Mon. Apr 15th, 2024

Photo by Maria Marabito

Students who graduated during the 2008 recession were labeled as Recession Graduates and faced numerous unexpected challenges. With the unemployment rate at 9.5 percent, Recession Graduates took lesser paying jobs and were economically behind where they would have been outside of a recession. 

In a CNN article published in 2018, journalist Tam Luhby quoted Till von Wachter, an economics professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, who said, “It can take 10 to 15 years for students who graduate in a recession to catch up. . . Recession graduates usually start at lower-paying firms and move to bigger companies offering better salaries once the economy recovers… That can typically take up to five years. Then, they still have to move up the job ladder at those larger employers, which can take several more years.” 

Recently, many have characterized our current situation as a global recession since the economic effects of the coronavirus are being felt everywhere. For this to be characterized as a recession, we need to experience a widespread economic decline that lasts for at least six months. A depression though is a steeper decline that lasts several years. 

It is too soon to say how long the current recession will last—whether we will be the second round of Recession Graduates. . . or Depression Graduates. If we do find ourselves in a less than an ideal job market, we have other factors to contend with that the 2008 Recession Graduates didn’t—such as much higher rates of unemployment, higher student loan totals, fewer savings and a decreased value placed on an undergraduate degree. 

New York Times journalists Patricia Cohen and Tiffany Hsu reported recently that “Several economists expect that by the end of the month, more than 20 million people will have been thrown out of work, pushing the unemployment rate toward 15 percent. In February, it was 3.5 percent.” For the time being, students graduating can take certain steps to improve their chances of securing a job after graduation. In a Zoom interview with Jennifer Rossi Long, the senior director of the Twardowski Career Development Center, she gave advice on proactive steps students can take during their job and internship search. 


Marabito: Will how graduates find jobs differing in the coming months because of COVID-19 shutdowns?

Long: At the very core of it, the same job and internship advice is still going to hold true. Someone who is searching should be thoughtful about their search. They should be looking for opportunities that match their skills, their interests and their values. They should utilize, what I would consider, a multifaceted approach, so not just logging on to handshake and applying to whatever jobs or internships you see but integrating your network or the alumni community. There are so many different things that could be brought into a search. I think most importantly though it shouldn’t be done without support. So that is going to be a big one in this particular job market, not thinking that you have to do it all yourself and find the jobs and know where to find jobs…there’s people, the Career Center being some of those people, but other folks that are willing to help and assist with that. That is advice we would give to graduates or students looking for jobs or internships anyway but I think now I want to get a megaphone.

Marabito: Will the switch to remote working change how jobs are conducted post-pandemic?

Long: There could be. I do think it is impossible to think this is not going to change the future of work. It is too significant, so when we go back to business as usual, I think it won’t be business as usual. But as I am talking to employers, I just feel like organizations are going to be operating on more of a hybrid model, to some extent we (everyone in the workforce) were…At the core of it, I think we will learn there is more that we could do in this way and that we could potentially rely on but I don’t think we will lose the importance of human connection. There are some positions that are just based on that. What I think we will see is more of a hybrid model, relying on technology for the good it can do but relying on the in-person for really that human-to-human connection and the relationship piece. Similarly to when people talk about AI changing the way that we do work, it certainly will, but up to this point a robot doesn’t have emotional intelligence but that is what we bring as humans to the table and that is still going to be of value so here I think that is still the valuable piece, the ability to be with people. 

Marabito: Have employers you are in contact with said anything about how they will choose to hire new employees given the global recession?

Long: The big issue for employers is that more of them are moving to virtual interviews more quickly than maybe they anticipated, but there [was] a number that [was] already leveraging those virtual interviews. Now I think we are seeing so many more [employers] reliant on that area and I think that employers who are looking for either full-time employees or internships in this current situation, they are currently hiring, I think based on talking to some over the past few weeks, they are going to be more interested in seeing particular skills highlights in a resume. So, skills that point to adaptability, for obvious reasons, proficiency with technology, ability to learn, because these are really the pressing needs of the workforce right now. So I think that, again, employers are still going to post their opportunities online, they may not be coming to in-person events to recruit at this point but a lot of them are setting up virtual events. They are going to do virtual interviews, but I think what is really going to stand out are students who are able to speak to their skill sets in those areas, whether they utilize those skills in a class, in a previous job, internship, study abroad, creative endeavor, whatever the case might be. And I would just really encourage students to use these couple of weeks in this situation to just be ripe with examples of being able to show adaptability and some of these other things. There are some ripe interview examples that will come out of this if we are looking for a silver lining. 

Marabito: Have you noticed a decrease in the number of potential jobs/internships available to students?

Long: We are not noticing a decrease in the number of postings coming in, at least not yet. We currently have I think just over 4,500 active postings in Handshake which is a good number. And we are still averaging about 30-40 new postings a day which is promising since the new posts are telling us these folks are still intentionally hiring and looking for talent. That being said, I know there are some employers that are either rolling back on their internship program or, what I am hearing more of, is that they are putting them on hold until they can figure things out. They are adapting quickly, just as we are. 

Marabito: For students who have already secured positions for after graduation, should they be doing anything now to ensure they still have the position? 

Long: I don’t think it is a bad idea to check-in. My hope would be that the employer would be communicating with the student or would have communicated with them by now. Whether or not that happened, I would say if it’s on the student’s mind, schedule a call, don’t do it over email, schedule a call and say I just want to talk through this and understand since I want to be planful. I think they can always reach out to whoever they have been in contact with, whether it is a manager or HR person, you know their main point of contact for the company. It is definitely fair to reach out and check the status or understand if this opportunity is going virtual and if there is anything the student can do to prepare for that.

Marabito: What should students be doing while at home?

Long: I think that using this time to do something positive, like going on LinkedIn Learning and picking up new skills, is a really, really good idea. Otherwise, I think over this time, first and foremost, I would let students know they have to take good care of themselves since that is going to be the foundation for everything. Being well really enables someone to put their best self forward in the job or internship search so I think at a foundational level I would tell students what they should be doing right now is taking really good care of themselves. 

The other thing they should be doing is using the resources available to them. This ties into using LinkedIn to pick up a new skill but again, coming back to this idea that nobody has to do this alone or know how to do this if someone hasn’t started an internship or job search yet they definitely should be starting now. Now would be the time, the sooner the better. They could utilize the Career Development Center, they could use LinkedIn, they could use other tools we have access to. They just have to know to log in to their Handshake account to be able to make an appointment to upload a resume and we can help with the rest of that because the more someone has a support network around them, again that ties into being well and knowing ‘Okay, I’m not in this job search by myself, I am not in the stressful time by myself; I have this community of people that want me to be successful’ and that could be a career counselor, that could be a professor with which someone has a good relationship with, that could be an alum. You know we have an alumni mentoring platform, that could be a family member, it could be friends. Even if a student out there feels like “I don’t have a personal network, I don’t feel like I have anyone,” they do because they have the Career Center and that is why we are here. 

Marabito: What is your opinion on stylized resumes?

Long: It all depends on what you are applying for, so industries that are more creative industries—think like advertising, design, some of those areas, maybe musical performance—then I think it is perfectly acceptable and, in some cases, if you are going for a graphic design job, you should not have a basic Times New Roman resume;  you should definitely be doing something more creative. It is a more traditional industry—I would tag accounting, finance, some of those areas as more traditional—then I think it is better to go more on the traditional side but I think there are small touches you could add to a resume. 

The most important thing though when it comes to stylized resumes is not whether or not to use them because I think it is okay; the biggest thing is that you don’t want to land in the NO pile and the way you land in the NO pile is by not having enough of your skills and experiences really well articulated on your resume. If you want to get creative, definitely get creative and we can give you feedback on some of the things you’re doing- you should not have your picture on there or anything like that, but don’t sacrifice content for style. Make sure you can still get your content on there and you can still articulate all the good things you have done.

Marabito: How should hard vs soft skills, like adaptability and excitement for learning you mentioned, be articulated in a resume? 

Long: There is a lot of back and forth about this because people have very different opinions. I think it is okay to have both on a resume. In a skills section, you can separate hard skills and soft skills but really, to me and to some of the employers I have talked to about this, the best way is not to be listing them in a skills sections but to be infusing them into your bullet points of things you have done because anybody can put keywords on their resume. When you infuse it into your bullet points and the experience that you have had, it proves to the employer, “Not only did I do this, here is an example of me doing this, but I also did it well,” and to me, that is more compelling.

Marabito: Will the new grading policy have any effect on a student’s employability if they choose the ‘satisfied’ option? How important are grades for getting hired? 

Long: It is probably going to depend on the industry. I think in most cases it probably won’t. Because there are employers who have GPA requirements though we are seeing more flexibility around the line from employers,. . . . .  In Handshake, any student can apply to any job that is in there, and on the back end, they get dropped into two buckets for the employer. So there are the students that meet all the employers’ qualifications and there are the students that don’t meet all the employers’ qualifications but employers can still review those students. So now if a student has, let’s say, a 2.8 GPA and the employer asks for a 3.0, the employer can still review them and say, “Okay they didn’t hit my GPA requirement but they have had some phenomenal experience in X, Y and Z and they have taken all the courses that I want them to take and they have done reasonably well.”

And we see more employers that are considering those students and not having the hard line on the GPA. Now, if you are going for a position on Wall Street, that is probably not going to be the case but that is not really a place that a lot of our students go. If you are looking in healthcare (to a reasonable extent), non-profits, government work, I think you are going to see more flexibility on that so I do not anticipate that is going to have a major impact or employers looking at that as a negative because I think employers are very understanding that this is just a weird time. 

Marabito: What advice do you have for graduates worried about finding a job?

Long: This comes back to foundationally taking good care of yourself, but a more tactical thing, again starting sooner or later because what we saw in the last recession, in 2008 and the years that followed, students were hearing from the news, from family members, from professors and peers that the job market is terrible, we are in a recession—it caused people to retract from the job search. They weren’t invested in it and that was problematic because there were still some opportunities. Maybe there weren’t as many, but there were still opportunities. So I would encourage the grads hitting the job market, in particular, to be engaged in their job search and to not get discouraged. You know this is a very unusual time so it’s not really business as usual. Utilize the tools they have access to (Career Center, Handshake, RamNation, Big Interview). 

The other thing I will mention specifically for the grads hitting the market is to really keep an eye on the small to mid-sized businesses and organizations and not to be afraid to stray from the “brand” name organizations that they know, like the larger non-profits and some of the multinational corporations. I say that because going back to the last recession—I don’t know what is going to happen now. I’m watching this closely but I would have to imagine that with the small business stimulus packages that are rolling out, our small to mid-sized businesses and organizations are going to be the job creators like they were in the last recession; at least there is a really good chance. So I would encourage students to be open to some of these opportunities. If you don’t know the names, there are fantastic research tools on Handshake, Glassdoor and some other sites. Kind of get to know what they are about but don’t overlook it just because you don’t know the name. It could end up being a really great opportunity.

Marabito: Do you have anything else you want students to know right now?

Long: I want them to know that we are here for them, in a very real way. We are not just saying that. Our career counseling team is ready; they have got appointments on the calendar. They genuinely just want to hear how students are doing, what they might be frustrated with, what is challenging them, what success they have had—we want to hear it all so the best thing I can do is really just encourage students to lean on us for support because we are here and we are happy to help.

Students can make an appointment with a career counselor through Handshake. Every student has a Handshake account and can log in using their WCU email and password.  

Maria Marabito is a third-year English major with a minor in literature and diverse cultures.


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