How to Enhance Your Career During a COVID-19 Lockdown

Social distancing–and even a lockdown–doesn’t have to set back your career networking or job search. As the Founder and Head Career Coach of NextStep Careers, I work with clients all over the globe who are using this unexpected time to connect and develop internal contacts as well as brush up their resumes, LinkedIn profiles, and interview skills. Both career switchers and career enhancers are leaning in virtually, and you can too.

Set up at least one informational a week

Don’t let the cancelled conferences and meetups derail your networking. With so many people working from home, this is a great time to reach out for a quick 15-minute phone or virtual call, also known as an informational interview. These conversations will help you gain insight into the organization, gain internal advocates, and customize cover letters or business proposals.

First, build out your network tracking sheet and prioritize the companies by your level of interest. Next, reach out to the warm leads, particularly those who are alums of your college or grad school, or who previously worked at the same company as you. You don’t need to have overlapped, been in the same graduating class or even worked at the same office location. You are just looking for commonality and you can find these individuals using LinkedIn or your school’s alumni database. In addition, NextStep career coaches can help you grow your network further and help with introductions.

Typically, you will get a response from about a third to a half of the warm leads, so send targeted outreach to at least double the number of contacts you want to speak with in a given week. This will secure a strong pipeline.

Brush up your resume

The best practice is to add your recent accomplishments on your resume at the end of every month, but most busy professionals rarely take the time and are left scrambling to prep for a performance review or when the perfect new job (internally or externally) gets posted. Take this time to list out your big wins and quantify the impact of each project. Recruiters and hiring managers love to see that you can drive change and have quantitative proficiency.

Can’t share the numbers? Then I like to use percentage change in resume bullets, such as:

  • …increasing revenue YOY by x% 
  • …improving efficiency by x%
  • …enhancing client retention by x%

Still having writer’s block when it comes to your resume? You can set up a session and we will work real-time via GoogleDocs. By asking the right questions, your career coach will draw out your best accomplishments, match the qualifications to a job description, and help you pass a company’s applicant tracking system.

Optimize your LinkedIn

This is a perfect time to for a LinkedIn refresh, and not just for the job seekers looking to attract attention from recruiters and executive search firms. I also work with senior execs, entrepreneurs and investors on polishing their personal brand on LinkedIn because it drives business development and helps land more investor meetings. Also, for all of you hiring managers, job applicants will view your LinkedIn profile, so make sure you are depicting the company culture and your own career progression to attract the best talent. 

In your profile, make sure you have:

  • Written an About section, often a variation on your elevator/30-second pitch
  • Constructed role descriptions written like how you would speak to another human being. AKA don’t paste your resume bullets.
  • Selected and embedded the right media with customized titles and descriptions (see image)
Embed media–images, links, and PDFs–for each role on LinkedIn
  • Uploaded a background image rather than the default, blue constellation/network image. You’re not basic, so your profile should not be either.
  • Add a featured section to your profile and pin posts and pictures that visually highlight your accomplishments.
The new featured section

If you hate writing about yourself, NextStep career coaches can help you transform your LinkedIn page. It’s actually my favorite part of the career management process because LinkedIn allows you to be so creative with marketing your own expertise and impact.

Polish your stories through interview prep

So far, we are seeing that companies are continuing to interview, although many are switching to virtual. Make you are interview ready with strong answers for the most common questions:

  • Walk me through your resume/Tell me about yourself
  • Why this company?
  • Why this role?
  • Behavioral-fit: What is your greatest strength? Weakness? Etc.
  • Give me an example of a time that you….

We offer virtual small group and 1:1 coaching sessions to help you select and deliver the best answers. We also do customized mock interviews specific to the role. This is particularly helpful when you are heading into final round interviews.

Best of luck staying sanitized, sane, and safe. If you would like to do a virtual complimentary consult so you can utilize this time effectively, contact us here. We are here to help.

Emily Taylor is the founder and head coach of NextStep Careers. She previously taught career management to 2,500 MBAs at UCLA Anderson and was the VP of Talent Development at a high-growth, edtech startup. Emily has a BA and MA from Stanford University and an MBA from UCLA Anderson


5 Tips to Turn Networking from “How Long Does It Last?” to “A Blast!”

networking conference
Networking at the UCLA Anderson CREATE Conference

Networking. Whether you’re going to B-school or attending professional conferences, networking will be a big part of your life.

Many of my clients have questions about how to network effectively. So today, I’m here to give you some answers.

Look, I get it. Lots people hate networking. They see it as forced small talk, so they experience it as fake and painful. But that’s not what networking is about at all!

Instead, networking is about building professional relationships in a group setting. It helps you to lay the groundwork for requesting informational interviews and getting connected to other people who share your interests.

It may seem intimidating, but once you know the basics, entering those dreaded networking circles (see below video) will become second nature.

Here are my top 5 networking tips.

1. Don’t be a robot!

Recruiters have to interact with hundreds of candidates at networking events. A surefire way to be forgettable is if you have no personality.

Your job at a networking event isn’t to show off your intellect. You just need to make a human connection with someone else so that you can follow up later. Often “softball” questions, like what was their most interesting project in the past year, are the best way to go.

Finally, recruiters are looking for candidates with people skills who can interact well with colleagues and/or clients. In fact, 77 percent of employers say that soft skills are just as important as hard skills. This is your chance to show them that you’re the kind of person they’d want in their office – emphasis on person.

2. Give and get introductions.

You’ve been there before – a group of candidates are all clustered around a recruiter and you want in, but you don’t want to be awkward.

Pro tip: Attend networking events with a friend so that you always have someone to introduce you.

The absolute best way into one of these group convos is to be introduced by someone who’s already in the group. Here’s what you do – stand slightly to the side and behind someone you know, so they can see you want to be let in. Then, allow them to introduce you.

Follow up on their introduction with a ten second explanation of where you’re from and what you’ve been doing in your career up until this point so people know a little about you.

Of course, this introduction thing goes both ways. If you’re in a group conversation and you see someone wants to get in – introduce them! Or if you don’t know them, step to the side to make room, and during the next pause in the conversation, let them know what the group has been discussing so they can participate.

3. Secure the business card.

So you’ve had a great conversation and made some personal connections. Now you’re ready to leave the group and meet other people at the event. What’s the right exit strategy?

business card
Pro tip: Take your notes about each conversation on the back of the person’s business card. Then when you get home, add them to your network tracking sheet.

Don’t just leave with no explanation, but don’t feel trapped either.

Instead, wait until there’s a lull in the conversation, or someone new tries to enter the group. Then say your goodbyes, which can be short and sweet. “It’s been great hearing about your experiences at the firm. I’m going to speak with some of your other colleagues, but I’d love to follow up with you.”

Then seal the deal with the most important line – “Do you have a card?”

4. Eat and take notes.

Once you’ve exited a group chat, this is your chance to do two key things. First, eat. It’s awkward to hold your padfolio, a drink, AND a plate. That’s why you shouldn’t do it. Instead, wait to eat until you get a break between conversations – that way you have enough hands when you go back to your conversations.

Second, take notes. While the conversation is still fresh in your brain, take some notes on what you learned. Believe me, you will thank yourself later when you sit down to write a follow up email. Once you’re done eating and taking notes, get back in there and keep meeting people!

looking at phone bad
Pro tip: Write notes by hand instead of on your phone. If you’re on your phone, people may think you’re texting and checked out of the event.

5. Follow up.

Ideally, you reach back out within 24 hours to the people you met. The subject line of your follow up email should be something like, “Great chatting at X event” so they know who you are right off the bat.

Thank them for their time, mention something personal that you learned during your conversation, and then if you want to talk to them again, ask for an informational interview. (Not sure what to say, or how informationals work? We’ll have a whole other blog dedicated to the topic. Stay tuned.)

And that’s it!

If you haven’t done a lot of networking before, it can feel intimidating, but the most important thing to remember is that it’s really just about establishing a human connection. Be yourself, be curious, and follow my five tips. If you do those things, you’ll be a networking pro in no time.


NextStep Student Perspectives: Madeline Vuong


Hi, I’m Madeline!

My whole career has been about understanding people and reaching them through stories. After graduating from Williams College, I began my career as a journalist. Then, I was recruited by a digital marketing agency and moved into marketing strategy role. And this fall, I will be attending Chicago Booth for my MBA.

I got to know NextStep Careers through Emily’s 3-part webinar series for the Forte Foundation. Emily not only gave great career advice in a fun way (think hilarious dating analogies), but also told us what her advice looked like in action. Her tips and frameworks gave me a way to find out what career paths were out there, and then find the one that was the best match for me. As soon as I finished the webinars, I knew that I wanted to do 1:1 coaching through NextStep.

Now that have been through the whole NextStep coaching program, I am excited to share my experiences with you through a series of guest blog posts. My first post is all about how NextStep helped me to land several pre-MBA summer opportunities. You can read it here.



Madeline Vuong is a guest writer for NextStep. She is currently attending Chicago Booth for her MBA.