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Building Careers During a Crisis

Advisers Tell Students: Double Down on Job Search Techniques and Stay Flexible

By Dan Novak M.Jour. ’20

Illustration of graduate choosing path

Illustration by Shutterstock

The outlook may appear bleak for students and graduates searching for jobs, but university career advisers stress that it’s no time to panic or lose hope, and they encourage casting a wider net.

At the start of 2020 (which feels like roughly 50 years ago), the strength of the global economy made it the perfect time for American college students to be preparing to graduate and enter the job market. 

Oh, how times have changed. As the coronavirus pandemic continues to rage and to pummel the economy, at least 16.8 million Americans are out of work, including 234,000 from Maryland. Uncertain of what will happen next, many companies have frozen hiring. 

The outlook may appear bleak for students and graduates searching for jobs, but university career advisers stress that it’s no time to panic or lose hope.

“Look, is it going to be more challenging? Yes,” said Bryan Kempton, director of career services and alumni relations at UMD’s School of Public Policy. “But I don’t think that means it’s going to be impossible or you’re going to be unemployed for the foreseeable future. I think it means you’re going to have to be smart in how you approach employers.”

Students can’t control the economy, but they are in charge of how they develop career skills to make themselves better job candidates. That means, among other things, doubling down on tried-and-true methods like networking and doing deep-dive research on companies and fields of interest.

“The strength of the previous job market before all this hit had more students feeling confident and maybe even complacent,” said Kelley Bishop, director of the University Career Center. “Now, I’m hoping students are saying, ‘Okay, now I’m going to make the investment so that I’m going to be in good position.’”

Alexa Brenner, a master’s student in public policy graduating this spring, said she has been reaching out to alumni through Linkedin, and speaking to four or five people a week for informational interviews.  

“I’ll know enough people that hopefully when the job market improves a position will open up for me,” she said. “I’m networking my butt off.”

Internships remain the best way for students to build networks and make connections with employers. With many workplaces moving entirely to teleworking, building those relationships might be more challenging but, “I see employers being increasingly comfortable using technology to facilitate those connections with students,” Kempton said. 

With platforms like Linkedin, Google Hangouts and Zoom making online connections is easier than ever, the Robert H. Smith School of Business is holding a virtual career fair for its students and alums on April 24. (The University Career Center held a virtual career fair through the Hire Big Ten Plus Consortium yesterday.)

“Had this [crisis] happened even a decade ago, this would look very different,” said Ashlee Chicione, Smith School director of undergraduate career programming. “We are in a time where technology is evolving and changing so rapidly that we have a lot of tools at our disposal to be able to provide opportunities to virtually engage and connect.”

Given the circumstances, career advisers say they also are encouraging students to cast a wider net in their search. While many sectors of the economy are struggling, jobs in areas like online retail, manufacturing or medical research are in high demand, for example. Instead of looking for positions in only the private sector, students can expand their search to the nonprofit or public sector.

“In the previous economy, we would talk primarily with students about what they want to do, what are they most interested in doing,” Bishop said.

Now he’s telling students, “What’s out there available that’s moving in a direction to engage in the job market? It doesn’t mean that you’re throwing away your long-term goal, but you may be taking a detour from that path at the moment.” 

Schools & Departments:

Division of Student Affairs

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