From little things like setting up a professional LinkedIn profile to more involved activities like practising your interview skills, the extra downtime you have during the coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) is the perfect time to start developing your employability. And the best part is, you don’t even have to leave your house!

While in-person work experience opportunities and part-time jobs may be in shorter supply at the moment, there are still plenty of ways to successfully prepare for your future career. We reached out to Gerard Holland, CEO of Outcome.Life, and Dominic Soh, founder of Industry Bootcamp and Employer Liaison Officer at RMIT University, to get their expert advice on improving your career readiness from home.

Know the skills that employers are really looking for

Both Dominic and Gerard agree that the number-one attribute employers are looking for in future employees are soft, critical and enterprise skills.

“Employers want to know you have a great attitude, you’re enthusiastic, determined, motivated, you can build rapport with their clients, you’re going to be a self-learner, you’re resilient, adaptive, agile, that you can deal with customers,” says Gerard.

In terms of technical skills, Dominic encourages students to get familiar with the software and programs that are most used in their industry. For example, Xero for accountants, AutoCAD for engineers, Tableau for data scientists, Java for software developers and Photoshop for graphic designers. While you will be taught the technical skills necessary for your work on the job, it’s a great idea to get a headstart on understanding the key elements of the industry.

Understand the industry you’re interested in

As a former international student himself, one of the most useful things Dominic found when making himself career-ready was to narrow down which industries and companies he wanted to work for and the work he wanted to do.

“Find out why you want to pursue this line of work – if the passion and the purpose is not there, it’s easy to get discouraged and disappointed along the way,” he says.

Once you’re sure of the direction you want to go in, the next step is to research and ‘reverse engineer’ to find out:

  • What kind of formal work experience you can undertake (internship, part-time work)
  • What kind of other work experience you can generate (side project, working for start-up)
  • Which skills are essential and desirable
  • What really makes you stand out? What’s your superpower?
  • Why do you want to do this?

Start developing your skills independently

While you’re spending a lot more time at home and with limitations on who you can see, there is plenty of time to brush up on the various skills required for career readiness. These skills can include:

Self-learning

“There are now truckloads of webinars, Meetup groups over Zoom [and] self-learning that can be done on Course Hero, YouTube, FutureLearn,” Gerard says. “There is no shortage of self-learning you can be doing … businesses don’t want one-trick ponies, they want to know that you can bring different levels of skill sets to an organisation.”

Dominic offers some industry-specific skills you can start to learn in your own time. For example, students interested in finance should explore stock trading. For accounting, try Excel Commerce. For business, learn communication and negotiation. For marketing, understand SEO. And for engineering, try UI/UX.

Digital confidence

“As we are operating in this whole new world of work where employers are working from home, it’s important for candidates to build up their digital confidence, because employers will be online,” Dominic says.

Digital confidence can be anything from ensuring you have a strong internet connection (“If your WiFi can be a bit jumpy, you need to have a data plan or mobile hotspot as a backup because you don’t want to be dropping out during your video interview,” says Dominic) to practising using a webcam for interviews (“Online communication can feel a bit impersonal and sterile – you're talking to your laptop – so you need to be able to convey your passion, energy and enthusiasm through digital means,” he adds.)

Make your CV and LinkedIn profile stand out

Dominic breaks down what is necessary for a professional CV and LinkedIn profile:

“For your CV and cover letter, make sure you do your homework on the company and tailor your resume and cover letter. Be specific about your work experience and quantify them as much as possible. For example, if you have been working in customer service, mention how many people you serve a day. Once you quantify your experience it makes it more real and credible,” he says.

For your LinkedIn profile, [get] a professional headshot, [create] a well-articulated professional summary, be proactive in engaging with employers (liking, commenting on posts, messaging) and networking with professionals in your field. Your online profile is pretty much the only face to your name – if you don’t have a LinkedIn profile, you’re invisible to employers and it doesn’t work in your favour.”

However, it’s important to keep in mind that your goal is to set yourself apart.

“The way to make your CV and LinkedIn profile stand out is by doing different stuff,” says Gerard. “The length of time someone will look at your CV is 10 seconds. Spend your time adding to your personal profile and brand through learning different skill sets, doing self-learning or online courses.”

Use your housemates for help

One of the best skills you can practise with your housemates during this time is interviewing. You’ll find set questions readily available online that you can test each other with, but you can also practise ‘storytelling’.

“People hire humans, they don’t hire robots,” Gerard says. “Everytime someone makes a hiring decision, they’re making a decision on that person and the value and skills that they bring. If you don’t have a lot of experience yet, the only thing you have up your sleeve is telling a story about yourself, so practise storytelling about who you are, what you do, what’s interesting about you, what interests you, what your passions are, what values you can bring.”

Utilise online services and apps

There’s a huge range of online services available that you can use to develop your career readiness from home. Dominic lists some of his recommendations:

For student support:

Online job boards:

Online learning platforms:

Gerard’s suggestion is free and extremely accessible: YouTube. “There’s nothing you can’t learn on YouTube,” he says.

Network and start remote internships

Remote internships are a unique way of gaining work experience during this time, while also practising soft skills such as adaptability and resilience as you adapt to a new online environment. Outcome.Life offers a Remote Internship program, perfect for anyone studying from home.

For international students looking to network in Melbourne, both Gerard and Dominic recommend Meetup and Eventbrite, or even a specific company’s social media profile, to find relevant webinars and online events you can attend.

Stay motivated

Both Gerard and Dominic agree that the most important thing for international students to do during this time to make themselves more career-ready is stay motivated and proactive.

“9am to 5pm is your self-development time,” says Gerard. “You should spend eight hours a day investing in yourself.”

“You are your greatest asset. If you don’t invest in yourself, who will?” Dominic says. “Remind yourself that this is not the end of the story. Even though we’re going through a pandemic, it will pass – it’s what you do during this turbulent time that will determine how well you emerge on the other side.”