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Triangle graduates move back home, jobless after pandemic

Posted May 24, 2020 11:44 a.m. EDT

The North Carolina State University (NSCU) Bell Tower on Hillsborough Street. Photo taken August 17, 2018.

— Chris Bullock imagined he’d head to New York City after graduating from North Carolina State University in May. But the pandemic forced him to change his plans. Now, he’s getting ready to move back into his parents house to continue his job search close to home.

The Class of 2020 is entering the worst job market since the Great Depression. Unemployment in the U.S. hit 14.7% in April, the highest since the 1930s, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. North Carolina alone has processed more than 1 million unemployment claims in the past two months.

Like Bullock, many graduating seniors are moving back home to figure out what to do next.

Sarah Barnes celebrates her graduation outside of KinderCare Learning Center

“I’ve accepted the reality of having to wait a year or two in the future to move to a big city,” Bullock said. “I was excited to start a new adult life.”

Since graduating with a degree in Graphic Design at the beginning of May, Bullock has been applying for jobs at a time when layoffs and hiring freezes are common.

Instead, he’s turned his attention to networking.

This includes reaching out to people at companies he’s interested in along with graphic designers in various industries.

“People are really sympathetic and understanding of recent graduates and are willing to help out,” Bullock said. “It doesn’t always lead to an interview or job opening, but it leads to more information on what’s really available right now.”

Katherine Johnston, a recent University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill graduate is in limbo looking for a job. Her goal was to have a job right after graduation, but the pandemic didn’t make that possible.

“My timeline changes all the time as the news comes in,” Johnston said.

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Johnston said if August comes around and she still hasn’t had a job yet, she will be “antsy.” For now, she’s still trying to use the pandemic to her advantage.

“Networking gives me a sense of control,” Johnston said. “It’s the only thing you can really do right now.”

Sarah Barnes celebrates her graduation outside of Salem Middle School

Sarah Barnes graduated in May from the University of Lynchburg. Now, she’s living at home with her family in Cary. She’s grateful for the extra family time but still wishes she could have celebrated graduation with friends at school.

“I’m looking forward to starting the rest of my life after this, but right now I’m taking advantage of this time,” Barnes said. “It’s nice having such a strong support system with family and feeling less stressed from the outside world. It’s been a nice change of pace.”

Sarah Barnes celebrates her graduation outside of Panther Creek High School

Now that she’s back home, Barnes is working to land a job. She’s trying to stay optimistic for the future.

“Initially my goal was always having a job come May or June and then living on my own somewhere,” Barnes said. “Right now my timeline is parallel to coronavirus. I don’t want to put too much pressure on myself.”

Barnes said she’s treating this period like a full-time job. From 9 to 5 every day she looks at new job openings, edits her LinkedIn profile, works on her resume and has networking calls.

“I changed my mindset from being incredibly upset about losing opportunities to apply for jobs and switched it to building my personal brand.”

Graduates of N.C. State can still lean on the resources at the Career Development Center.

D.R. Ingram Jr. is an associate director and career counselor at North Carolina State University. He’s been working with students and graduates remotely since the start of the pandemic.

He recognizes students are upset after having job offers and internship opportunities revoked, and that others feel pressure after never having a position lined up at all.

“It’s so easy in a time like this to get down and depressed,” Ingram said. “I want students to stay encouraged and look at the big picture. This won't last forever. Look at little victories along the way and keep pushing. Be persistent.”

Ingram also provides tips on making the most of the free time graduates are facing.

“During the time of a pandemic or not, networking is key in getting your foot in the door,” Ingram said. “Connect with employers through LinkedIn, set up informational interviews and seek advice from employers. Also, look back into existing contacts like previous supervisors, faculty and old co-workers.”

Right now, Ingram feels it’s a good time for students to fall onto a backup plan and be flexible.

“Consider a plan B opportunity within your field,” Ingram said. “Also, consider some temporary and part-time positions. In those opportunities, you’ll get a chance to hone your transferable skills like team building and adaptability.”

Ingram says another good use of time is to build skills with online courses. But, the most important thing to him is staying productive.

“Everyone will know what took place in Spring 2020,” Ingram said. “I doubt an employer will look at a candidate and wonder why they didn’t have the ideal position. But, they’ll want to know, what you did do and what skills you gained.”

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