Career Essentials podcast Ep. 4: Job search tips in the pandemic

NAIT alum Shannon Neighbour brings her expertise to Career Essentials

Even in good times, recent grads have to hustle to land a job in the workforce.

Shannon NeighbourLanding that first job after convocation requires a lot of heavy lifting, from polishing your resumé and LinkedIn profile to tapping networks of peers, past employers and instructors for potential leads.

In COVID times, this can feel extra daunting. The pandemic has rocked the economy, shuttered businesses and created uncertainty across sectors. The result is a job market unlike anything we’ve seen in decades, according to Shannon Neighbour (Marketing ’00).

“This is an incredibly challenging time for tenured, experienced workers and it’s even tougher when you’re a new grad and you don’t have a lot of practical workplace experience,” says Neighbour, a partner with Edmonton-based Svenson-Neighbour Recruiting.

“This is an incredibly challenging time for tenured, experienced workers and it’s even tougher when you’re a new grad.”

After a year of pandemic chaos, it would be easy to let pessimism win the day. But, Neighbour reminds, “everyone is in this together” and hope lies in the days ahead.

“I think that in the coming months, we’re going to see things open up a little bit,” she says. “Stay positive and keep working hard at your job search.”

With that in mind, Neighbour joined the Career Essentials podcast to share tips for how recent graduates can produce a resume that dazzles, a LinkedIn profile that gets noticed, and how to prepare for the new normal: the virtual job interview. She also takes questions from job-seeking NAIT grads and current students.

Listen to Episode 4

Listen to the full episode or read an excerpt. Note: This interview was recorded in spring 2020.


In previous interviews with us, you've often emphasized the importance of networking. Right now, conventional networking is obviously out of the question. What are some alternatives that students or recent grads can be looking at?

Shannon Neighbour

I think that there are still quite a number of opportunities to network. And in fact, I feel like for some folks this is a more desirable climate to network in. We're seeing tons of networking opportunities online through things like the various chambers of commerce, the business networking groups, whether that be a membership-based networking group or something that anybody can join. Everyone needs to pivot their business to a certain degree right now.

“There are still quite a number of opportunities to network.”

Some of the things that make people anxious about going to in-person networking events are eliminated when you’re online. So you don't need to think about, “Oh, say I see a group of people chatting, how do I inject myself into that conversation?” Or this feels a little bit awkward. Online, there's breakout rooms and everyone's there to engage with new people.

Here’s a question from one of our students: How do I get a job in this economy? I've sent out dozens of applications.

I know from experience, sometimes we post jobs that are very, very popular and we might get hundreds of applicants. We’ve actually had jobs where after the first week, we've pulled down the ad because we've had so many applicants. So I would encourage people to apply early and stay on top of job search. That means staying on top of job boards, engaging with people through places like LinkedIn and looking and applying and tailoring your resume, tailoring your cover letter and doing that all in a very timely manner. There's no magic bullet where, if you do this, you're going to get callbacks, you're going to get interviews. All you can do is apply early, have a resume that is a masterpiece, error-free and really articulates what you've done, what you've accomplished. Those are the things that you can control.

“I would encourage people to apply early and stay on top of job search.”

For a new grad in particular, how should they make the most of their LinkedIn profile?

Now more than ever, it is very important to have a strong online professional presence. And so when we all think about online and how we position ourselves professionally, LinkedIn is something that everybody thinks of. Because the number of candidates is so plentiful and a lot of very qualified people are applying for positions, using tools like LinkedIn is really important to connect with your network, asking for referrals, and really leveraging that tool to the best of your ability to get recommendations, see what's going on in the business community and being able to engage.

“LinkedIn is really important to connect with your network, asking for referrals…”

With the situation that we’re in, is now the time to have lower expectations when you're on the job hunt?

I hate thinking about lowering expectations. But I do think that this is a time to manage your expectations. And I think that when we think about the kind of career that we want today, we should think about where we see our career and ourselves in the next year, three years, five years, 10 years – no matter what stage you’re at. And then, think about the things that we can look forward to in a career today that might help facilitate that growth down the road.

“I do think that this is a time to manage your expectations.”

You might be a recent marketing graduate and maybe it's your dream to work at an agency. That might not be realistic in the economic climate that we’re in right now, however. Maybe think about companies or organizations or positions that can give you the experience you need or can give you kind the opportunity to affect change or to work on neat projects. Maybe it's a smaller company where you can really get behind their vision and their mission. It's really thinking about the long-term game and not just I want to do this right now, or this is how much money I'm hoping to make.

What are some of the advantages or disadvantages of doing an interview virtually?

For me personally, every candidate we’ve met during the pandemic has been virtual. Some of the things that I've enjoyed about it is that someone doesn't have to get in their car and drive to our office and meet with us and then drive back to their home or their office or wherever they're coming from. It does save time on that end. I think that some of the drawbacks are, I don't think that there's anything that can quite exactly replace that human-to-human interaction and reading somebody's body language.

“I don't think that there's anything that can quite exactly replace that human-to-human interaction.”

Here’s another student question: How can I get experience without a job? Some accounting jobs, for instance, need two to three years of experience.

I feel like within any industry or job function, there are ways to gather the experience. You just sometimes have to be a little bit creative and manage your expectations as to how you get there. Within accounting, there are ways to gain experience through, for instance, temp agencies where they would hire inexperienced and new grads. That would really be working under someone who would maybe be doing more administrative aspects of accounting, but they can gain experience.

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