The Paul Merage School of Business Career Center, alumni and classmate connections critical to success for Charlene Ruan MBA ’20. • Tony Kawashima / Tony Kawashima Photography

Landing that first job – during a pandemic

September 08, 2020 • By Pat Harriman

Charlene Ruan, MBA ’20, had her job search plans and timelines all set.

Very organized and determined, she would apply the same strategies that had secured her internship at Mattel in the summer of 2019—connecting with previous interns, networking with current employees, attending company-sponsored events held on campus and visiting corporate headquarters – to achieve her goal of getting a job at Niagara Bottling after graduation in June.

Before she had the chance, the pandemic hit.

“That changed the landscape of finding a job,” Ruan says. “COVID-19 made my plans useless and my future uncertain. All my previous efforts were jeopardized because the company’s hiring practices changed. The transition from in-person to online makes it difficult to convey your energy and message, but it also eliminates driving to the interview.”

Seeing something positive in an unpredictable situation can be challenging, but she says that “being patient and having a good attitude” were crucial in helping her obtain a position as a demand planning analyst at Niagara Bottling after all. “I know it’s easier said than done,” Ruan says, “but that held me together while looking for a job during the coronavirus crisis. It’s never going to be easy, so don’t give up.”

Making the most of UCI connections

Support from The Paul Merage School of Business Career Center, alumni and classmates were vital to Ruan’s success. When COVID-19 restricted in-person meetings, career center staff reached out to students individually to offer workshops on how to navigate the new business environment and provided guidance on search and interview strategies.

“The career advisers are amazing. Trust them. They are the experts and were particularly helpful during these unprecedented times,” Ruan says. “My career adviser has been with me every step of the way. I relied heavily on her, as she witnessed my ups and downs and helped me make critical decisions. She was the first person I called after receiving the offer from Niagara.”

She strongly recommends that first-time job searchers connect with Merage alumni, especially those working in their target industry. Ruan says that by doing so she gained insight into how COVID-19 was affecting businesses, particularly its impact on hiring practices. Before applying at Niagara, in Diamond Bar, she met many alumni, who encouraged her and became internal advocates.

Maintaining “very close” relationships with classmates during this time also proved to be of great value. “We were all going through these problems together, so nobody knew my situation better,” Ruan says. “They were my emotional support after I received one too many rejection emails.”

Lifetime career lessons

After sending out “seemingly endless applications” only to receive another rejection or no response, Ruan admits, the job search at times became overwhelming, and she felt a bit defeated. “The most important thing I learned was to continue working and not let external factors take control. You can’t control a global pandemic, but you can control whether you send out one more application. An opportunity is just around the corner,” she says.

Ruan believes the best job search strategy she adopted was to emphasize quality, not quantity. She devoted the majority of her energy to a few targets and put “special effort” into researching Niagara Bottling, building relationships and preparing for interviews. Networking, she says, is essential, because if you have connections within the company, it’s more likely that someone will read your resume than if you just hit “quick apply” on LinkedIn.

“Even if you don’t receive a job offer immediately, an opening may be there in the future,” Ruan says. “At the very least, you’ll have a contact who has more knowledge and experience than you do, so they’re bound to be helpful someday.”