Originally published in Kiplinger
By Adam Weinberg
There’s no way to sugar coat it: the seniors leaving campus this spring are graduating into one of the worst job markets in recent memory
With the unemployment rate expected to exceed 20 percent in the coming months and the U.S. now officially in the grip of a recession, employers are rescinding job offers, delaying start dates and freezing hiring.
At the same time, COVID-19 is forcing much of the recruitment process to go virtual, upending the career fairs, campus recruitment visits and other services that many students rely on to find their first jobs after graduation.
According to a survey conducted in May by the National Association of Colleges & Employers, about 22 percent of employers are revoking offers to summer interns while only 4.4 percent are pulling offers for full-time hires. But both of these figures are up since April, with 19 percent of employers saying they’re still undecided about what to do about hiring this year.
For graduates, then, the message is simple: be realistic and be ready. The job market will get better and your goal should be to be prepared as it does. The question you should ask yourself: how do I use the next few months to be ready to take advantage of the job market as it comes back to life?
Opportunities Do Exist
Right now, that dream job in the city, working for that dream company, might not happen. But that’s OK. There are still jobs out there, it just might take more work and more flexibility to find them.
It’s all about keeping your options open because there are more jobs and internships available than many realize. It’s just not true that nobody’s hiring.
Where to start?
My advice would be to start with your alma mater. Many colleges are finding that their alumni and parents are very willing to create opportunities on the fly. It’s just a matter of reaching out and asking. You can do this in two ways. Make sure you are communicating with your colleges’ career center to ask what they are doing to help recent alumni. Also, remember that friends and family members, and even your faculty can be helpful. Second, use LinkedIn and/or your college’s alumni networking platform or directory to find alumni in your city or profession of choice and reach out to ask if they will talk with you.
Whatever the case, it’s equally important to be ready to act on the opportunities that arise. Is your resume up to date? Are you doing all the right things in terms of networking and building a personal brand? In truth, there has never been a better time to network and build relationships. There is a lot empathy for recent college graduates.
Also, if you had a job or internship that was rescinded, periodically stay touch with the hiring manger. Show you are still interested, earnest and ready to go when they are. If there is a position or firm that you are excited about spend extra time tracking the company on their social media, website and other publications. That way when you connect with the hiring manger you can incorporate that information in your check-in emails.
Don’t let this time go to waste
While it is not a particularly great time to be looking for a job per se, it’s never a bad time to develop new skills. There are so many new and different ways to develop career-related skills that weren’t available even five or 10 years ago, including the growth of career service centers on college campuses.
This also includes new career training offerings on platforms like LinkedIn and Microsoft as well as massive open online courses (MOOCs) that can provide specialized training at low cost or for free. Check out these options at IDEO U and Inside Sherpa.
This is great news for recent graduates as employers are more focused on skills and credentials, and less concerned about what degree you have and where you went to college. Now is the time to skill-up and bring more to the table.
So, this summer students should figure out how to add to their skill sets. The truth is employers are going to be very sympathetic to this graduating class. At some point in the next six months, employers will go from not being able to focus on recent graduates to desperately needing them.
Resilience pays off
This job market represents an opportunity for new graduates to show employers what they’re really made of, to prove that they are resilient, creative and that they know how to deal with the challenges that life throws at them. Use the summer months to build a narrative about how you turned this time period from a challenge to an opportunity.
That alone will speak volumes to future employers.
This downturn is temporary, however painful. The job market will return, employers will soon need help and entry-level candidates will again be well positioned to jump on those opportunities. My message is to remain positive, be realistic when looking for work and be ready to go when things start to turn around.
With the right skills and the right attitude, this coronavirus summer might prove to be a net positive in the careers of today’s graduates that sets them up for success for years to come.
Adam Weinberg is the president of Denison University in Granville, Ohio.