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Three tips for finding a job during the COVID-19 pandemic

We asked a pair of career specialists for their advice on job hunting in this economic crisis.
Drivers pass a sign outside the Kimmins Contracting Corp., looking to hire employees Thursday, March 26, 2020, in Tampa, Fla. A record-high number of people applied for unemployment benefits last week as layoffs engulfed the United States in the face of a near-total economic shutdown caused by the coronavirus. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
Drivers pass a sign outside the Kimmins Contracting Corp., looking to hire employees Thursday, March 26, 2020, in Tampa, Fla. A record-high number of people applied for unemployment benefits last week as layoffs engulfed the United States in the face of a near-total economic shutdown caused by the coronavirus. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara) [ CHRIS O'MEARA | AP ]
Published Apr. 8, 2020
Updated Apr. 8, 2020

As bad as the job market is because of the COVID-19 pandemic, things could be worse for the class of 2020.

That’s one of the messages from a pair of university career specialists — St. Petersburg College’s Michael Jean-Felix and the University of Miami’s Christian Garcia —who are trying to help soon-to-be grads find work in a time of skyrocketing unemployment.

Both Garcia and Jean-Felix have experience from the Great Recession, when Jean-Felix was job-hunting as a student at the University of Central Florida and Garcia was starting his role as the executive director of Miami’s Toppel Career Center.

Here are three lessons they shared for the 2020 class:

1. Remember: Some companies are still hiring.

Although the causes of the Great Recession built over months, its effect on the job market was immediate and across the board.

“It was really like someone turned off a light switch,” said Garcia, Miami’s associate dean.

The pandemic, so far, has only shut off certain sectors of the economy, like tourism and hospitality. That means other sectors and other employers are still looking for help. Most companies, Garcia said, have been taking a wait-and-see approach for college graduates, and he’s hopeful the recovery (whenever it starts) will be faster than the last one.

Jean-Felix is advising his students to focus on companies that are on hiring sprees, such as Publix and Walmart.

They may not have been graduates’ first picks, Jean-Felix said, but they’re a start.

Home Depot customers carry their purchases as they leave the store, Friday, April 3, 2020 during the coronavirus pandemic in New York. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)
Home Depot customers carry their purchases as they leave the store, Friday, April 3, 2020 during the coronavirus pandemic in New York. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan) [ MARK LENNIHAN | AP ]

2. Use technology to your advantage.

Digital advancements have made the job search easier than it was in 2008. Websites like Handshake connect students to prospective employers. Schools can do virtual job fairs; Miami is trying to partner with peer institutions to bring in even more companies. And initial interviews were probably going to be done over the phone, Skype or Zoom, anyway, which means social distancing won’t affect that part of the job hunt.

“It’s just a mind shift,” Garcia said. “It’s kind of refocusing on it all being virtual.”

3. Stay positive without being Pollyannaish.

In 2008, most of Garcia’s students were either hyper-sensitive about their search or feared they would never get a job and gave up.

Garcia learned from that experience. He doesn’t want to dismiss students’ concerns by telling them to simply work harder. But he would rather address the challenges matter-of-factly instead of dwelling on them.

“The No. 1 message would be, it is crucial now, more than ever, to be as positive as possible,” Garcia said. “It is very easy in this kind of situation to default to pessimism, to woe is me or negativity — and rightfully so…

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“It is easy for an employer to misconstrue that or for that to come across as being negative, and nobody wants to hire anybody who’s in that kind of state.”

Times staff writer Ileana Najarro contributed to this report.

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