College grads deal with changing job market amid coronavirus pandemic

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BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — In one month, the country’s unemployment rate jumped into the double digits for the first time in decades, and it happened around the same time as college graduation.

Missing out on an official graduation ceremony is one thing, but missing out on a flourishing job market is another.

“Even as late as March, I think we were all expecting to be entering one of the strongest job markets ever, and that quickly changed to be one of the worst job markets ever,” said Josh Zaacks, who just graduated from the Indiana University Kelley School of Business.

Zaacks has had a job lined up since the fall, but that job is in the airline industry. The offer still stands, but his start date has been pushed back to 2021.

“Obviously, the airlines have been hit pretty hard, so I was expecting something,” Zaacks said. “Honestly, I was expecting worse news than that.”

It’s a problem many of his classmates are facing. Either the company is struggling, or they’re just not ready to train new employees virtually.

“We are seeing some companies rescind offers, but honestly the more common thing is companies pushing back start dates,” said Rebecca Cook, executive director of undergraduate career services at the IU Kelley School of Business.

Cook says most students already had jobs lined up in the fall, and less than 1% of those students had their offers rescinded. However, it’s been a challenge for those still searching and for students counting on a summer internship.

“We are seeing a lot of companies shorten those internships,” Cook said. “So a traditional internship is 10-12 or so weeks long. Now we’re seeing a lot more commonly in the 2-4 week time frame. Those will all be virtual.”

“The entire spectrum of experiences is happening,” said Joe Lovejoy, director of the IU Walter Center for Career Achievement. “We’ve talked to students who have had internship offers rescinded, we’ve talked to students who have had job offers rescinded.”

Lovejoy works with students in the College of Arts and Sciences. They’ve called thousands of students to check in and have even started a podcast with alumni from 2008, who give advice on graduating in a recession.

“It’s common for students to be laser focused on certain goals, which is fine, but we’re also encouraging them to think broadly about their steps and pay attention to what industries are hiring,” Lovejoy said.

Since it’s a situation students everywhere are dealing with, everyone is on the same playing field. If your job or internship is no longer happening this summer, Cook says employers will understand. However, it’s important to make good use of your time—especially for the Class of 2021.

“In the fall when companies are interviewing, their question is going to be, “What did you do this summer?” Cook said. “As long as you can showcase you were learning something, and you used the summer to build up your skill sets, you’re going to be okay.”

Zaacks says he’ll use his time off to gain a new skill. He plans to learn to program or even take the GMAT or the LSAT.

“I have some things planned,” Zaacks said with a smile. “I’m not going to be doing nothing, that’s for sure.”

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