Build Your Remote Career: Top Advice from Leading Expert Who Was Working Remotely before COVID-19 Hit
Podcast with Leischen Stelter, In Public Safety Managing Editor; Wes O’Donnell, InCyberDefense, In Military and In Space News Managing Editor; and Christine Muncy, Associate Vice President of Career Services, APUS
The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted countless lives and livelihoods. Job seekers, employees and workforce managers are rapidly adapting to remote life. And it may not be a trend, but the way of the future.
In this podcast episode, hear from career services and remote work expert Christine Muncy. Her award-winning team and online university were at the forefront of remote careers long before self-distancing. As a Certified Career Services Provider (CCSP) and Global Career Development Facilitator (GCDF), Christine shares valuable insights for professionals seeking remote jobs and strategies for managers to boost team engagement. Plus, you’ll learn about upcoming virtual job fairs and proven tips to stand out.
Learn more about APU’s Back-to-Work Career Fair being held on Wednesday, May 20 from 10 am — 2 pm ET. RSVP today!
Read the Transcript
Leischen Stelter: Hi, I’m Leischen Stelter with American Public University and today, I’m joined by my colleague Wes O’Donnell. Hi, Wes, how’s it going?
Wes O’Donnell: Hi, Leischen. I am staying healthy. Thanks for asking.
Leischen Stelter: Good. I know, that’s like the question of the day, right? Today, we’re going to be talking about the world of virtual work. Wes, you and I, we’ve both been remote employees for a long time, but for a lot of people, working from home is a totally new experience.
Wes O’Donnell: Indeed, I’ve been remote since 2011 but for many during these times, it’s a completely new experience.
Leischen Stelter: And so, during this coronavirus pandemic, many companies have had to really scramble to help their employees work from home and make sure they have the tools to be productive during this time. Today, we’re joined by Christine Muncy, who is the Associate Vice President of Career Services here at American Public University, and she has a lot of experience managing online teams. Hi, Christine, and welcome to the podcast.
Christine Muncy: Thank you. Hi, it’s an honor to be here. Thank you for the invite.
Leischen Stelter: Yes, we’re really glad that you could join us today. Christine, many managers have had their world really turned upside down when all these companies started requiring employees to work from home. I was hoping we could start our conversation by talking about ways that managers can really help their employees remain productive, stay engaged and be motivated.
Christine Muncy: Yeah. There’s a lot of things that managers can do to help their employees stay motivated and keep them engaged and one of the things is first to come from a place of understanding, honestly, because even those of us who’ve been working remotely for a very long time, such as myself, we are finding there are potentially many other people who are also in the home, who may not be used to being around those of us who are working from home. So for managers, regardless of your employees being home or not, I think that it’s really important for people to be patient and really focus on communication.
I’ve heard a lot of managers say that they have been doing 15-minute check-ins at the end of the day with their whole teams, just casually come together, have some fun, not work-related necessarily. There’s other groups that are doing virtual spirit weeks or other types of things that get the employees socially engaged because when you’ve moved to the online platform, a lot of what people miss is the interactions with each other.
Even though you may be working and interacting in that way, some of that more casual opportunities to chuckle with each other in the hallway or just see each other in passing as you get water. Those opportunities to connect with other people is missing.
So for managers, being able to really try to focus on replicating some of that for their employees is going to be probably pretty valuable. There’s a lot of really great products out there that can make that happen for free. So there’s products like Slack, Microsoft Teams, Fleep. Those are great products that you can use to have people come together in one location, share pictures, video conference, calls, the whole nine yards.
Wes O’Donnell: Yeah. Christine, so what are some actual best practices for employees to be able to collaborate? I know you just mentioned Slack as potentially one of them, but how can these employees work collaboratively with other departments during this time?
Christine Muncy: That’s a great question. I think one of the best practices for working collaboratively is to understand that their deadlines may be different than your deadlines. So if they’re coming to ask for something, it’s really important to make sure that those expectations are set very clearly in the beginning. And then, also respecting and understanding that their priorities may be different than your teams’.
So again, really communicating, sometimes over-communicating, when you’re remote is actually more beneficial than in normal times because you just want to make sure there’s nothing missed in the way that you’re asking for things, that there’s no miscommunication or misunderstandings because that can happen very easily. And since you don’t see each other in the hallway, you don’t necessarily have the physical cues to tell you that there’s an irritation, or there’s a problem, or that people aren’t on the same page. So making sure that you understand the other team’s priorities, deadlines and expectations, that is the number one key for working really well with other teams.
Wes O’Donnell: Okay. Got it. So I’m going to switch gears real quick. A significant part of your job revolves around helping alumni and of course I’m a graduate myself of AMU, but a big part of your job is helping those alumni after they’ve graduated from American Public University. I know there are also a lot of folks out there, out of work, searching for jobs right now. Can you tell us how APUS is helping its alumni and the public connect with employers who are hiring?
Christine Muncy: Yeah. We have a great program set up for helping our alumni where our services are free for life, regardless of their graduation date. So we’ve always had that set up and it’s our intention to keep it that way.
So during times right now, it’s really important for our alumni to remember that these services are there for them. And what we offer are resume reviews, career planning.
We have a fantastic job board where employers are there recruiting, who are actively hiring right now because that is happening. But one of the really exciting things that our team is doing right now is we are hosting a back to virtual work career fair on May 20th that we opened to the general public.
So instead of just offering it to our students and alumni, we actually are going to open this up nationwide because our employers are nationwide, the opportunities are nationwide. And so anybody who knows someone who has needed a new job, has found themselves in the position to be job seeking, this event, we’ve opened it up to everyone for free, no charge, nothing. We want to help as many people as we can right now, so we’ve opened that service up to everyone.
Wes O’Donnell: That is awesome. In addition to attending this virtual job fair or any future virtual job fairs, are there any other tips that you have for helping folks find jobs during this pandemic?
Christine Muncy: Yeah. The most important thing in any times of economic downturn or crisis, especially right now during the pandemic, is really reaching out to your network. I know it’s hard sometimes to think about who in your network, and it can be awkward and uncomfortable because it’s maybe not something you’re used to doing. But casual conversations can lead to really informative discussions.
So just reaching out to someone you haven’t talked to you for a long time saying, “Hey, I’ve been really thinking about you. I hope things are going well. I saw your company’s still hiring. Really happy to hear. I hope that means that there’s a lot of good job security for you.” Those kinds of casual conversations are a great starting point for digging in a little deeper, especially if you need to ask for help. But I always say with networking, you shouldn’t wait for a time when you need to network.
Networking can be a casual thing that you do all the time because it doesn’t have to be this big lift and this uncomfortable situation. It can just be about building relationships.
Another thing that people can take advantage of are their professional organizations, if they’re a member of something that is related to their industry. There are discussion boards, job boards, and other opportunities for people to engage with members of their community and they might be able to find job opportunities and people communicating and talking about opportunities for new work, companies that are hiring and honestly even maybe some companies to avoid who are not hiring right now. So really good information out there, but the foundation of it is reaching out to your network.
Leischen Stelter: So, Christine, when we talk about networking and reaching out, at this point that’s all going to have to happen either virtually or through the phone. We’re not going to conferences; we’re not doing anything in person.
Do you have suggestions on how people can kind of tweak their approach to reaching out through email? And do you recommend people pick up the phone these days, where you might have been hesitant to do that before, but maybe this is leading to a little more close connections that way?
Christine Muncy: I think the approach or the change in approach really needs to depend on the individual who’s doing the outreach, but also if you consider the person you’re reaching out to. If it’s been a long time since you’ve talked to someone and you weren’t very close back then, dropping them a message in LinkedIn, or if you knew them more than in a professional setting, if you’re connected on Facebook, send them a message on Facebook or comment on a picture if you’ve noticed they’ve posted something.
Reaching out to your network through text message and phone calls. I think all of those are really good ways to reach out, but I know that culturally the phone call is becoming harder to just pick up a phone and call someone and expect them to answer. It’s definitely become a more digital communication style, where a lot of people are very comfortable with sending messages and text messages.
I would really think about what you’re comfortable with and starting somewhere, but I think you need to start somewhere. And then build it up as you get more comfortable and you start thinking about more people, reach out in ways that you hadn’t considered before, and know that not everyone’s going to bite and that’s okay. It’s not a failure.
Leischen Stelter: I also wanted to ask you about interviewing when maybe that first step has been taken, there’s a job opportunity. Are you hearing or seeing employers engaging a lot more online platforms for the interview process? Like I know at work here, we use a lot of Zoom calls. Obviously, people aren’t coming in for one-on-one interviews. Can you give maybe some tips on preparing or what you should expect even for some of those online interviews?
Christine Muncy: Yeah, absolutely. There’s two directions that I have observed employers are taking, and one is for the employers where onsite interviews are really necessary. Maybe the position is even onsite and so they may be delaying their onboarding, but they’re not delaying their hiring.
So employers who are moving forward with the interview process, I’ve seen that they are going towards phone screening and phone interviewing. Phone screens and phone interviews are different, for those who weren’t aware. So a phone screen would be a lot of times through human resources; they’re just trying to make sure that the minimum qualifications are met. But a phone interview is going to go much more in-depth and asking some of more of those traditional interview questions.
And then, they may hold on moving forward if they’re not using online products like Zoom. They may be waiting to do in-person interviews where there are other employers who are still moving forward with the video interviews, but they’re not doing offers until they’re back in the office and they’re going to have a second session of interviews that are going to be in-person. So people could honestly be preparing themselves for the fact that they might have to do two or three rounds of interviews, where they may only used to have to have one.
The other piece, the other side, which are the employers who are just moving forward. Kind of like where I am; the hiring is not new to us in a remote setting. We are doing video interviews through Zoom or Adobe Connect.
Some people are using Microsoft Teams, and they are completely onboarding their people using the same products. They ship the laptops to the individual’s home; they’re working with IT to get their computer set up on that first day. And it’s a lot of patience, because the setup process is not as easy as walking into an office and you have a desk, and everything is ready for you, and you kind of walk into a training session. There’s a lot of phone calls and a lot of things necessary to get set up, but the interview process, really, the employers are going one of two directions.
Leischen Stelter: I like how you talked a little bit about how this is not necessarily new in the American Public University System. We have a lot of remote employees as a 100 percent online university. And we’ve talked a lot about the employees seeking work. But since you have so much experience in that world of managing remote teams, I was wondering could you just maybe give some recommendations for the employers?
You mentioned having patience; that’s very important in terms of setting up and onboarding. But is there anything else that maybe you’ve learned over the years about onboarding remote employees that other managers could really benefit from knowing about?
Christine Muncy: Yeah. I would say that, first and foremost, when it’s onboarding employees, that first week is about connections because you can’t have someone joining your team and feeling completely disjointed and separated from the group, and not knowing who to reach out to or where to go for information. So a traditional onboarding may really focus on the first few days on policy, procedure, tours and things of that nature.
We found that when hiring a remote employee, we absolutely have to go the extra mile in helping to bring the employee into the fold. We set up individual conversations with every person in our department. And we are a smaller department, we’re not a 50-person department, so keep that in mind. But we do set up individual meetings and sometimes two-on-ones with the new hire, just to get to know who they’re working with and be able to see them on video. Video is required.
The other piece is for efficiency. We have a systems check document that is not provided by IT. We developed it ourselves because it’s really hard to remember on that first day everything they’re supposed to be able to have access to. And it’s really frustrating when you’re in the middle of a training session in week two, and you learn that they don’t have the ability to send an email through the group email box. So we go through the first day, within the first few hours, a systems check, and then we write a list of all the things that are not working and we provide that to IT, so they can start working on things right away.
Leischen Stelter: That’s very helpful, I’m sure, creating that document. It might’ve taken a few employees to realize how important such a document is. But I’m a big fan of checklists myself, so I can totally relate to that.
I wanted to just, again, talk a little bit about some of the really cool events that you have coming up. I know you’ve been asked to talk more in-depth about this at some upcoming presentations and with some groups. Do you have any recommendations for some of those associations or even some of those panels where you’ll be sharing even more of this information?
Christine Muncy: Yeah. So I have been asked to join a few panels, and one is through Live Alumni. And that discussion is really about how to serve alumni during this pandemic and the types of services that we need to be offering, and how to make that transition if you’ve never done it before. Especially focusing on that population to try to help them get up and running.
Another group is, I am part of a NACE Affinity group; that’s the National Association for Colleges and Employers. I’m part of the career services online professionals group, and I’m co-leading the best practices group.
We’ve been meeting to talk about what are the best practices and what’s the advice we can give to other career centers that are just starting out in this online virtual environment, who’ve maybe never provided services, or have provided maybe limited services in the past and have certainly not been working from home themselves.
So I’ve had the opportunity to share my knowledge with a lot of professionals recently, and I’m excited about future opportunities coming up as well. I share those on my LinkedIn profile, and I encourage anyone who’s looking for that kind of information to follow me, connect with me.
I’m definitely always out there looking to share more information that’s happening in the higher education field. If you’re looking for things for within your own network, maybe your own industries specifically, I would encourage people to look to their national organizations or even job search websites that are industry-specific.
Those groups will be able to provide some really solid recommendations on maybe even career fairs that are specific to your industry. I know virtual career fairs are new for a lot of people; my team’s been doing it for years.
We’ve done over 30 virtual career fairs, so it’s nothing new to us, but I know a lot are just kind of reaching out and starting to do that. We’ve had a lot of people reaching out to us to ask for advice about how to host a virtual career fair. So I would say that if you’re new to it, I’m here to help. I would love to offer advice and some feedback if you need it, but we also have our own career fairs that you could attend as well.
Leischen Stelter: Can you give those who might be interested in attending a virtual career fair some tips or just what to expect when they log in or attend these fairs? Just briefly what to expect.
Christine Muncy: Yeah. A couple of tips for attending a virtual career fair is understanding that it’s a different type of event than when you’re walking into a physical space. When you’re attending a virtual career fair, it’s really about networking and it’s really about having a solid elevator pitch prepared. And an elevator pitch you have to be concise because it is typed and it needs to talk about why you’re an exceptional candidate and how you’re a good fit for that company.
So before you attend a virtual career fair, I would encourage anyone to look at the employer list and see what types of jobs people are looking for, or what type of jobs are posted, and then making sure that their elevator pitch kind of fits those employers. Even if you come up with one, that’s a little different for every employer on your list. And speaking of your list, I think that when you’re attending a virtual career fair, it’s good to do your research ahead of time.
You don’t ever want to attend a career fair and initiate the conversation with, “What jobs do you have for me?” Or following up that amazing elevator pitch that you created with the question of, “What jobs are a good fit for me?”
Instead, something that really sells an employer is when you’ve developed that elevator pitch and you follow up with, “And I’ve looked at your positions online and I’m really excited about this opportunity.” You can put the job number, or the job title and the location, and be able to really talk to that employer about that specific role, why it excites you and why you think you’re a good fit for it.
Because what they can do is pull you into a private conversation, that’s an instant messaging type of system, and then you just talk to the employer about corporate culture or about the types of opportunities for upward mobility, the stability of the market, anything new and exciting that the company initiatives, that they’ve mentioned on their social media shows that you’ve done your research.
When preparing for a virtual career fair, it can also be disheartening if you find yourself being told, “Well, go look at our job page and apply for the positions.” Don’t be put off by that. What you can’t see is the fact the recruiter may be talking to five other people in one-on-one chats right now.
And if you end up having five different people chatting with you at one time, they may be pushing you off because they’re overwhelmed and you just can’t tell. I also say if you’ve had to wait a while for a response, you can come back to the employer later because they may just be really overwhelmed.
The virtual career fair platform is a opportunity to go into a chat with a recruiter and really market your skills, your abilities, and your experience in a way that maybe your resume doesn’t quite speak to or because of length requirements you’re not able to fit it all on the page. But I think that virtual career fairs are a fantastic opportunity to get the conversation going and your goal is to either get contact information or to have them look at your resume, see if you can get another just a phone screen or to the next step.
Wes O’Donnell: Yeah. Christine, you are just full of good information. I want to say thank you for sharing some of these great tips and thanks to our listeners for joining us today.
Christine Muncy: Absolutely. It’s my pleasure. I was glad I’m able to offer some tips and I hope that people find this to be useful in their job search.
Wes O’Donnell: Great. Thank you so much.
About the Speakers
Leischen Stelter is the editor of In Public Safety. She is the former managing editor of Security Director News, an online business publication for security practitioners. She spent four years writing articles, blogs and producing video segments regarding best practices in the private security industry. Currently, Leischen works with the public safety outreach team at American Public University writing about issues and trends relevant to professionals in law enforcement, fire services, emergency management and national security.
Wes O’Donnell is an Army and Air Force veteran and managing editor of In Space News, In Military and InCyberDefense. As a sought-after professional speaker, Wes has presented at the U.S. Air Force Academy, Fortune 500 companies, and TEDx, covering trending topics from data visualization to leadership and veterans’ advocacy. As a filmmaker, he directed the award-winning short film, “Memorial Day.”
Christine Muncy is the Associate Vice President of Career Services at APUS. Throughout her career, she has focused on developing new programs and innovative services which benefit student development, typically focusing on the adult learner. Christine holds two certifications in the area of career development, Global Career Development Facilitator and Certified Career Services Professional; has been published on multiple blogs; designs and facilitates comprehensive team builders for corporations; and has presented at various conferences. You can connect with Christine on LinkedIn.
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