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Coming of Age In A Crisis: The Class of 2020

By July 17, 2020October 15th, 2020No Comments

I recently spoke to a friend, a recent graduate of the class of 2020. While she was out at dinner for the first time since the lockdown ended, enjoying what seems to almost be a forgotten pastime – dining in at a restaurant – she received an email stating that the Voyage program has been cancelled and she will no longer be moving to San Francisco in August to start her career. She worked so hard, prepared, interviewed, and even started buying new household items, for it to just be ripped away. And she is not alone.

As recent graduates start their journey into the professional world, the search for jobs and the reality of beginning their careers is starting to set in. Following your passion and finding a position that fits your ideal career choice as a new student entering the workforce is already gut wrenching as is, but when you throw in a worldwide pandemic, a looming recession, an emotionally depressive lockdown and the Black community fighting for basic human rights and equality once again, moving home to live with your parents again doesn’t seem so bad.

The world pre-virus was fast paced and exciting. Opportunities were abundant, and as students we were focused on things that felt difficult but possible- finishing strong, learning critical job skills, competing with other talented students in the job market. We were excited to start our careers, aspiring to reach out and start the next chapter of their lives.

So, what do we do when what we’ve been preparing for and working up to suddenly all changes? While the rest of the world is put on hold, we’re stuck in limbo – no longer students, not yet professionals. What about our careers? Summer internships cancelled. Prior job acceptance denied. Future positions put on hold. Job prospects are diminishing. Across the country, and world, an entire class of students are swimming in a mix of overwhelming emotions – anxiety, fear, anger – with no answers in sight.

This isn’t the first time a senior class has stepped off the graduation stage and into an economy in freefall. In 2008, during the biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression, there were a total 2.6 million jobs lost, with the unemployment rate hitting 10.1% by October 2009. Many of you will remember, and some of you may have been a part of that 2.6 million people. While most survived that setback, lives and careers were changed as many lost their real jobs and had to settle for work that they were well over qualified for.

Graduates during this time had to take temporary jobs, jobs outside of their area of study and with no clear view of what their future held. Peter Cappelli, director of University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Human Resource said “The fact that this age group continues to delay buying houses, having children, and other markers of stable, adult life is largely attributed to this.” While quantifying the full impact may be difficult, there is no question the recession had long lasting effects on the class of 2008 career paths and livelihood.

Unfortunately, history is repeating itself with the American economy shutting down to stop the spread of a Covid-19. 20.5 million jobs were lost this past April alone, with unemployment rates soaring to 14.7%. It took years to recover from the Great Recession in 2008 and, assuming we find a way to overcome the virus, we also will survive this setback. What is worrisome for graduates in 2020, and possibly the next few years, are the job opportunities currently available.

2019 was the latest in a series of good years, and we looked like we were entering a booming job market with the unemployment rate at 3.7%. As the world slowly starts to ease back into the new normal, those professionals that were laid off may get their jobs back or find a new job with their exponentially greater experience and network reach. In this undefined job market, the Class of 2020 will be fighting the incumbents in an arena where expertise is valued more.

For Students

If you’re trying to build your network but don’t know where to start, it’s your job to reach out and make yourself known and find other resources. To show companies you are a viable candidate, here are a few suggestions for how to reach out and make connections:

  • Find a professional mentor
  • Network with people from the industry of your interest & students
  • Continuously update your CV
  • Use Linkedin, it is such a valuable resource
  • Build a portfolio to showcase your work
  • Practice, Practice, Practice your interview skills

For Business Leaders

Whether you’re actively hiring or not, there are a variety of ways to open your doors and mentor students who are driven to learning and gaining experience. In addition to letting them know that you are an available resource, some good ways to help recent grads and students are:

  • Virtual Coffee Chats
  • Offering Professional Advice
  • Provide Resources
  • Industry Knowledge
  • Provide Feedback
  • Let us know how we can put ourselves in a valuable position to be noticed.

For us, the world changed in mid-March and we didn’t realize how much it was really going to affect us. We received an email saying that all of our courses were moving online and to stay home after spring break, a temporary inconvenience, or so we thought.  As universities everywhere began adjusting to this online class format, which we referred to as “Zoom University”, it became clear that this was something bigger. Soon, graduates were receiving notice that there will be no graduation ceremony and would not have the opportunity to to celebrate this significant milestone with friends and family or say their last good-byes to all the people that have impacted their lives these past few years. And just like that, without fanfare or ceremony, they were dropped into the middle of an economy in shambles.

Being an incoming senior, I’m part of the second wave left to consider what comes next as universities around the country figure out what classes look like for the Fall of 2020. Current students are hoping that we can return to school in August and resume classes as usual. With the way things are looking, students might need to reconsider their choices. Currently universities are looking at remote fall plans. Universities want to offer remote classes instead of the standard face to face which is fair and seems to be the only way to keep the 22 million students and 3 million university faculty and staff members safe across the country.

This is reshaping the way people look at college and how to prepare for their careers. Students everywhere are questioning how the value of paying full university tuition when most courses will be offered online. What is the point of paying high tuition fees when you can’t have the college experience or use physical campus resources? From classes to housing, students all over the county are evaluating the possibilities of living at home, attending a community college, and maybe even taking the semester off. With so many unanswered questions, parents and students are going to have to think quickly and take these financial and safety concerns into consideration as August approaches.

This is a time to take a pause and reflect on the state of higher education to see how we can use this crisis to better prepare ourselves for the future of education and a remote based environment in school and work. We must re-evaluate our new situation and work environment and explore how us students and professionals can work together to create a strong network that delivers mutual success.

As students, we are feeling anxious and hopeless. We are trying to keep our heads up and pursue our careers but what does that future look like when the world is having an existential crisis. We continue to push forward and try to reach out to recruiters and be direct with companies and HR departments. We are trying to put our best foot forward by networking, getting certified in skill courses offered online, requesting recommendations, but is that enough? We’ve been preparing for this transition into the workforce for 4 years and now what?

It really can stab your ego to work so hard towards your goals, being driven and persistent to build a core foundation to start your career post undergrad for it to not go as planned due to an unseen pandemic. Students across the country are hustling to finish their degree and make a statement of ourselves for it to unravel before us.

Students and recent graduates are not looking for pity but for you to remember your struggles as a student and a time in the past where finding a job after you graduated was tough. To remember what it feels like when a lot more doors are closed than open. We may have to take a job that we don’t exactly want or settle for something to carry us through the workforce. We ask and hope that professionals and companies out there can acknowledge that we want to learn and excel in the professional world-we don’t want to settle. We want experience and to gain knowledge that can take us further in our career paths. We are the students that will someday work alongside you and also lead others. We are the generation that is trying its best to keep up with this fast moving world and also juggling a global pandemic, online education, a lockdown, a looming recession and one of the largest civil rights movements in history. We ask you to give us a chance to succeed and consider hiring people and not just resumes.

 So we ask of you the next time you are considering your new hires, consider that recent graduate’s application equally among others in the job market. You’d be surprised what students can bring to the table. We are now more determined than ever to succeed and persevere. We may have had exponential opportunities accessible before but we will not give up on reaching our full potential now due to these new circumstances. We are willing to go the extra mile to build a successful career path even if it means starting at the bottom.