IN THE FALL of 2001, Hazel Raja, now associate dean and senior director of Pomona’s Career Development Center, was living in New York when the unthinkable happened—the terrorist attacks of 9/11. “I’d taken out a large loan to go to New York University. It had always been my dream,” she explains. “I remember feeling overwhelmed and lost; I was emotionally drained by all of the loss, trauma and upheaval. I struggled to focus on a job search right away. What’s happening now feels very familiar.”
The global pandemic has created skyrocketing unemployment just as many of Pomona’s new graduates are job-hunting. “Students will need to continue to practice patience and focus on what they can control. They need to understand that their Plan B is just as important, right now, as their Plan A,” says Raja. “The pandemic has impacted hiring. There have been delays and fewer jobs posted. Students and our new graduates have to be realistic,” she says. “But there are things that they can do. And that’s how the CDO can be helpful.”
PCM: What services are available through the CDO?
Raja: The CDO is operating all of our services remotely. We’re offering close to 30 remote career advising appointments a day, as well as online info sessions and other resources through Handshake, plus alumni networking opportunities through our virtual programming and resources like Sagehen Connect and SagePost47.
Hiring has gone entirely online; recruiters are conducting all of their interviews via phone and/or videoconferencing. If students don’t feel 100% comfortable with using those platforms to interview, they should connect with us to get trained. We can do mock interviews with them and will share tips to ensure that they are successful in presenting themselves competitively and authentically in this job market.
PCM: Who is hiring in this environment?
Raja: There are industries that have increased their hiring as a result of the pandemic. For example, many companies are relying on their communication channels to share messaging, so they are hiring communications professionals who focus on social media and public relations. Companies that make remote work easier like Zoom, Slack, Microsoft Teams, Skype, etc., are hiring. Obviously, the health care sector and pharmaceuticals are booming. Additionally, the public sector: governments, county offices, the schools are actively recruiting. They’re looking for people to help quickly launch projects to support communities. Other areas that are actively hiring include accounting, logistics and delivery.
Start-ups are a great option right now for students and graduates who are enterprising and nimble. There are a lot of start-ups that are looking for new graduates because of the skills they bring, their ability to be creative and innovative thinkers and their ability to quickly pivot.
In contrast, there are industries that are actively cutting jobs. If somebody said to me, “I want to get a job in the airline industry,” I would say, “Well, there are very few to no jobs being posted in aviation right now.” Additionally, leisure and entertainment have been hit hard. It’s important to recognize that there are some fields, and some jobs, that may just evaporate for the time being or disappear altogether. If a student is struggling because of the lack of opportunities in their chosen career path, I hope they will feel comfortable leaning on the CDO for support and advice.
PCM: How can students job-hunt under safer-at-home orders?
Raja: Seventy-five percent of jobs are found through networking; therefore, 75 percent of a student’s job search or internship search should focus on networking.
In a situation like this where your options to physically network are extremely limited, you need to have a really strong online brand—that’s really important now because opportunities to woo potential firms in person are not an option.
Students have to “practice their pitch,” and they just have to keep applying for jobs. To be quite frank, I don’t think students apply for enough opportunities. In this type of environment, it’s even more important that they are actively applying and that they apply for even more opportunities than they would have normally.
It’s worth noting—if you need to take a pause because the industry you want to go into is not making decisions, ask yourself: What can I do between now and when it reopens to show how actively engaged I have been, and how can I improve my candidacy for when things reopen?
PCM: What advice do you have for students on summer plans?
Raja: Summer is a time for building skills through experiences. That expectation hasn’t changed but the source of how you gain those skills may have to be adjusted. It’s worth noting that now that companies and organizations are reopening, there is going to be great need for them to ramp up quickly. They’re likely going to be looking for short-term manpower to help pick things back up again. And that is something that I think college students are the perfect candidate for, because short-term work is exactly what they’re looking for in the summer months.
Additionally, the Pomona College Internship Program (PCIP) and RAISE program are supporting hundreds of students in developing their knowledge and employability skills though internships and independent projects. While those programs are closed for this summer, students can also develop great skills through remote campus employment. Available jobs are posted on Handshake.
Additionally, students could take advantage of online learning, online teaching or tutoring opportunities, or working for summer programs for kids (if they enjoy doing that kind of thing).
If students have lost their internships or plans for the summer or are not getting any responses, they need to reflect on what they can do to stay relevant. How can they stay on the radar of the person who hired them or would have been interested in their candidacy under other circumstances? What can they do to help support the employer or that organization remotely, if they’re willing to let them do that?
PCM: How can alumni help?
Raja: Alumni and parents can be a great resource to students right now. We are working with the Alumni Office and Parent Relations to explore a number of avenues to connect our students to Sagehens and Sagehen-supporters out in the workforce. Our #HelpingHens campaign, which launched in April, signposts mentorship options and the promotion of jobs and internships.
PCM: What should students do to cope as they search for work?
Raja: Students need to take time to process what’s happening and take care of themselves by prioritizing their well-being. You are a better job-searcher if you feel good about yourself. And you will feel good about yourself if you are sleeping well, eating well and taking care of yourself.
This can be a very isolating experience. Students should really be thinking about their emotional health and schedule time to connect with their roommates, friends and mentors. Mental health is also not something that can be neglected. If students had therapy appointments lined up, they should keep doing them virtually, because job-searching can lead to increased anxiety, regardless of the environment. It’s really easy to be down on yourself and take things really personally if you’re not taking care of your well-being.