The COVID-19 pandemic has been hard on everyone, especially young professionals. With big dreams, the class of 2020 entered the job market as businesses, industries, and the economy faced more unknowns than ever before. The good news is technology has enabled companies to continue hiring throughout every stage of the pandemic. While the U.S. employment rate skyrocketed to 14.7% in April 2020, it quickly rebounded to under 9% in the following four months.
Emerging leaders are starting careers at organizations they have never been to and trying to form relationships with coworkers and clients they have never met in person. Below are strategies for navigating mental health, interviewing for jobs, and adjusting to the virtual onboarding process.
Mental health strategies for young professionals
In general, younger individuals are accustomed to living an active, social lifestyle, and as a result, many are feeling the negative impacts of limited social interactions. In a recent survey, 63% of 18- to-24-year-olds reported symptoms of anxiety or depression, with 25% reporting increased substance use to deal with that stress and 25% saying they’d seriously considered suicide (If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health or experiencing suicidal thoughts, please call or text the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 800-273-8255.)
- Maintain a healthy work-life balance: While working from home offers added flexibility and comfort, it can be difficult for employees to maintain healthy boundaries between work and home. Burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress, and it can be detrimental to one’s health and career. Strategies for avoiding burnout include:
- Creating a morning routine to help you mentally prepare for the workday head.
- Setting office hours that require you to officially log off at the end of the day.
- Separating your workstation from the rest of your living space. This can be a designated office or corner.
- Be honest with your manager if you start experiencing burnout symptoms.
- Stay well-connected: For optimal health, it is important to note the distinct difference between social distancing and social isolation. Social isolation and loneliness can wreak havoc on an individual’s physical, mental, and cognitive health. Check in with family and friends often and make a point to schedule virtual coffee or lunch dates with some favorite coworkers.
- Exercise regularly: Exercise is an excellent natural remedy for relieving built-up stress. Regular exercise over time keeps thinking, learning, and judgement sharp while reducing risk of depression and anxiety, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Plus, it can help improve mood, energy, and sleep quality. Here are ideas for maintaining an active lifestyle during the pandemic.
For young professionals, in-person networking was a great way to foster business relationships, develop confidence, and learn more about the industry. In 2020, virtual networking quickly replaced in-person events, and although it doesn’t offer the same experience, it does reduce barriers for participation. Details like travel, transportation, and childcare are no longer limiting business professionals from joining the conversation. Tips for making the most of a virtual networking event:
- Prepare your intro.
- If you can see the attendee list ahead of time, figure out who you want to connect with and be sure to get their contact information.
- Positive attitudes only. It is easy to complain and dwell on the negative given the current state of the world but doing so will not represent you or your organization in the best way.
- Offer to connect others when possible. Fellow business peers will appreciate your help and most likely do the same for you.
- Follow up with your new connections immediately.
Interviewing for a new job
Virtual interviews have sped up the hiring process across industries. While virtual interviews can present new challenges including technology, software, and emoting through a screen, it opens the door to new opportunities. Forbes recommends:
- Finding a professional setting or background.
- Proper lighting and webcam placement will help the interviewer focus on your face during the call. Companies such as Lumecube and Spectrum offer video conferencing kits with small desktop lights to make sure you look great on screen.
- Troubleshoot internet connection, audio, and video settings ahead of time.
- Do a test run with a family member or friend can ensure all settings are working properly.
- Dress like you would for an in-person interview.
- Prepare insightful questions ahead of time. Examples include, “What safety precautions has your business taken to keep employees and customers as safe as possible during COVID-19?” or “How has the onboarding process changed to ensure new hires are successful after joining the team?”
Navigating the new onboarding process
Integrating into a new organizational culture can be a stressful process at any time, but amid COVID-19, it may seem like an impossible task. The next generation of leaders are starting careers at organizations they have never been to and trying to form relationships with coworkers and clients they have never met in person.
- Participate in employee engagement activities organized by HR. Virtual coffee hours, for example, are a great way to introduce yourself to coworkers and get a better sense of the company’s culture.
- Ask questions if you need more clarity or direction. It will be easy to feel alone during the onboarding process if you are working remotely. “Assemble a digital rolodex of important contacts within the organization so you don’t have to rely heavily on your manager for solutions,” says Lisa Jacobson, career consultant. The list can include coworkers throughout the organization such as program directors and those in HR, IT, or administration.
If you recently entered the job market or are starting your career, it is okay to be feeling overwhelmed by virtual networking, interviews, and onboarding – in fact, it’s expected. Navigating career development while maintaining personal health and well-being for the past year has proven to be an enormous challenge, but young professionals are building resilience and coming out stronger than before (which might make a great talking point in your next interview).