This is the season when college seniors are getting ready to graduate. The COVID-19 virus outbreak forced schools to close and sent students back home. It’s disappointing that they had to spend the last part of their educational careers participating in glitchy, online Zoom classes held by professors who don’t understand technology and haven’t taken the time nor effort to translate their in-person methods to a conducive online-learning structure. It’s also discouraging that they won’t have a traditional graduation ceremony to celebrate their achievements in front of family and friends.
Young adults will be thrust into the worst job market in modern history. It’s reported that roughly 33 million people have filed for unemployment benefits since mid-March. This doesn’t include people who were out of work before the COVID-19 outbreak started and those who gave up looking for work because they couldn’t find anything.
What’s arguably worse is that students had to pay up to $70,000 per year to attend their colleges. This translates to heavy debt burdens for the students who will have to carry it around like an anchor for years to come. When the graduating class of 2020 hits the market with few job opportunities, they won’t be able to afford paying back their loans or moving out of their parents’ homes to embark upon a new life.
You’d think that colleges would provide intensive interviewing and career coaching for their students, in light of unprecedented circumstances, but they aren’t. The bastions of higher learning will pay lip service through career centers. The traditional methods, such as bringing companies and graduating seniors together, won’t work now.
Over the last number of years, I’ve hired summer interns paying them above minimum wage. Interviewing them was an eye-opening experience. Most—if not all—of the seniors lacked proper interviewing skills. They were unable to carry on a phone conversation, make eye contact in an in-person interview and incapable of articulating their experience and coherently discussing what they’d like to do next.
Colby College, a small Maine-based liberal arts school, comprehends the urgency of the times and set a goal to have a 100% success rate at securing jobs for its graduating seniors. Colby College president David Greene pointed out, “Wages are often depressed for 15 years or more when they come out in a substandard job. One of the ways that they often catch up is by job-hopping. So if we can avoid that for this graduating class—and I think we can—then it’ll make a huge difference for them.” Greene added, “We’re calling on all 30,000 of our alums and families to help out with all of this. We’ve surveyed all of our seniors to understand the type of jobs that they need. And then we’re turning our entire advancement team—they usually are raising money for us, but now they’re all job seekers, 45 of them are just focused on finding jobs for our seniors. And then we’ve got another 50 people on campus who are doing the same.”
At this time, every university and college should follow Colby’s lead. There should be an immediate all-hands-on-deck approach to helping graduates find jobs. This could include reaching out to alumni and asking them to hire instead of contributing to the already-large endowment. The schools should implement a boot camp drilling the students with everything they need to start and succeed in a job search, including building a résumé and LinkedIn profile, how to search for jobs online, interview strategies and appropriate ways to interact with recruiters and human resources professionals. The schools need to reach out to companies directly to get them interested in their students.
For the graduating class, here’s what you could do now. Start with a game plan. Figure out the type of job and the companies you’d like to work for, so you’ll have a focused and organized approach. If you’re fortunate enough to get an interview, it will be via phone or online video. Recent graduates are not as accustomed to using the phone compared to the Gen-Xers and Baby Boomers conducting the interview. Since the hiring managers will use the phone call instead of an in-person meeting due to the COVID-19 outbreak, you’ll need to build up your phone skills. You can achieve this by role playing and practicing with others. One positive aspect of a phone interview is that you can have notes in front of you while you talk. This can help you get your selling points across and keep you from getting thrown off of your game.
Graduating seniors will likely feel more comfortable with video interviews. Since they have experience with this medium; they may even have the upper hand compared to the older managers conducting the interview. Keep in mind that even though it’s a video, treat it as important as an in-person interview.
Don’t get discouraged if it’s hard to land your first real job. The job market will be the worst since the Great Depression. Smartly use your time to network. Ask your parents and extended family to offer leads. Make yourself known to your school’s career center. It’s okay to take a job under what you feel you deserve just to get started. A part-time job is fine too, as it will keep you busy. You won’t have to sit at home ruminating over your situation and it will also put a few dollars in your pocket.
Stay active on social media to call attention to your search, especially on LinkedIn. Clean up anything in your digital footprint that could come back and haunt you. Scour career sections on corporate websites, job aggregator sites and other sites that cater to recent college graduates. Send out résumés to jobs listings that make sense and politely, but persistently, follow up. If you’re brave, you can cold call companies that you would like to work with.
One of the most important things to do is stay strong. It won’t be easy. Try to keep positive and don’t give up hope. Tough times make tough people. You’ll find a job. It may not be tomorrow, but it could be next week or a few months from now. Consider your job search a marathon and not a sprint. After you find a job in the toughest job market since the 1930s, the mental and emotional strength you build will enable you to take on any—and all—future challenges.
Forbes, 7 May 2020, Jack Kelly.