College seniors face job market after year of limited professional opportunities

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The Class of 2021 is entering the job market after a year of pandemic-related workplace shutdowns. Employers are reopening their doors this spring, but many prospective graduates missed out on a year of vital professional experience and networking.

According to Recruiting Trends: 2020-2021, a study by Dr. Phil Gardner from Michigan State University’s Collegiate Employment Research Institute, the pandemic brought college recruiting to a standstill in 2020. Internships and co-ops were hit harder then full-time positions. Approximately 40% of employers cut summer programs last year. 

            Lauren Hinkel, a career adviser at Michigan State University, said internship opportunities depend on companies’ preferences. Unfortunately for today’s seniors, many programs recruit students who are not yet graduating. 

            “Some industries only want interns who are still going to be in school after the internship,” she said. “For example, if someone is graduating in December, sure, they might apply for an internship this summer. If you’re already graduating in May … some companies may do a postgrad internship, and some do not.”

            Hinkel said there are other avenues for graduates to make up for missed experiences. 

            “First and foremost, any experience is good experience, whether that looks like a part-time opportunity or potentially volunteering at a nonprofit organization,” she said. “The most important thing employers are looking for is what’s called ‘transferable skills’-which are skills that can be transferred to multiple different opportunities.”

            Katie Schroeder, a senior at MSU, secured a remote internship last summer. She said several other trips and events were shut down. 

            “I got accepted into the L.A. field experience … and also, I had received a scholarship for study abroad,” she said. “And I really did want to intern somewhere else. I’m constantly applying for remote internships, and there’s still that fear of them cancelling.”

            Schroeder planned diligently to enrich her college experience. As a senior, Schroeder didn’t have the option to postpone — just cancel. 

            “It was just a lot that this class has missed out on,” she said. “I don’t know if it ever ends, I guess.”

            The pandemic limited prospective graduates’ networking opportunities, too.  

            Emily Towns, a senior at MSU, said she will rely on the internet and relationships with professors for job hunting this spring.   

            “I haven’t been to a single career fair. I’ve been searching on Indeed for things I might be interested in,” she said. “Other than that, I’m mostly relying on my professors to get me connections. Even in this day, it’s not what you know but who you know and your reputation.”

            Hinkel said alumni are the best resource for recent graduates seeking connections in the job market. 

            “The greatest thing that students can do right now in this virtual context is use their MSU alumni connection,” she said. “We have such a vast expanse of alumni at our disposal and that’s the greatest networking tool that MSU students can be afforded.”

            The demand for college recruitment is increasing this summer, according to Gardner’s report. Approximately 10% of employers are expected to eliminate programs and 25% remain undecided. 

            Towns isn’t discouraged by last year’s challenges as she faces graduation and beyond with resilience.

 “We’ve been through a pandemic; I believe that we will persevere as a community,” she said. “And I believe it will make us stronger.”

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