quarantine, virtual outreach and introductions were essential. Luckily, most people were readily available to hop on a quick 15 minute call. Virtual events, like those by yPIE were also essential for meeting new connections. 

Personal Branding — Having a digital portfolio (simple custom website), LinkedIn profile up to date, knowing which social media profiles were publicly accessible and ensuring they represented me on the way I wanted them to, and a blog to share insights on my job search and areas of my expertise. 

3. Did you have a strategy in prioritizing certain applications over others?

K: Since I was working with a recruiter, I was simultaneously evaluating their clients, as well as my own search. I prioritized positions that I felt would make a difference. At the end of the day, that is what is most important to me in my career. I was explicit with my recruiter that I did not want just any old job that would pay the bills, I wanted to be actively working towards improving the world. Since my background is predominately in international education, I focused on jobs that would keep me in or near that field. I ended up at an education non-profit focusing more on domestic education policy.

R: I prioritized positions I was excited about first. Also positions where the skill level, pay range, and cultural fit seemed strong. But I never turned down an interview. Even just a quick phone screen was a good way to practice in advance of the positions I was more excited for.  Each interview gave me significantly more confidence. Even large firms I was previously intimidated to interview with were far more enjoyable interviews than I thought they would be. 

I took time to customize my resume and cover letter for the positions I cared about, but would also typically ‘quick apply’ on LinkedIn and other websites to ~10 positions per week that I was less excited about but just needed to get apps in order to play the game of numbers. This was still hugely helpful as it led quickly to a few phone screen interviews and getting through to organizations via recruiters rather than the traditional application portal route. 

4. Which do you think is more valuable; relevant skills or relevant experience?

K: This is very much my own opinion, but I personally feel relevant experience is the most important. Some of the best advice I ever received was when I was considering grad school immediately after college. A colleague told me to wait, I needed to go out into the world and get some experience, or no one would value my opinions or want to work with me in the program. She was so right! I’ve never gone back for my Master’s, but I have so much relevant experience from being on the job that I am still competitive in the field. And now when I interview, I am able to provide real world examples of challenges I’ve faced on the job, and how I ultimately ended up resolving the issue. That goes a long way in an interview.

R: Depends on the exact position, but I would definitely say relevant experience as most skills you can acquire through some training and there tends to be plenty of online training materials for most skills. Experience in the industry is something that’s hard to train in theory, you have to actually experience it in some way. 

5. What was your biggest job application pet peeve?

K: My biggest job application pet peeve is when you never hear back! Not even a form email “Thanks but no thanks!” It actually influences my decision if I will ever consider applying to that company again, and I actually really respect when I hear back quickly if a company thinks I am not right for the role. 

R: Complex application portals where you have to fill out every detail rather than just submitting your resume. Luckily this seems to be fewer and fewer organizations as the technology is getting better and employers want to limit the barriers for good applicants to submit their resume. Also, employers that leave you hanging after 3 or 4 rounds of interviews. At least tell me I didn’t get the positions!

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If you would like to get in contact with Richard or Kristen, visit our Board of Directors page to see their bios and connect on LinkedIn.

Edited by Molly Hogan, March 2021

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