Entrepreneur and COO at AlphaSwap, a platform that enables stock pickers worldwide to put their best ideas in front of top hedge funds.
If you’re a university student, consider yourself special. You’re due to graduate in a world so different from the one you were in when you mailed in your application.
You’ve probably seen the signs. Most of your classes are online — even your internship. Everyone around you seems to be a member of a double-digit number of student clubs. Some of your friends who already graduated “moonlight” through websites like Upwork while still searching for a full-time job.
When you graduate matters. One tweet from recent graduate Dennis Chan said that the minute number of investment firms with entry-level roles has taught him that “the trajectory of one’s career is likely more of a function of timing rather than accomplishments or even GPA.”
What does this mean for you?
Getting an entry-level job will only get more competitive.
First of all, even before this crisis, companies were looking to cut headcount in an effort to further improve profitability. This was partially due to the opportunity that automation brings and partially by the fact that most CEO pay schemes are tied to short-term stock price increases. A simple formula to get paid more as a CEO is to increase profitability, drive stock prices up and get paid.
Secondly, because automation will commoditize the backend work (registration required), the roles that can’t be easily automated, like the front office in investment banking, will be decided upon with even more caution. Many companies will wait to hire the “exact, right person” (aka a “purple squirrel”). You’ll have to sell yourself much more. Just having the right degree or internship will not be enough anymore.
Covid-19 has accelerated both of these trends. This sudden shift to working remotely and this current crash course in running distributed teams means that it’s only a matter of time until management starts considering hiring for full-time remote roles or directly outsourcing different workstreams to remote freelancers. You’ll soon have to compete with everyone in the world, not just people in your school or city. And some places have both unbelievably low living costs and highly regarded universities.
Here’s what you are probably tempted to do but shouldn’t.
You might be tempted to change careers: Research shows that more than one in three professionals consider a career change during a recession. For students and recent graduates, that’s probably close to three out of three. Some of my friends who graduated in 2008 did indeed change careers, especially if they studied banking (the industry with a lot of layoffs back then).
If you change careers, future employers can read a strong signal that you’re not committed to a career and that you don’t have a vision for yourself — a “why.” Some of those same friends who changed careers in 2008 have spent much of their time since trying to get back into finance.
You might be tempted to go back to school and get another degree, especially if you’re part of the 2020 class. I get it: Postponing your career start is a tempting thing to do in a recession. Again, when you start, your career has impact and is one of the most important factors in your success.
My advice: Again, don’t. You have no idea how long the crisis will last. The 2008 crisis lasted two years in the U.S. but four in Europe. The 1929 Depression, on the other hand, scarred the economy for more than a decade. You don’t know how the current crisis will shape the job market when you graduate for the second time.
You should also keep in mind that a crisis is, at its core, an event that confuses everyone at the same time, leaving many opportunities to be found. Some companies will over-fire, while others will find their services or products in even more demand. Going to school will just add another distraction and can disconnect you from the economy — plus, leave you with a crazy amount of debt.
Lastly, you might be tempted to launch a startup. Of all these three options, this one is probably best, especially if done right and with a great team. These are big ifs: having the right connections, skills and team makes all the difference. I had looked at multiple startups before I found the right cofounders with the right experience.
Here’s what you should do now to position yourself for the future.
Network online, offline or wherever you can. And don’t only network with people senior to you but especially your peers. For example, if you’re interested in finance, join communities of investors (many fintech startups have one), LinkedIn groups and so on.
Build a portfolio. Employers always prefer a “show don’t tell” resume. Show that you’re not just interested but passionate and professional about your choice. You can blog, write, design or even publish investment ideas (if you’re in finance). Also for finance students, consider joining an alpha capture platform or another place where you can show off your skills in a competitive environment. At the very least, join or start a student club focused on your target career.
Lastly, keep all your success documents up to date. This is related to the point I was making above, but it’s a bit different. Showing that you’re passionate about something is easy enough. Any finance student can write a blog post about a hot stock. Although, even so, most students won’t. However, showing a track record of performance (virtual is fine) can seal the deal. Think about keeping track of your virtual investments or investment ideas or trade through a virtual portfolio on a trading platform, even a simple spreadsheet will work.
Whatever you choose to do, though, don’t give up. Many successful careers and companies have been built in times of crisis. Find opportunity.