With the coronavirus pandemic bringing much of the country to a standstill, many colleges and universities have decided to cancel or postpone their graduation ceremonies indefinitely. And with a discouraging job market, it can be hard for seniors to stay afloat.
“I think my biggest fear is finding a good job that I’ll be able to support myself with,” Gabriella Craig, a senior at New York's Hofstra University, told TODAY. As for her college experience, she says it’s a little heartbreaking. Since she’s graduating a year early next month, it’s upsetting that her senior semester was cut short, though she’s trying to put a positive spin on it.
“I think its proof of just how much resilience and how much strength everybody in the class of 2020 has because we’re all facing the same issue but we’re working together to figure out how to make the most out of it,” the 20-year-old from Hershey, Pennsylvania, said. It’s comforting for her to know she’s not going through this alone.
Indeed, if you’re a college senior who is entering the job market and worried about your professional future, you're not alone. TODAY spoke with education and career experts to get tips on how to stay focused, keep your skills sharp and make the most of your time at home.
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What should I do if my job offer has been frozen or rescinded?
A harsh byproduct of the pandemic is that students who received job offers months before graduation are now seeing them rescinded, delayed or frozen. If you find yourself in this boat, try the following:
1. Ask the employer if it's a permanent decision.
Don't just accept the news without trying to get more information. Is there an opportunity for an opening once economic conditions improve? There is a huge difference between having an offer rescinded or delaying your start date, according to Rick Hearin, executive director of career exploration and success at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey.
2. Inquire about referrals or other opportunities.
If it's a permanent move, ask the hiring manager if he or she knows of other employers, departments in the same company or individuals who may still be looking for candidates. Chances are, the employer will be eager to help under the circumstances; after all, they chose to hire you in the first place.
3. Stay in touch.
Even if the hiring manager doesn't have any referrals, Hearin recommends waiting a while and then reaching out to see if anything has changed. Staying in touch signals your interest to these hiring managers, who then know they can reach back out to you later, said Alison Sullivan, a Glassdoor career trends expert.
4. Brainstorm other fields or positions.
If all else fails, Fran Berrick, founder and coach at Spearmint Coaching, recommends that students take a step back and assess their transferable skills that can translate well into any field. That can open your eyes to other opportunities or industries you've never considered before.
How can college seniors make the most of their time at home?
The market is changing very fast and already looks very different from the one seniors were preparing for a month ago, said Sullivan. And it will likely be even more different a month from now. Now that you're homebound, try the following tips.
1. Maintain your standard routine.
Being at home for extended periods can make it possible for anyone to lose focus. It's important now, more than ever, to be disciplined with your schedule. "Stick to your knitting and try to make sure that you’re focused, and your productivity levels stay high," said Berrick.
Also, beware of distractions! Keeping everything by your desk or study area can help productivity. Different techniques work for different people; taking this time to see what works for you can up your productivity.
Setting short-term goals can also help, Sullivan said. Reflecting on yourself and your situation can be daunting; by setting small but achievable goals, you can carry yourself through this unknown time and maintain focus.
And if you need help with mental health or how to stay on top of your mental wellness, which can be key in keeping focus or maintaining a sense of normalcy, there are lots of apps and resources available to you. Wisdo, a mental wellness app, helps connect people with others who have had similar experiences. The company recently announced free membership to U.S. college students so they can make the most of the app's resources and even meet 2008 college graduates who have advice on navigating the post-grad world.
2. Brush up on your "weaker" skills.
"Brushing up on those skills that you will actually be using once you’re going into work which would be important," said Hearin, "and what it also shows prospective employers is that you’re committed to developing the types of skills that would work in your mutual best interest."
In addition to developing weaker skills, you can learn a language or take one of the many online courses, like on remote learning platform Coursera (hey, it's good enough for Shakira), now being offered at free or discounted prices.
3. Network, network, network.
Starting a virtual job club with students from your neighborhood or college can be a source for contacts and reassurance during an uncertain time, Hearin said. Remember to keep it virtual and maintain social distancing, though. Don't forget to tap into your network, including your family, friends, former bosses, co-workers or former internship supervisors.
Once you’ve developed your skills and improved your résumé, it may be worthwhile to tap into that network to have them review your work, whether it’s parents, friends or mentors, Sullivan suggested. Digital collaboration tools like chat, email or video conferencing make networking possible even when we’re told to stay apart.
4. Polish your résumé and practice interviewing.
In addition to maintaining productivity and developing new skills, seniors can take this time to improve their résumés, cover letters and interview skills by again tapping into their networks. Building one's narrative and narrowing your focus is something that Berrick suggests. Seniors should also develop an online presence and market themselves there.
Research the companies you are interested in and have a firm understanding of their mission and practices. Identifying what you want to apply for, customizing your material around that organization or role and paying attention to the finer details can take your résumé to the next level, Sullivan said.
5. Turn to your college career center.
Career professionals who want to connect with students will typically filter through your campus career center, so beginning your job search here might save you the stress of connecting on your own through other means, Berrick said.
Career centers try to be as accessible and as down to earth as possible, according to Hearin, because they understand that this is an intimidating experience for a lot of students. So, if you’ve never thought to contact your career center or participate in their events, now may be the time to do it, especially when you still have access to their resources.
What are some temporary alternatives to explore?
But what if you can't afford to wait for the right opportunity? “You have to look at your real-time situation,” Berrick said. “If you have to keep a certain amount of cash coming in to pay your bills, to pay student loans, to keep an income coming in to survive, you need to take a survival job.”
Consider gig work like virtual tutors, virtual assistants, working freelance, proofreading, reviewing résumés, graphic design or social media management. “Customer service roles are good to find now — and then when it gets down to it, if you can’t find remote work that can be done, grocery workers or delivery drivers, something at home like child care, even pet care," said Berrick.
You can also look into constructing websites if that’s something in your skill set. Reaching out to businesses in your community that may need help developing, improving or working on their online presence could be a start, Hearin said.
Use this time to build skills that can contribute to your ultimate goal, Sullivan said. Side gigs and temporary alternatives not only help with cash flow, but they can also teach you skills or help you gain experience applicable to your dream job.
And if you want to take this time to explore positions that are available right now, companies like Indeed have been periodically updating their website with new jobs that are actively hiring. You can read more about what's posted on Indeed's site here.
How can parents help college students while they're home?
Many college students are finding themselves back at home for the first time in a long time. Getting into a new routine is hard on its own, but add attempts to mesh with your family members' routines and you can find yourself in a difficult situation. But it doesn’t have to be challenging.
Parents should help their kids stick to their schedules. That means setting aside a time in the day when everyone keeps busy — whether it's for work or school — and not asking students for help with chores or errands.
Families can also help by acknowledging the stress and anxiety they are feeling but then “provide ample affirmation that, you know, we can get through this," said Berrick. "You know, this is tough but you got this and you can handle this."