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Networking, patience key to post-pandemic job search for Class of 2020

Posted June 6, 2020 5:00 p.m. EDT
Updated June 7, 2020 2:06 p.m. EDT

Everyone has felt the impact of the pandemic, and recent college graduates are no exception.

The Class of 2020 finished their degrees virtually and graduated to enter the worst job market since the 1930s. In April 2020, unemployment was at 25.7% for people ages 20-24.

The burden is especially difficult for students who worked to put themselves through college and took out student loans. Now, it may take longer to see their hard work and investment in their future pay off.

Kelsey Singer graduated in May from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington with a degree in Communication. She worked part-time in a local restaurant throughout her time in school to make ends meet.

The pandemic caused Singer’s savings to take a hit after the restaurant industry moved to takeout only. She says she’s lucky to have savings, otherwise making rent would have been difficult.

“I would be making so much more money, and I would have had a lot more saved up if I could have been working normally this whole time,” Singer said.

Additionally, Singer feels nervous about going in to work as restaurants are starting to open back up.

“A lot of people don’t have the luxury to care about their own safety,” Singer said. “People are forced to put themself in unhealthy and dangerous situations regarding the virus.”

Concerns about the job market have prompted Singer to change her plans. She will continue her education in the fall, pursuing getting a master’s degree in Communication from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

“I thought I might try to get a job instead of going to grad school, but once everything started to happen I realized I wouldn’t get a job,” Singer said. “I decided to accept the offer for grad school in April once I realized there weren’t many other options.”

Singer planned to work her way through grad school as well, but she’s reconsidering whether waiting tables is her best option.

“I have to get a part-time job in Charlotte anyway on top of being a TA (teacher’s assistant), but the restaurant industry isn’t lucrative, and I’m stressed out about that,” Singer said. “You either make a 40% tip or 10% tip. There’s no in-between.”

Maya Sinclair, a recent North Carolina State University graduate, said she felt panicked about her future as shutdowns were announced in March. Now, she’s starting to feel the effects of that in her job search.

“I was going to go back to work for an after-school program, but that got shut down,” Sinclair said. “I thought maybe in May or June things would open up, but we're still sitting at a standstill.”

She’s currently in the interview process for a full-time job but has put plans in place if that doesn’t work out.

“I’ve thought about continuing babysitting and trying to get a certificate so I could work in a school or teach overseas,” Sinclair said.

Sinclair says she has some flexibility because she was able to work at her on-campus job remotely until graduation. She’s set aside enough money until July and hopes it will stretch farther while her costs are low living at home.

She’s also trying to be productive with her free time by taking online interview prep courses. For Sinclair, the most important part is staying positive.

“It would have been nice to leave campus and have a job offer in my hand,” Sinclair said. “Things will fall into place and work itself out.”

Nate Brown, owner of SB Financial Group, holds a virtual event every Friday morning for professionals in job transition, and he welcomes recent graduates to participate.

Brown says that job searching is all about time management.

“Whether you have 1 hour or 40 hours each week, figure out how much time you have to dedicate to the process of networking and block it into your calendar,” Brown said. “You can tell who will succeed based on how they manage their time.”

Additionally, he believes everyone can benefit from networking until they find the perfect job.

“People have to pay their bills, and that takes priority,” Brown said. “Whatever amount of time remains, they should determine what they can give to the process of networking as a whole.”

Brown feels people should take advantage of every opportunity even if it’s just a temporary position.

“Squeeze networking value out of every opportunity,” Brown said. “No matter where you are, there are networking and learning opportunities. You get out of something what you put into something. If you do something do it with 100% effort.”

Korrie Blanchard Smith, manager of Career and Alumni Services at Wake Tech, offers similar advice to students and recent graduates.

“We’re big believers in your first job doesn’t have to be your forever job,” Blanchard Smith said. “You’re going to grow and develop throughout your career.”

She says Wake Tech’s Career and Employment Resources focuses on teaching students how to maximize their transferable skills.

“It’s getting out of the habit of writing the resume about the jobs you’ve had and writing the resume about the jobs you want,” Blanchard Smith said.

She says students seem hopeful overall and are demonstrating resiliency. However, she recognizes how some students feel the pandemic is a setback.

“If you are home, unemployed and job-seeking that can get you down,” Blanchard Smith said. “It can lead to negative feelings on job searching. But, students can use this time wisely to network and do professional development.”

Blanchard Smith also says that students don’t realize how much hard work and effort job searching takes.

“Finding a job can feel like a full-time job,” Blanchard Smith said. “People aren’t prepared for that.”

She wants new graduates to remain optimistic and remember that everyone is aware of the impacts of the pandemic on the current job market.

“The resiliency is what's important,” Blanchard Smith said. “There will be a turnaround, and this will end. Maintaining and improving skills through volunteer work and professional development is what’s important. People will be well aware of the hurdles you had to come over in 2020 as a new graduate.”

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