How College Students Can Get a Job Amid COVID-19

U.S. News and World Report, by Jordan Friedman, May 21, 2020

OSCAR AMAYA, WHO recently graduated with a bachelor’s degree in computer science from Arizona State University, has experienced the challenges of finding a job during the coronavirus pandemic firsthand. Amaya finished his courses for the spring semester remotely from his home in Tempe, Arizona – and hunting for his first full-time professional role became part of the equation.

Despite submitting dozens of job applications and, in some cases, being told his interviews went well, some potential employers decided not to move forward with his candidacy due to hiring freezes resulting from the ongoing economic downturn, the 23-year-old says.

“That was very heartbreaking in a way,” says Amaya, who adds that a lot of his friends are experiencing similar challenges. “At the same time, I was kind of used to a lot of those rejections.”

Amaya says he contemplated applying to jobs outside of his major but eventually landed a software engineering job for the financial services company Charles Schwab, which he will begin remotely this summer.

Graduating college seniors are entering a workforce where more than 38 million unemployment claims have been filed since March. In research by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, 4.4% of employers surveyed in April reported revoking offers to new college graduates they had recruited before the pandemic for full-time roles, while 22% of surveyed employers said they are revoking summer internship offers.

In addition, 46% of employers are shifting their internship programs to the virtual format, and 41% are shortening the length of such programs, according to NACE.

“There’s no doubt that it’s a hard job market right now,” says Blake Barnes, senior director of talent solutions and careers at LinkedIn, who describes this period as an “unprecedented time.” Experts say fields like travel and hospitality have been hit particularly hard when it comes to jobs and internships.

Here are insights on how career centers at colleges and universities are adapting to the shift to online education and how college students and recent graduates can land internships and full-time jobs, respectively.

How Career Centers Are Making Resources Available

Experts say that especially in these times of uncertainty, a school’s career center can be a great resource for networking opportunities and other guidance. Career services staff have transitioned to interacting with students virtually to understand their situations and provide advice.

For students who had started the job interview process but hadn’t officially landed offers due to the pandemic, career services staff are working with them to determine how they can maintain relationships with those employers for when they start hiring again, or redirect their job searches altogether, Sciola says.

While many college career centers are well-equipped to communicate with students virtually, they have still had to make adjustments. At Indiana University—Bloomington, four career fairs – events that connect students with potential employers in different industries – will now be held online this fall for the first time, says Joe Lovejoy, director of the school’s Walter Center for Career Achievement, which serves students and recent alumni of the College of Arts and Sciences.

The Walter Center also typically hosts a welcome orientation picnic for more than 1,000 students in the fall and offers a range of on-campus courses focused on career planning, Lovejoy says. These will be held in the virtual format for the time being.

“Some of those staple programs that always happened in that physical environment have been what have required sort of the heaviest lift in terms of transitioning online,” Lovejoy says. “But we’re doing it, and they’re all going to be available.”

Meanwhile, Arizona State University’s Career and Professional Development Services has transitioned its support and mentoring services online, launching a new website providing students with resources including virtual resume reviews, interview preparation opportunities and a mentor network, along with listings for jobs and remote internships.

Landing a Full-Time Job in a Pandemic

When the world was first learning about the implications of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, “We did see a lot of companies step back and reassess their hiring needs,” Barnes says. “As a result, the amount of jobs available on the (LinkedIn) platform did decline substantially.”

But there are still entry-level jobs out there, Barnes says, pointing to roles such as customer service specialists, physician assistants and developers. However, some employers are now requiring certain employees to work remotely until further notice or shifting start dates to later in the year.

It’s currently more important than ever for graduating seniors – in addition to current college students – to stay connected with their professional networks, as getting a referral can dramatically increase the likelihood of landing a desired job, Barnes says. Especially in this time of isolation, professionals across industries are often excited to have conversations online.

“Everyone has a network, and so now is a great time to tap that network,” says Eleanor Cartelli, senior associate director of the Center for Career Development at Boston University. “Not to necessarily ask for a job, but to get to know what a career field is like, what they’re doing in this time, if they have freelance projects that you could get involved in to sort of get your foot in the door.”

Especially during an economic downturn, Lovejoy says, he sometimes sees students panic and apply to every job opening they see. Like Cartelli, he encourages students to instead invest their time in relationship-building.

“They need to think about the industries they want to enter, whether or not those industries are currently hiring, and start to engage with people who are working in those industries – connecting with alumni who are working at the places they want to work, reaching out to recruiters,” Lovejoy says. When applying for specific roles, Lovejoy says an applicant’s resume and cover letter should make very clear how his or her experience aligns with the employer’s needs.

“It’s OK to be rejected; you’re going to hear a lot of that,” says Amaya, the ASU graduate. “The most important thing is just to keep your head up, apply, stay motivated. You only need one person to say ‘yes’ to you.”

Barnes says that throughout the interview process, applicants should also consider asking potential employers whether the job will start out remotely due to the pandemic – and if so, for how long.

Getting an Internship or Other Role During COVID-19

Kristen Kolp, who just finished her freshman year at Soka University of America in California, was supposed to work as a social media marketing intern at a beach club and restaurant near her home in Chicago this summer, but the status of that job is uncertain. She was also offered a job at a summer camp, but that has since been canceled as the camp will not be opening this summer, she says.

And, she adds, she’s not alone. “Everyone is kind of scrambling to find a new option,” Kolp says.

READ: How to Show Your Next Employer You’re Excellent in a Crisis. 

Barnes says that based on job postings, industries such as retail, higher education and health care are hiring the most interns at this time. As is the case for full-time jobs, experts say, those searching for summer internships should leverage their school’s alumni database and work on networking to increase their odds of landing the role they desire.

By Monica Clem
Monica Clem Executive Director, Career Development and Experiential Learning Monica Clem