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CoronaBlog: Lessons learned from graduating into a recession
By Katie Johnston Posted in Covid-19 0 Comments
Canadians in no rush to hurry back from Covid-19 restrictions Previous Ireland’s COVID-19 efforts are missing one thing: Fear Next

Four years ago as I walked into my Mifflin Hall dorm room for the first time, I promised myself I would use the next four years at Penn State to set myself up in the best way possible to jump right into my future career after graduation.

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After putting in — I’ll be honest — minimal effort in high school, I had realized this was the time to really prove my potential and fine tune my skills. Two completed majors, four internships, two journalism awards and many extra-curricular activities later, I could not have imagined being in a better position for applying to jobs than the one I was in two months ago.

I had followed through on the plans my 17-year-old self made as a freshman. I accomplished everything and more of what I hoped I would at Penn State. And then of course, as it does, life reared its ugly head and reminded me of one little cliché I grew up always hearing: Man plans, and God laughs.

When the COVID-19 pandemic first hit, I was immensely grateful both to have a home to come back to and for the health and safety of my family and friends. But discouragement soon set in — my final semester at Penn State was cut in half, I had to say goodbye to graduation and worst of all, hiring freezes were devouring the job market.

Everything seemed to be falling apart, and my efforts these past four years appeared fruitless. When I turned on the news, I was reminded that even after stay-at-home measures ended, a recession was likely to follow.

That’s when I decided to speak with Matthew McConnell, senior manager of integrated marketing at Discovery, an American mass media company.

McConnell graduated from Penn State with a degree in telecommunications in 2009 — right in the midst of the Great Recession. In March 2009, McConnell was making his way through various Penn State job fairs only to find no one was hiring. That’s when he ran into Bob Martin, assistant dean for internships and career placement in the Penn State Bellisario College of Communications.

“I was really at a loss in terms of, what the hell am I going to do?” McConnell said. “But at the same time, Bob has a way of making you believe in yourself and making you feel like it’s all going to be alright.”

Martin will be going on his 21st year in his role as assistant dean. He said when giving advice to students, he compares the current situation to the financial crisis of 2009.

“When there’s a retraction like we’ve seen here in employment, the first thing we tell our soon to be grads is you should keep the door open to a post-graduate internship,” Martin said. “Where full-time job opportunities might be drying up, they’ll consider you for internships.”

McConnell decided to reach out to his boss from the internship he held in the summer of 2008. Luckily, she was on board with him coming back. Because the internship was unpaid, McConnell took out a loan to move to New York.

“It was basically another semester of school is kind of how I approached it,” McConnell said, “but away in New York City on a long-term interview.”

He ended up getting hired in August of 2009 in the Ad Sales department at Scripps Networks Interactive, Inc.

Both Martin and McConnell noted that post-grad internships are only one avenue to pursue post-graduation.

“You want to get offers across the board,” Martin said. “In other words, until you get that full-time job offer, keep everything open from unpaid internships, to paid internships, to associate programs, to rotational programs, to part-time jobs that relate to what you want to do. They’re going to be stepping stones up the ladder, one rung after another.”

But while there are similarities between the current job market and the one in 2009, McConnell said the two aren’t that comparable, as the present hiring freeze is due to a global pandemic that is keeping people from simply leaving their homes.

Martin suggests taking advantage of Zoom and other means of video chatting. He said while it can be more difficult to be memorable over a computer screen, every student should be networking and contacting people in the work force to have virtual “coffee meetings.”

“One thing you can’t do is complain,” Martin said. “You can’t go ‘woe is me’ because we’re all in the same boat. If you don’t have that grit to want to dig deep and get what you want out of your career, you’re going to struggle in this market. You got to show that grit, that fortitude. You’ve got to persevere.”

Jana Mlodzianowski is a senior human resources manager for Ruder Finn. Mlodzianowski said the public relations firm does not currently have a hiring freeze and has had two full-time hires recently start remotely due to shelter-in-place orders.

While her transition to working remotely has been smooth, Mlodzianowski said it has been difficult to get used to working from home. Her advice for graduating students who may have to start their careers from their kitchen tables is to set up a designated work area.

“I have everything I need on my kitchen table so when I sit down here, it really feels like I’m getting ready to do work,” Mlodzianowski said. “And at 6 o’clock when the day ends, I go over to the couch to watch T.V. Separating that is important, because otherwise I think it can be really difficult to feel like you’re not on the clock all day, every day.”

For graduating students going through the process of talking to recruiters and hiring managers like Mlodzianowski, Martin has one last piece of advice.

“Have some empathy for recruiters — they’re people, too,” he said. “You don’t know if they’re directly impacted by all of this, if they have a family member who’s sick.”

As Martin told me, these unprecedented times call for patience and perseverance. As I find myself discouraged, weaving through the few applications I can find, I’ll be sure to take one last cliché with me: this too shall pass.

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