Amidst the COVID-19 outbreak and lockdown, students and faculty alike have wondered what the prospects look like for job seekers, how to best advise students amidst national crises, and what connections and opportunities students can build upon now in a rapidly changing world.
To address these questions, the Professional Writing and Rhetoric (PWR) program, in coordination with the GMU Society for Technical Communication (STC) chapter, convened a free virtual professional development seminar on Tuesday, May 12. Open to all students and faculty, the session was designed to give participants a chance to hear professionals’ perspectives on how the pandemic might affect job hunting and how to adapt accordingly. The session lasted for 1 hour and drew over 30 participants via WebEx.
About the event
Guest speakers included PWR Executive Advisory Board members Omar Silver, Partner Manager at Tyler Technologies; Ashley Clanton, Senior Technical Writer at Booz Allen; Sarah Kassell, Global Public Sector Proposal Manager at Google; Kelly Demaitre, Chief Human Resources Officer at Dovel Technologies; and Dan Kolva, Lead Intelligence Analyst at MITRE. The session was hosted by PWR Program Director Dr. Heidi Lawrence and moderated by Matt Linville, PWR student and recipient of the 2020 PWR Student Leadership Fellowship. The event was supported by Holly Mason and Kate Bryan from the English department.
Questions for the panel solicited advice on job hunting, networking, skill-building, and telecommuting in a professional landscape rattled by the pandemic. After forty-five minutes of moderated questions, the floor opened for attendees to ask questions through the chat function.
“Many companies are still hiring”
Through varied perspectives and pieces of advice, the guest speakers ultimately built common themes. Despite rising unemployment numbers, the speakers assured worried jobseekers that jobs opportunities do still exist and stated that networking, diligence, and patience are all key in carving out career paths for themselves. Moreover, they encouraged students to accept that rejection is a part of the process and to not be dissuaded by stumbles and setbacks. After all, it took months for some of the speakers to get their first job out of school.
A lot of the advice on job hunting translated to networking as well. First and foremost, the speakers advised students to build a thorough and focused online presence, especially on LinkedIn. Next, students should put themselves out there and reach out to people they don’t know within their field. When doing so, students should also make their introductions direct and show their faces as much as possible, be it through online video chat or a simple profile picture.
The speakers also agreed that problem-solving is an important skill that will remain useful well beyond the world’s current hurdles. When making connections or interviewing, jobseekers should demonstrate their adaptability and openness to change. Moreover, guest speakers encouraged students to take available online courses, such as those found on LinkedIn Learning, to improve on their professional weaknesses and expand their overall education. For added measure, students should even try to learn courses specific to position they’re after. All of this will demonstrate to employers a sense both of initiative and resourcefulness.
Finally, guest speakers urged students to sharpen their online communications skills. The panel encouraged students to learn to be accessible and responsive to remote requests from other people, and as stated before, show your face whenever possible. Other recommendations included to pay attention to social cues as well in virtual environments, as some may translate through video and some may not. Panelists also contended that students should find a silver lining to communicating mostly through video chat. When interviewing or networking over video, embrace the interaction as a human connection that breaks up your time spent at home. Make sure to keep your in-person communication skills handy though, as a combination of in-person and remote work is likely in our futures.
Overall, it was a productive and enjoyable seminar and an hour of human interaction perhaps needed by everyone involved. All in all, it was a collective message to students, professors, and panelists to stay resilient, focused, and hopeful.
About professional development at Mason
This seminar was coordinated as a part of the ongoing support for professional development in professional and technical writing programs at Mason. Professional development includes completing tasks that allow students to grow as professionals while engaging in rigorous academic work in our programs. For more on our programs and what they are doing to connect students to opportunities to grow professionally, check out our recent News items and program information.
May 27, 2020