The 2021-2022 recruiting season is upon us again. Unfortunately, both the academic world and the workforce are still experiencing turbulence as a result of the ongoing pandemic. The balance between online and in-person models in both academic and professional environments, continues to be fluid, which can be frustrating for those trying to launch their careers.

Whether you’re a recent college graduate, or you’re a college student returning to a COVID-impacted campus, you need to take these practical steps in order to navigate today’s challenging career landscape.

1. Make Your Own Introductions

Meet your Mentors – Creating professional relationships is an invaluable part of launching your career. If you’re unable to attend in-person professional events, or your classes are virtual, you may not have many organic opportunities to make connections.

Reach out to family and friends who work in the industry that interests you – tell them about your goals and ambitions and ask them for suggestions and feedback on things to do and people to know. LinkedIn can be a great way to connect with those who aren’t in your immediate circle, like a supervisor from a previous internship, or a thought leader in an interesting industry – make sure you engage and comment to take a more proactive approach.

If you’re a college student who is navigating a virtual or semi-virtual campus, it’s important to intentionally form personal relationships with your professors. Send an e-mail to introduce yourself to faculty or show up at virtual office hours – you can also try to connect with administrative leaders at school.

Identify Alumni Connections – Recent graduates who have successfully navigated the post-graduation job search will have relevant, tangible experience of what it takes to transition into the workforce. They also may have a sense of talent needs at their companies, or ways to get involved in their communities. Reach out to graduates who you know from campus – learn how they started their career, as well as what they’d wish they’d known as a student. Maybe there is a skill you can start developing now that will prepare you to have an impact in their industry or a job you are seeking.

2. Strive for Self-Improvement

Show Off Your Skills – You need to understand what hard and soft skills are required to land the kinds of jobs you want to obtain. Even if you’re not applying to jobs yet, you can scour listings of those that most interest you to understand what skills commonly appear in the role descriptions. Look for different avenues to develop skills – there may be courses offered near you, books available at the library, or online resources geared towards self-teaching. As your skills develop, look for ways to demonstrate your aptitude – you might be able to volunteer for a local organization, or earn a professional accreditation.

Assess Your Options – If you need help choosing a career path, consider completing a career assessment program to explore your working style, skills, behaviors and interests. These examinations can help you validate options you are already contemplating or may introduce you to careers you were not previously familiar with. Additionally, by narrowing in on career options, you will uncover the skills and experiences needed to achieve your new goals – allowing for strategic career path planning that will lay a foundation for job-seeking success.

3. Think Holistically

Get out of the “Waiting Room” – With in-person opportunities limited, it can be incredibly challenging to join student groups or pursue extracurricular activities. Push to identify and join, or lead, activities that will complement your academic schedule or your job-seeking goals and routine. Strive to meet others and build new relationships. Look for leadership opportunities, and always be a proactive participant who finds new ways to add value and make things happen.

Practice Practical Passion – Think deeply about what interests you, whether this is an academic topic, a social issue, or an unrelated hobby – and methodically consider how you can immerse yourself in these interests. Look for great sources of information – podcasts, documentaries, books, and blogs – and soak up as much as you can. Get involved on social media, and develop a community of likeminded peers. By being engaged and informed, you will begin building expertise and the ability to speak knowledgeably and deeply on a subject that is meaningful to you, which can help create a platform for you to stand out.

Laying a foundation for a career launch today is incredibly challenging due to the impact of the ongoing pandemic, increased job search complexity and competition for entry level jobs. Whether you are a college student or recent graduate, in order to set yourself up for success you need to be proactive and intentional about both making valuable connections, and becoming a hirable candidate. By taking these distinct steps, you can mitigate the obstacles you’re facing and land the job you want.