College graduates on the Peninsula find themselves in limbo, stuck between graduation ceremonies and entering the workforce.
At William & Mary, staff in the Cohen Career Center are working in overdrive to make sure the recent graduates feel secure entering an uncertain job market.
Kathleen Powell, associate vice president for career development, said staff have started doing “Care Calls” to recent graduates to discuss how they’re feeling about employment and gauge what students’ post-graduation plans are.
“We’re calling them because that deep human connection is a core value of William & Mary,” she said. “So as students are telling us that they’re just starting a job search or in the process and an employer had to rescind an offer, we’re trying to connect them with alumni and employers to act as champions and help.”
So far there have been very few students who have had job opportunities rescinded. Instead, more are finding that employers are bringing in new hires virtually and keeping them engaged.
Powell said overall she expects college graduates in general to fare better during the present economy. The national trend shows those with at least a bachelor’s degree tend to be more competitive in the job market, even when the economy is poor.
“When the economy opens back up, the hunt for talent will be fierce,” she said. “And with more folks on the job market, the competition becomes even greater to snag that talent.”
The college uses a platform called Tribe Careers that allows employers to post jobs for recent graduates — Powell said there were 121 new full-time positions posted just last week.
As someone who has worked in career services through 9/11 and the 2008 recession, Powell said she expects the trends for recent graduates to change.
Typically about 23 to 27 percent of students head directly to graduate or professional school after graduation but Powell said she imagines these numbers will significantly increase in the coming years.
She expects to see more students doing internships or volunteer work after graduating.
But this is something Powell recommends in the meantime: When talking to students, she said staff helps them find volunteer and internship opportunities because it will show employers what the student did with their time after graduation. If a student can’t jump right into a full-time job, then they can at least add more skills to their toolbox that make them even more competitive on the job market.
“So there’s lots of opportunities for these short bursts of experiences,” she said. “It’s not easy out there but for students who do their diligence, there’s opportunity.”
Christopher Newport University decided to postpone their spring commencement October and mailed out diplomas to their Class of 2020 gradates in the meantime.
“So I technically just graduated two weeks ago, I just got my diploma in the mail,” said Bailey Disque ’20, a cellular molecular and physiological biology major with a Spanish and psychology minor. “Weird times.”
The university sent students home to transition to online classes several months ago and for Disque, that meant going back to Winchester. She had a tough time transitioning to online classes during the coronavirus, especially with her Spanish class, where WiFi lag meant missing a word and therefore the entire meaning of a sentence.
Despite the challenges online classes presented, she found herself with a lot of free time and decided to work with the college’s career center for a job after graduation.
“I want to say I applied to 40 to 50 jobs,” she said.
Most employers would respond in one to two weeks with information that the position was no longer available due to COVID-19.
One potential employer from Richmond told her the job wouldn’t be available for at least another two to three months.
“We’ll keep your resume on file but since we’re working from home, we won’t be able to train you,” she said the person told her.
She finally landed a job working as an assistant scientist for Alchemy Corporation, a pharmaceutical company based in Wilmington, North Carolina.
She moved Friday.
“I didn’t want to picky I know it was a job out of state,” Disque said. “I just took the offer as soon as could.”
But some of her friends weren’t so lucky.
“So actually I can probably say at least 3 [or] 4 friends had their job offer revoked that they had already confirmed months before graduation,” she said. “That’s been hard.”
For example, one of her friends was supposed to start working right after graduation but the employer pushed the start time to the fall ––October to November time frame.
When asked if Disque had any advice for recent grads, she said specifically for CNU students, to use the career planning center.
“They gave interview prep, how to reach back out to companies after you apply,” she said. “And it’s part of your tuition, so you technically paid for it.”