How Graduates Can Build Their Careers When Working From Home

It’s a difficult time to be a recent college graduate. A global pandemic is a challenging period to be starting a career, especially when so many jobs are remote. While remote work can benefit some fields, it is also virtually impossible in others (hospitality, non-essential machining, and so on), which means that for those college students who had already committed to a major, the last year has probably been a trying time.

Fortunately, there are some benefits to remote jobs. Notable among them are the saved time from commuting and the higher likelihood of flex hours to best suit the employee’s schedule to accommodate for factors such as children and complicated home-work settings. That extra freedom can help support career development for recent graduates who really need it. There are two main methods that recent professionals, whether working full time or not, can boost their career remotely.

Freelance/Volunteering

The first is simply through working more! This doesn’t have to be done through two full-time jobs, of course – taking on that kind of workload is rarely advisable unless forced to through economics or personal circumstances. However, in 2021, there are many other ways to be active and build out skillsets outside of a 9 to 5 job.

“Younger professionals can separate themselves from the rest of their cohort by making themselves more interesting in the workplace, in addition to developing adjacent skills that could help the organization,” says Kristen Fowler, Practice Lead at Clarke Caniff Strategic Search. “For example, exploring freelance or volunteer opportunities if you’re a photographer could lead to opportunities to bring value leveraging photography skills at your primary place of employment. The reality is that you never know how to make yourself more indispensable to an organization.”

Let’s say you were a marketing major that wanted to go into event planning/management, but due to the lack of such positions during COVID, settled for more of a content marketing position. Even if you’re currently mostly writing SEO articles for your employment, maybe you can volunteer at your local church or foodbank to volunteer in planning a charity event or giveaway. Developing those skills regarding logistics and vendor coordination could end up with your taking on more responsibilities at work – maybe regarding a virtual event such as a webinar or conference.

However, your development doesn’t need to align quite that neatly with overall career goals. In that some circumstance, let’s say you don’t really have a local organization that’s conducting events right now, or just can’t find a way to crack into the event planning role at the moment. That doesn’t mean you can’t develop adjacent skills. Event planning roles require a great deal of interaction with other people, so instead of pure event management volunteering, any kind of experience relating to customer service or client-facing volunteering could be of benefit. Honing interpersonal and communication abilities could lead to more opportunities that will eventually result in event planning, even if the route is a bit more circuitous.

Another advantage in 2021 is the ease at which people can work freelance via roles in the gig economy. It’s not glamorous but being an Uber driver or DoorDash delivery representative is a method to gain some customer support skills (and earn a bit of extra money!) in a manner that can fit easily around your regular 9 to 5 remote job.

In short, taking on freelance and volunteering roles in addition to your remote job is a great way to develop new skillsets and reveal to your current (and future) employer that you can handle larger responsibilities. However, that’s not the only way to spur career development.

Continuous Training

Let’s say you’re too busy with your full-time job to take on a freelance or volunteer role – or just can’t find one that suits you. In that case, look into continuous training, whether through an accredited institution or reputable online courses. Such additional training won’t just help make you into a more well-rounded professional but will also facilitate career development down your chosen path. 

“New graduates and early professionals often require a lot of training and time to get up to speed, regardless of job function,” says William Ratliff, Senior Career Services Manager at Employment BOOST. “Once they are up to speed and doing well in their day-to-day responsibilities, recent graduates can really turn on the jets on their career by reinvesting in themselves – upgrading their knowledge and skillset – and becoming the subject matter expert in their functional area.”

The role of additional education and training is an important one – it’s not just a boost with career growth, but can unlock new efficiencies at work. For example, if you’re working with a company that is using Salesforce, but isn’t doing much with it, taking a training course in Salesforce best practices can be greatly beneficial. You could discover new or more efficient methods of reporting and use those to bring new insights to your company – this might not only help with your position, but bring your organization as a whole further success. Such above-and-beyond performance can even bring you to the attention of senior management, putting you on a leadership track.

However, continuous education is also good at shifting roles and careers entirely. If you’re in a sales role but desire to pursue computer science without going back for a full degree, there are many coding bootcamps available that can provide a baseline level of knowledge and get your new career kickstarted. Even if you don’t end up pursuing such a role change, showcasing your commitment to learning new skills and tools is helpful for any path, and can provide unforeseen assistance in traversing your career.

Starting a career is difficult even in the best of times, and the COVID-19 pandemic is far from that. However, remote jobs can be a blessing if you utilize the time and flexibility offered by such roles to pursue career development opportunities such as volunteerism or continuing education. If you have the time and ability to do so, you can sharpen your skillsets, earn new responsibilities at work, and prepare yourself for the next step in your career.

Kane is the Director of Marketing for Employment BOOST. In this role, he is responsible for driving market awareness across the entire JMJ Phillip Holdings portfolio of companies. Kane is also Director for Daggerfinn, an employer branding, digital marketing, and strategic growth consultancy.