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Employment Experts Offer Their Advice on Looking for Work During COVID-19

lost job coronavirus

This article is sponsored by Medibank

Finding a job is no easy feat and this is made all the more challenging in the face of a global pandemic like COVID-19. The virus’ effects on the Australian workforce are undeniable; to date, roughly 1.6 million people have lost their incomes and young people are being disproportionately impacted, with workers in their 20s seeing an 8.8 per cent decrease in employment. 

With that in mind, there has never been a better time to make yourself as employable as possible. We spoke with two employability experts who shared their top tips on how you can use your time in social isolation to do exactly that. 

Gerard Holland is co-founder and CEO of Outcome.Life, an international student community that offers internships, seminars, and networking events to broaden students’ employment prospects. With prior experience as a chartered accountant and a business advisor, Gerard shares his knowledge with international students and helps them improve their skill sets across various sectors, including business, IT, and engineering. 

A former international student himself, Dominic Soh now works in the Careers Department at RMIT University where he liaises with organisations to connect their career opportunities to students. He is also a TEDx and international speaker who has worked with the likes of Tesla, National Australia Bank, and Australia Post to help their staff develop resilience in times of change. 

Improve your digital confidence and visibility

COVID-19 has forced us to shift many of our usual in-person practices to online alternatives. As a result, it’s more important than ever that you increase your confidence and visibility in the online space. 

Dominic highlights the importance of actively engaging with employers online to make yourself stand out: “When you attend an online event, make sure you’re visible on your webcam. Because if employers can’t see you, you’re just another name. You can also increase your online engagement with them. Whenever employers post on LinkedIn, make sure you like, share, comment, and interact with them.” 

Adding to this, Gerard advises students to “be conscious that, at the minute, all interviews are happening virtually. So, be comfortable doing an interview over Zoom.” He recommends students do mock interviews with their friends as a form of practice. In doing so, you’ll improve your online interviewing skills and your confidence in navigating video conferencing platforms. 

Focus on transferability of skills

If you’ve only ever worked in casual hospitality or retail roles, you may be wondering how to take that experience and apply it to another type of job. According to the experts, you can do so quite easily.

“Identify and highlight transferable skills,” says Dominic. “For someone who’s been working in [food and beverage services], they can go into banking because instead of serving [clients] food, you’re serving them investment options – but you’re still working with people and serving the public.” 

Gerard shares this sentiment, highlighting that casual roles allow students to hone the skills that are in high demand in the workforce: “Students often think that working at a café isn’t helping them; it is. They’re improving their English if they’re not from an English-speaking background and they’re learning how to deal with customers, conflict management, building relationships, customer service, all [these areas] that are actually really important.”

Learn the software of your industry

“Knowing the software of the industry you’re going into gives you a competitive advantage,” says Gerard. “If you’re in accounting, brush up on xero and MYOB. If you’re in engineering, brush up on AutoCAD. If you’re in marketing and automation, brush up on Salesforce and Hubspot.”

Echoing this advice, Dominic offers additional software programs that students in various sectors should explore: “Data scientists should learn Tableau, software engineers should learn Java, and graphic designers should learn Photoshop.” 

Tailor your applications

Both experts adamantly advise students to avoid what is known as the “scattershot approach,” which refers to sending a generic cover letter and CV to every job posting you’re applying to. Instead, tailor each individual application to the unique role and organisation. The most essential step in doing so? Research. 

“Research 10 [small and medium enterprises] you’d really love to work for and do some really deep research into what they do, who works there, what software they use, and then reach out to them [offering to assist with any COVID-related hurdles they may be experiencing],” says Gerard. “Do you know how liberating that is for a business to have [a candidate] that’s actually bothered to do research on their business, knows the struggle points they’ll be having due to the pandemic, and then actually offering a solution?” 

Similarly, Dominic mentions that, in outlining your research in your cover letter, you’ll effectively communicate not only your preparedness but your passion for that specific organisation: “Mention the company in your cover letter. It shows that you’ve done your homework, as well as why the company is attractive to you and why you’re going after it.”

Where can I look for work? 

Although you now know how to make yourself the most desirable candidate to employers, you may still be wondering: where can I look for work right now? 

In early April, the federal government launched a Jobs Hub website where job seekers can search for available positions in this rapidly changing market. Job seekers can search for employers offering multiple positions, by location, or for government postings across sectors such as healthcare, transport and logistics, and retail.

Given the increased need for social distancing, many companies have moved the bulk of their operations online and opened remote positions. For instance, Medibank has mobilised approximately 4,000 employees to work from home and they have also increased their online customer support resources. Other industries and jobs responding well to this shift include IT and tech support, financial services, and call centres. Telstra, for example, announced in early April that they would be adding 2,500 new positions, some in call centres and others in back-of-house specialties. Look for similar job postings in these sectors on your university’s job board and on sites like StillHiring, LinkedIn, and SEEK. On the latter two sites, you can even tailor the location of your job search to ‘Remote’ or ‘Work from home’ to further refine your results. 

If you have a specific skill or specialisation, look into offering your services on online tutoring platforms, like Cluey Learning or Udemy. Even during COVID-19, many online tutoring platforms are continuing to thrive since their services have always been offered remotely. 

Important things you should know

How many hours you can work

On a Student visa (subclass 500) you can work for up to 40 hours per fortnight while classes are in session and unlimited hours when class is not in session. Hours of work that are required as part of your studies will not count towards your 40 hours, and most volunteer and unpaid work is also OK (you can check the conditions of your visa here).

While international students working at supermarkets could previously extend their hours to keep up with demand, as of 1 May 2020 this has reverted back to the standard maximum of 40 hours per fortnight. International students working as nurses or in aged care are still able to work more hours.

Your rights as an employee

Despite the impact of COVID-19, you still have rights around being an employee and your pay. For more information on understanding your work rights during the coronavirus pandemic, visit the Fair Work Ombudsman’s dedicated portal.

Where to find support

If you need extra support, you can reach out to your education provider. Many providers offer careers and employment support to help you find work. 

If you’re finding that the job hunt is affecting your mental health, there are plenty of organisations around Australia that can provide you with information and support. Beyond Blue, for example, has a hotline, online chat and plenty of virtual forums where you can seek mental health advice.

If you’re a student with Medibank OSHC, you can also call the 24/7 Student Health and Support Line on 1800 887 283 at any time, day or night. Through the support line, you can access advice and over the phone counselling as part of your cover. An interpreter service is also available, so you can speak to someone in your own language.