Updated: Aug 18, 2020
Collective advice from our mentors and editors
Written by: Eric Frasco, Lucy Lu & Sally Kishi
Unless you count yourself among the many brave essential workers, you are likely stuck at home either working remotely or out of a job, hoping that #StayHome will 'flatten the curve' and save lives. On the bright side - with all the extra time many of us have on our hands, there's a surprising amount we can do to enhance our career.
Composed of our mentors and editors collective wisdom, RE: Project is happy to present 10 great ways to develop your career while you #StayHome! However, we want to do more than simply say "do some online networking". Here, we not only suggest some great ways forward, but how to do it, where to begin, and provide some great tools you can use.
1. Create a new career development plan
Stay-at-home orders present a great opportunity to plan ahead in your career! A good idea to start with is a self-assessment, like a SWOT analysis. In other words, your:
Strengths: what you are good at and where you have an edge
Weaknesses: areas where you need to improve or build new skills
Opportunities: possibilities you could take advantage of to help achieve your goals
Threats: things that may prevent you from reaching your goals
From here, you can look at your resume and edit it in a way that targets your sector. What is it that your sector is looking for? Take a look at other people in your field on LinkedIn - what type of education do they have? Language skills? Technical skills? However, it's easy to get information overload or become overwhelmed. At RE: Project, we find it helpful to create an Excel spreadsheet (or whatever format you prefer) of firms, job portals, and more for your sector, with notes on hiring cycles, job application deadlines, and important links.
If this is still a bit overwhelming, you’re in luck! Because the RE: Project runs mentor-led workshops on how to create a career development plan. You can register your interest here.
If you know yourself and what skills you need for your ideal role, you’re well on your way to progressing in your career!
We all know that networking is essential, no matter where you're working. Every student and graduate is probably tired of hearing this advice. The better question is, “how do you network?” In some respects, it's simple - just talk to people! You’ll be shocked by how much you gain in terms of learning or new experiences if you just ask! But how do you "just ask"? And who do you ask? RE:Project can help! You can register your interest in our upcoming "informational interview and networking workshop here.
In our upcoming video How I Found My Job During COVID-19, Samanee Mahbub will discuss in depth how she managed to find a great job through networking, even during the COVID crisis. So stay tuned and follow our linkedin page for updates!
But in the meantime for networking, 1) connect with your alumni center, 2) utilize your LinkedIn and online presence, and 3) remember that your classmates will become your colleagues!
That last part is particularly important, but unfortunately overlooked - but some of our mentors such as Marrio Ferro have found their first big job from a fellow classmate! Listen to their story here!
3. Volunteer remotely
Employment opportunities are lagging during the crisis, but that doesn't mean you can't use your time wisely (or for a good cause!). There are plenty of small charities/NGOs that are in need of help, as the crisis has cut into their budgets.
As seen on DoSomething.org, there are a number of organizations you can look into, including the United Nations (there are plenty of transcribing, translation, etc. roles), Catchafire, Smithsonian digital Volunteers, Amnesty Decoders, Translators Without Borders, Crisis Text Line, Project Gutenberg, and Zooniverse.
4. Learn new technical skills
In most sectors, employees are now expected to be life-long learners. And especially in an increasingly data and tech-driven economy, the development of more technical skills is essential. For those in international affairs/development, project management skills are particularly important. You can listen to how our mentor Dezhi Yu broke into development finance with technical skills here.
Often, “technical skills” means mastery over research/data packages, whether it be Python for coding, R or SPSS for research and statistics, Geographical Information Systems (GIS), or other specialist software.
But whatever skills you want to gain is up to you, so keep referring back to point 1 - "self-assessment". You need to spend your time building skills you need the most!
A good place to start are programs like LinkedIn Learning, which is currently offering free trials. Also, YouTube tutorial content is always a go-to.
5. Free online classes/certifications
This brings us to our next point - many developers are training for free and offering certificates! For example, HubSpot, Salesforce, Tableau, and Google Analytics. These rarely take long but offer a great boost to your CV.
6. Develop soft skills too!
There are so many useful skills out there, how to know what skills to develop? A good first step is to look at the job description of a role you really want, then identify what skills you’re lacking and what’s especially important for your career development.
And as our mentors constantly stress, time management is particularly important! At RE:Project, we also run mentor-led workshops on time management that you can register your interests here.
7. Language skills
Regardless of what sector you’re in, work is becoming progressively more globalized and international. And if you’re one of the many graduates in our network working in international affairs/development, then language skills are not just an edge over other applicants, but absolutely essential.
Although what language you choose will vary between fields and personal circumstances, the most “generally useful” languages to pick up are Spanish, French, Mandarin, and Arabic (especially for our graduates in international affairs).
Getting there is easier than ever and there are a bunch of free programs to choose from, whether it be Babel, Duolingo, or any number of online chat rooms and language exchanges. Many universities also offer language courses (usually) for free!
8. Build your online presence
Your presence online is important - it helps you get your name out there and grow your network. First things first - LinkedIn is a must for any field. Make sure you put the time and effort into your profile (a good, professional photo really helps too). Second - anybody can make content! Whether it’s Instagram live, LinkedIn, or any number of platforms, and regardless of who you are or what you do, you can always get your brand out there. You never know what opportunities you’ll get back!
At RE:Project, we also run mentor-led workshops on building your online brand that you can register your interests here.
9. “Thought leadership” and creating your own opportunities
So…what is thought leadership? In defense of adding to the list of professional buzzwords, thought leadership (as our mentor Zoe Hamilton puts it) is "creating your opportunities".
In other words, for job seekers, just because a lot of the internship and positions are no longer available to apply for on job boards, it doesn’t mean you can’t create an opportunity for yourself! Creating your own opportunity starts with identifying opportunities. A lot of job seekers tend to confine themselves to thinking about what they can and would like to offer, rather than what the organization needs. Using this "perspective thinking" means doing in-depth research about the organization you are interested in and identifying areas where your skills might come in handy. Here's a quick guide to writing a "cold email for an internship" to get you started.
10. Taking care of yourself!
It's not a "career tip" per say, but maybe the most important thing to take away from this blog. The COVID crisis has tested everyone. No matter who you are, the situation has been difficult and dangerous. It is important to remind yourself now, and always, that your career is only one part of your life. While we all feel the push to be productive, never forget to take care of yourself and your loved ones. Balance is key! And while it is great to spend your time on free online Ivy League courses, we know that not everyone has the luxury.
First and foremost, stay safe and well (LinkedIn isn't going anywhere…)
With the negativity and uncertainty in the world, most of us may be left with too much time to overthink our lives and current situations, but now is the best time for us to focus on ourselves. Why wait for a time better than now for that soul-searching we’ve wanted to do with our career paths? With the 10 ways above, finally, take the time to focus on “you” and your career.
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Why should you join the RE: Project Community?
One main reason behind the high unemployment rate among recent grads is the gap between the structured academic training and the “messiness” of the real-world career market. This is especially true for International Development students, on average with 0–3 years of experience, that look for impact-driven work. However, the development sector requires significant work experience, specialization, and networking to break into — none of which academic training alone can adequately offer.
The RE:Project a career advice, peer mentoring, and re-skilling community for millennial and Gen Z social scientists, born with the idea that millennials and Gen-Zers can help one another out for today’s job market.
In the short-run, we offer tailored career support by creating curated real-life, authentic content generated by real people of the millennial generation working the industries. Practitioners with 4–7 years of experience can offer as many insights (or more!) as 50-year-old CEOs and Directors about how to break into the industry.
This way, young job seekers can interact with mentors using social media live (visit our Linkedin page, Instagram coming soon), and blog posts.
User-generated blog posts, interviews, and tips will also be very welcome.
In the long run, the ultimate goal of this platform is to grow into the forefront community for the Future of Work for social scientists.