Our professional lives look a lot different than they did 6 months ago. Mid-career disruption is certainly challenging, but imagine global pandemic disrupting your career before it even gets off the ground. College students and recent graduates all across the country are grappling with exactly that reality. No more job fairs. Summer internships either canceled or moved online. It’s hard enough to compete in a contracting job market, and now young professionals must sell themselves via Zoom interviews.
Loyola University Maryland’s Information Systems, Law and Operations fields a long-standing Information Systems (IS) Advisory Board comprised of local tech leaders from many different industries. In more typical times, these board members offer guidance on how the department can better prepare students for today’s IS careers, even recommending curriculum changes and updates. But given the unprecedented upheaval students are dealing with, Loyola faculty hosted a virtual forum to directly connect young professionals with these industry leaders. Advisory board members were asked to share how COVID-19 has forced their companies to pivot, how it is impacting hiring practices, and which skill sets they deem most critical for new hires.
Our VP of Innovation & Strategy Tim Kulp loves helping professionals of all ages figure out their next move; he has a passion for career mentoring. So Tim was a natural choice for last week’s panel discussion. He was joined by representatives from AT&T, b.well Connected Health, FEI Systems, LifeBridge Health and Mindgrub.
The group shared stories of trading in swanky office spaces with climbing walls and pingpong for 100% remote operations with online beer clubs and virtual mindfulness retreats to keep their employees connected. Some found it easier to hire with the traditional geographic constraints lifted, though that means grads are competing with a wider applicant pool. Others are still struggling to find specific expertises. (Python is hot, people!) But everyone agreed that critical thinking and soft skills never go out of style.
During the Q&A portion of the discussion, one student asked an all-too-familiar question for people just starting their careers: How do I prove I have what it takes to be successful in this position, even if I don’t have all the requirements listed in the job posting, particularly that ‘3-5 years of experience’ thing?
Our non-traditional-path tech executive jumped to answer that one. Tim explained that when he started applying for programming jobs, the hiring managers saw his undergrad degree in religious studies and art and said, “What? Why are you here? This makes no sense.” But the key is to differentiate yourself from the tons of phenomenal programmers out there.
“Create your story. Tell your story. Tell everybody where you’re going, career-wise. And promote yourself as more than just somebody who can code and check the boxes on a job application,” Tim advised.
LifeBridge Health CTO Chris Panagiotopoulos helped the student flesh out his story as an agile, lifelong learner, which is exactly what the remote-work economy is looking for. Chris explained that, when looking for qualified candidates, he’s not a stickler for the job description. “I look to hear the applicant’s story and experiences and if they demonstrate that they’re able to learn on their own, adapt quickly and are self-motivated. I don’t have to push them to learn; they’re pushing themselves. And, in fact, what I’m looking for is somebody who’s going to push me.”
The economy may be changing in fundamental ways, but telling our stories is still how we connect with people and work together to effect positive change. Storytelling and networking continue to be vital to landing that dream job; they’ve just gone virtual. As young professionals get more comfortable with virtual networking, they find it mitigates traditional limitations (e.g., geography, time, money) to increase access and equity. Loyola’s Information Systems Advisory Board approves unanimously!