What You Can Do in Fall 2020: Assess, Explore, Connect, Build and Search

This moment of global pandemic is a tricky time to explore career options and apply for opportunities. But you can do it, and we are here to help.

If you’re feeling uncertain, worried or disappointed about a change in your circumstances, you’re not alone. It’s critical to distinguish between what you can and cannot control.

Click on the headings below to see action steps you can take from home. These are phases that all professionals cycle through (often multiple times) during their careers.

Don’t pressure yourself to do it all at once. Determine where you are in your growth and readiness and start there. Schedule  advising appointments to brainstorm ideas, request feedback, debrief what you are learning and determine next steps.

Assess and Express Your Personal Skills, Interests and Values

In order to truly connect with a profession, it’s essential to understand your motivators, style, preferences and talents.

Consider the Following Prompts
You may want to journal or process your answers with a partner. Remember, there are no right answers, only your answers.

  • What have you enjoyed learning most? Least?
  • What does success mean to you?
  • How do you define work? What examples of work have you had in your life?
  • What motivates you to action?
  • Who are your key advisors? Why? Are they able to be objective?
  • When are you proactive? Reactive?
  • What’s one thing you’re good at that you enjoy doing? What’s one that you’re good at but don’t enjoy?
  • Think of a time when you were on your game. What were you doing, who were you surrounded by, and what were the conditions that led to that success?
  • What transferable skills have you honed already? Which do you want to build?

What themes do you notice? What questions do you want to explore further? Career advising can help you consider next steps and find resources to move forward. We also offer self-assessment tools, such as the Strong Interest Inventory, MBTI and CliftonStrengths for Students, to help you understand your values, interests, skills and personality.

Create your Narrative

As noted in this well-researched piece for The New York Times, Frank Bruni highlights the two skills all students should master:

“Regardless of major, there are skills to insist on acquiring because they transcend any particular career. Communication — clear writing, cogent speaking — is one of them, and many different courses can hone it. Another of those skills, frequently overlooked, is storytelling. It’s different from communication: a next step. Every successful pitch for a new policy, new product or new company is essentially a story, with a shape and logic intended to stir its audience. So is every successful job interview. The best moment in a workplace meeting belongs to the colleague who tells the best story.”

So spend some time thinking about your “portfolio” of experiences, skills, interests, accomplishments — think about your “unique selling proposition” and then start to leverage that narrative in your communications with prospective employers, contextualizing your story with the work that they do in a compelling, expressive way.

Hone your Portfolio Pieces

Drafting your materials, or updating them, can help you clarify your goals and your message to potential employers.

  • Resumes & Cover Letters Handout
  • LinkedIn Resources for Students
  • LinkedIn Rookie Mistakes to Avoid
  • Review your social media presence: Now’s the time to look carefully at the content across all of your active social media platforms, particularly those noted in your suite of professional materials (resume, web site, email signature). Jump into the shoes of a hiring manager or a networking prospect: what do these images and posts say about you? Earnestly curating your social media posts can provide a fuller picture of who you are, beyond what’s touted in your resumes and cover letters. A well curated feed can reflect your level of interest and involvement in your desired field and serve as a huge boost for how others see you.

Explore, Research and Follow Possible Careers

Employers value candidates who are well versed in their organization’s culture, industry and current events. Work to gain insight, identify key organizations and discover industry-specific practices and vocabulary.

Create a Target List

A target list is a document where you list employers that most interest you, whether or not you see positions currently posted for them. You can add and subtract employers as you learn about them through research and conversations. You can divide it between interest areas, share it with others (friends, family, professors, mentors), and carry it with you from year to year. Most target lists start small at around 6-8 and grow to 20-25 in consultation with career advisors and professionals in the field.

Become a Student of the Field

You’ll be a much more impressive candidate if you can demonstrate that you are an engaged participant in the “industry conversation.” What are professionals in the field talking about? What do they read to stay current? Which industry influencers do they follow? Do you have a sense of how your education and experience will transfer and apply to practical work?

Here are some resources to identify and engage with practitioners and organizations in your desired field, affording you opportunities to learn the lingo, understand current trends and practices, and identify people to contact at some point. Deploying this knowledge in networking situations will impress, and including it in cover letters and during interviews gives you a competitive edge.

  • WashU LinkedIn Networks: WashU Alumni Relations organizes several industry-based networks and communities centered on industry sectors and geographic locations. Students are invited to join. Check out the threads to read trade publication highlights, information about industry events, and job openings. Even if the job openings aren’t for internships or entry-level positions, reviewing required skill sets and desired experience provides you a glimpse of what makes a competitive candidate. As you browse the career trajectories of a group’s members, take note of organizations where these alum have worked that seem interesting to you, even if there don’t appear to be current openings.
  • Industry Associations: For just about every field, there exists an industry association, and nearly all of them are referred to by their acronyms (e.g. PRSA is Public Relations Society of America). They serve as a repository for the industry, and in addition, mount large trade events and conferences, host job banks on their web sites, and offer opportunities for ongoing professional development like workshops, networking events, and resource databases. It is often inexpensive to become a student member.
  • Vault Guides: Find out what it’s really like to work within an industry, company, or profession, and how to position yourself to start your career. Vault Industry and Career Guides provide essential information about key careers and industries, with an emphasis on preparing for a career and getting your foot in the door. Each volume is loaded with up-to-date information on industry trends, employment and earnings statistics, and what employers look for in candidates. WashU Career Center provides you with free access to Vault. Create a profile using your wustl email address; you can make up your own password. Vault also publishes excellent articles, rankings to help you build your target list, and company research.
  • Social Media: Following industry organizations, companies, institutions, and individuals on all active social media feeds provides you with an easy way to keep current (and potentially learn about opportunities, as many are announced on social media before job boards or even on their own web sites).
  • Podcasts: There are tons of podcasts related to professional work, including marketing, design, government, arts/culture, entrepreneurism, earth and life sciences, finance… the list goes on. Stay informed, eavesdrop on chitchat among industry influencers, and get entertained. The insight you’ll gain will make for impressive conversation when you do an informational chat or interview for a position. Search for shows and subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher or wherever you listen to podcasts.
  • Virtual Conferences or Webinars: Many large-scale industry events like conferences and conventions develop a comprehensive web presence and maintain an archive. Check out past speakers/influencers, white papers and presentations, and the titles of panels and workshops.
  • Skill Development: As you learn more about valued skill sets, endeavor to learn them. You have free access to LinkedIn Learning through WashU. Take a tutorial to master Adobe’s After Effects, train in conflict analysis and peacebuilding through the US Institute for Peace, or learn how to code. You can now add these to the “Skills” section of your resume.
  • Literature Reviews: If you aspire to work in research or academia, review surveys, books, scholarly articles, and other sources relevant to your area of interest. A critical evaluation of existing research on a topic will give you a theoretical base for your own work and help you to identify authors and investigators to follow. This may inform where you try to work or study in the future. Google “literature review” for examples and tips.

Additional Resources:

Connect with Professionals

Talking with people to learn about their challenges, rewards, ideas and advice is one of the most valuable ways to understand organizations and industries. This helps you evaluate your interest and become more knowledgeable.

Network and Reach Out for Informational Chats

An informational interview is simply an exploratory conversation with someone who has worked or is working in a field or organization that interests you.

  • Keep in mind that people’s work and home lives may be in flux at the moment. Many professionals are working remotely and may also have children who are doing virtual school from home. Be sure to demonstrate flexibility, sensitivity and appreciation.
  • Evaluate the intimacy of your connection. Have you met this person in real life? Are you connected on social media? Do you have a shared experience — interned for the same employer, alum of your program, have a close friend in common? The closer of a connection, the more likely your outreach will be well-received and the more likely you’ll receive a response. Look for advice about what to say in our Informational Interviewing handout and in our tips for effective emails.
  • Be specific about your familiarity with their work or workplace, versus saying you generally want to talk. People like to help those who are already working hard themselves, so refer to something they’ve posted on LinkedIn, or a project they’ve worked on and say how it relates to your interests, experience, or research. Your primary approach should be to ask about their career path and request their insights and advice, as opposed to a “what can you do for me” mentality. However, if you ask thoughtful, informed questions, it’s likely that people will want to do what they can to help you.
  • Here are some questions to consider asking:
    • What do you know now that you wish you’d known when you were my age?
    • What are the challenges/rewards of your daily work?
    • What do you read daily to keep updated on industry news?
    • What professional groups are you a part of?
    • Tell me more about how you ended up in your role (or transitions you’ve made).
    • What would you be doing now, if you were me?
    • Are there organizations that I should put on my list to look into?
    • Can you recommend someone who does x that you think I should reach out to?
    • What skills should I try to gain now to make me a good candidate for x?
  • Thank your contact sincerely and personally with a hand-written note or email referencing specifics from your conversation. Add contact information to your spreadsheet or record-keeping system and reconnect periodically as your career unfolds.


Resources for Using Zoom:

Reflect on What You Learn

As you collect new insight, consider:

  • What new information did you discover about the field?
  • What information do you still need to know or better understand?
  • What obstacles, if any, are there to pursuing this field?
  • What classes, specialized training, resources or advice was suggested to you about preparing for and/or pursuing a career in this field?
  • What are your next steps?

Build Skills Through Projects, Self-Directed Learning & Volunteerism

Grow your personal and professional skill sets to enhance your candidacy, help you thrive and/or bring you joy. It is possible to earn academic credit for short-term projects; the College of Arts & Sciences calls these Practical Applications.

Consider Virtual Freelance or Project Work

In many industries, projects and work can be done remotely. Here are some ideas for networks you can tap.

  • Past Employers: Reach out to past employers, if you have them, who have seen you “on the job” and trust your contributions and reliability, to see if there are ways you can contribute.
  • Scholarship & Research: Reach out to faculty with whom you’ve had a strong working relationship to inquire about research support. The Office of Undergraduate Research is an excellent resource.
  • Industry Organizations/Job Boards/Social Media: Opportunities for freelance/project work will appear in job banks, on social media, and on industry association websites. For example, AIGA, the professional association of design, launched a resource guide when the pandemic began. To find similar resources for your interests, identify industry influencers, professional associations and key companies and follow them via social media to find opportunities and ways to connect with professionals.
  • Content Contributor: Develop original content and post on outlets like Medium or start a blog and promote on your social media platforms. News outlets and online publications — including those you may have been involved with pre-pandemic — always need content. These longer-form posts can be compiled into a digital portfolio that can accompany application materials.
  • Project Work a.k.a. Side Hustles:  Self-led gigs are increasingly interesting to hiring managers. These “passion projects” often come up during the interview process and can give dimension to who you are and the skills you have to offer. Simply google “side hustles” for lists, like this one (some not viable now, but might be, post-pandemic). Also check sites like Parker Dewey, Upwork, GigNow and Intern From Home.


While social distancing might limit many traditional volunteer opportunities, there are ways you can help without sacrificing your safety.

  • Volunteer Research: Some libraries and archives need diligent workers to transcribe letters or other documents for digitization.
  • Volunteer & Community Service:  The Gephardt Institute recently launched a virtual platform for engagement; you can add yourself to their volunteer list to meet the needs of St. Louis nonprofit partners. The United Way of Greater St. Louis lists an array of Volunteer From Home opportunities. The United Way operates branches in every major U.S. city and they support the health and human service network across our country, so you can also check the website for your local branch. VolunteerMatch also posts opportunities that you can do from anywhere.
  • COVID-19 Response Efforts: Civic organizations across the country have mobilized to help provide support to industries and citizens in need, like the St. Louis Community Foundation. Research opportunities in your community where you can contribute.
  • Pro Bono Work: Many industry organizations have rallied together to form coalitions for relief during the pandemic, but you also might want to contact nonprofits or community organizations about ways in which you might virtually contribute technical skills, content, advocacy outreach, etc.

Pursue Self-Directed Learning

Take advantage of the plethora of incredible digital resources you can use to master new skills and build expertise.

  • Resources through companies and professional associations: Recently, many companies have offered professional development chats and trainings from their leadership, free to whomever signs up. Similarly, professional organizations, at both the national level and in local chapters, offer webinars and professional development. For example, We Are Next, a resource for students starting their careers in advertising and marketing, offers networking databases, recruiter roundtables, podcasts and more. IBM’s new platform, Open P-TECH, allows students to can take free online classes in things like block chain, design thinking, and AI amongst others. Follow professional associations and companies on social media and LinkedIn to learn about opportunities in areas that interest you.
  • Online trainings through government agencies: For example, the Federal Emergency Management Agency offers online trainings for free. This is great if you’re interested in disaster relief or international development, for instance.
  • Language Courses: There are excellent options to learn a new language. Some are free, some are free through your local public library, and others are for pay.
  • Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs): These free online courses are available for anyone to enroll. MOOCs, like those through EdX and Coursera, provide an affordable and flexible way to learn new skills, advance your career and get quality educational experiences at scale.
  • Podcasts: There are tons of podcasts related to professional work, with deep dives from influencers and practitioners in every industry you can imagine. Listening is almost like an informational interview without any work on your end, and the insight and advice you’ll gain will make for impressive conversation when you do an informational chat or interview for a position. Search for shows and subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher or wherever you listen to podcasts.
  • WashU Career Center YouTube channel: Find curated playlists on skill building and career exploration.
  • Video tutorials: Watch thousands of how-to videos on Skillshare (requires subscription) or LinkedIn Learning (free to current WashU students; see more below).

Sharpen Skills with LinkedIn Learning

Strive to acquire the valued professional skills you are learning about through industry research and conversations with professionals. Current WashU students have free unlimited access to LinkedIn Learning through WashU. You can learn from more than 7,500 video tutorials covering business, creative and technology topics. Learn in multiple languages from expert industry instructors. For example, you might want to teach yourself Google Analytics, learn to code, or increase your Excel mastery. These are skills that can be added to your resume.

Prepare for Future Research

It is possible that some bench and clinical research may not continue as planned this semester. The Office of Undergraduate Research and the BioSURF are good resources to check. Regardless, now is a good time to identify your interests, look at existing work, reach out to mentors and prepare yourself to be a good candidate for future opportunities.

  • Identify your research interests
  • Review existing literature: Review surveys, books, scholarly articles, and other sources relevant to your area of interest. A critical evaluation of existing research on a topic will give you a theoretical base for your own work and help you to identify authors and investigators to follow. This may inform where you try to work or study in the future. Google “literature review” for examples and tips.
  • Look for research mentors: Reach out for informational interviews or to inquire about how you may be able to participate in their work remotely or in the future.
  • Take courses: Talk to your major advisor, faculty mentors or a PreHealth Advisor for advice about courses that will help you cultivate relevant or necessary skills or background for future research interests.

Prepare for Independence

For undergraduate students, living independently is coming sooner than you think. Now’s a great time to learn some of those life skills that you haven’t had time for in the past. Plus, they’ll get you away from the computer screen when you’re tired of Zoom.

  • Take on a home repair project for your family: learn to paint a room, tile a bathroom, refinish a table
  • Start cooking meals or baking bread
  • Learn to budget or expand your personal finance skills
  • Plant a garden

Search for Opportunities

Our employer and alumni communities remain highly engaged and eager to connect with students. While we have seen major shifts and impact in some industries, many organizations are adapting and innovating, creating opportunities for interns and recent graduates.


  • Search Strategies Handout
  • CAREERlink: Look for positions and for virtual information sessions and events
  • Company websites and industry job boards: While you might be tempted to spend time on sites like Indeed or LinkedIn Jobs, make sure you also work from your target list to visit websites of specific organizations you find interesting. Visit websites for professional associations and publications related to your industry interests. Consult with a career advisor and always ask anyone you informational interview with if they have tips about where to find internship and job listings in their field.
  • Career advice/posting websites: Idealist.org is an excellent source for internships, jobs and volunteer positions for all kinds of functional roles in the non-profit sector. Intern From Home also posts opportunities. The Muse is maintaining a list of companies that are hiring during COVID-19 and a list of flexible/remote work. Handshake is also updating a list of 500 companies hiring students now.
  • Short-term contract assignment sites: Parker Dewey, Upwork or GigNow may be a good place to launch your career. Companies who are less able to hire may begin to push more freelance projects to sites like these. Project work will allow you to show future employers your ingenuity to stay productive while searching for a full-time position.
  • Job Search Tips for International Students in the Age of Coronavirus: To access Vault for these tips and more, set up a free account using your wustl email address and make up a password.
  • Projects and career-related learning and growth: Check out the section above: Build Skills Through Projects, Self-Directed Learning & Volunteerism. It is possible to earn academic credit for short-term projects; the College of Arts & Sciences calls these Practical Applications.

Prepare for Virtual Interviewing

Even before Coronavirus hit, employers were trending towards video interviews. Practice telling your stories and rehearse with technology to ensure you’ll make a great impression.