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College-to-Career Transition during COVID-19: Positive Steps to Take Now

by L. Michelle Tullier, Ph.D.

Spring is typically a season of exciting career developments for college students. There are summer internships to look forward to, and for graduating seniors, job offers to choose from or an active job search taking place through career fairs, on-campus interviewing, and in-person networking. What no student counted on was the “job-eating virus,” as The New York Times recently dubbed COVID-19. 

The coronavirus pandemic has severely disrupted the U.S. labor market and that of other countries, causing entire industries to implode and layoffs to skyrocket. Some students and recent graduates have had internships cancelled and gotten caught up in employer hiring freezes. Others find that the career field they have been targeting has been hard hit or that the type of job they have been preparing to do will require a significant skills pivot to do in a new way.

It is normal for students, recent graduates, and their family members to worry about a young adult’s career prospects in light of COVID-19. There are, however, reasons for optimism, as well as specific strategies to avoid being completely derailed.

Look for the “Hirers”
When Fred Rogers of Mr. Rogers television fame was a boy witnessing an upsetting event, his mother advised him to “look for the helpers” so that he would focus on something less scary and see the good in the situation. In a scary employment climate, I recommend looking for the “hirers” rather than focusing on who is not hiring. There are companies and non-profits still hiring, particularly at entry-level. In a recent webinar for career services professionals, global recruiting leaders from EY (Ernst & Young) and Uber reminded participants how mission-critical it is for all organizations to build a pipeline of talent by hiring interns and entry-level employees. Many organizations are in a “wait-and-see” mode, so searches will inevitably drag out longer than usual, but employers cannot afford to miss out on entry-level talent.

Be Extraordinarily Strategic
These times call for a more sophisticated approach to job searching than simply applying for jobs online and dabbling in networking. Some organizations suffer during an economic downturn or logistical disruption. Others explode with growth and volume they are not prepared to handle. Both have pain points. Job seekers who take a strategic approach to identifying those pain points and communicating to an employer how they can add value are the ones who will get noticed. This article out of Wharton likens this approach to being an innovative, adaptive thinker, like an entrepreneur. 

Use Down Time Wisely
A few things to do while engaging in an extended job search or waiting for the pandemic to pass include:

  • Volunteer as a way of giving back, learning new skills, and meeting more people. NPR recently reported on civic engagement opportunities during social distancing.
  • If currently employed in a part-time job that was not meant to be a long-term professional career, consider staying in it longer to maintain structure and keep a little income coming in.
  • If not employed, consider taking an interim job if finances are a concern or simply to demonstrate a strong work ethic and have something to get up and do each day. Now is not the time to worry about any job being beneath one’s education or skill level. We’re all in this together, so when the crisis passes, no one should have to defend why they took a particular job as a stop-gap measure.
  • Pursue continuing education. Graduate school, professional certificate programs, or skills-based online courses can facilitate a shift to a growing career field, augment a liberal arts degree, or bump current technical and functional skills to a more advanced level.

At The Bertram Group, we are committed to supporting the full spectrum of students’ transitions, including their paths into professional life, and are staying abreast of labor market developments. Please let us know how we can help with personalized career counseling to uncover opportunities, be extraordinarily strategic, and make the best use of time during this challenging period.

 

Michelle Tullier specializes in helping students, recent graduates, and other young adults discover meaningful career paths and find success in job or internship searches. She has 30 years of experience as a career counselor in college, corporate, and independent settings. She can be reached at info@thebertramgroup.com