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@The Class of 2020: It’s Not Just You, Your Classmates Feel The Pain

The class of 2020 has graduated and the job market is at its worst since the Great Depression in America. As a broadcast & digital journalism student graduating from a communications school, my skills can translate into a variety of different areas. But if massive companies are on hiring freezes, what does that mean for my future? Not just my future, but the students of 2020. My fellow seniors who are looking for jobs, for the next step, their next move. 

Syracuse University (SU) recent 2020 graduates posing in front of the iconic Hall of Languages building on the SU campus.
Syracuse University (SU) recent 2020 graduates posing in front of the iconic Hall of Languages building on the SU campus. From left, Lilly Marco, Victoria Duva, Emma Henzes, Paris Acquaro, Marie Albanese, Sharon Sokolovskaya, Hannah Gold.

There is no doubt the pandemic has changed the way the professional world operates, proving how remote connection can change the landscape of a working person’s life. The pandemic intensifies the vulnerability of life, which can lead to second-guessing a career choice or proving why that path feels right. After asking professors and colleagues for advice on what to do next, I turned to my friends to see how Coronavirus victimized their post-grad plans.

Navigating Setbacks

The majority of graduating seniors I know did not have jobs lined up and if they did, the start date was pushed back to the middle of the fall. Some dates have even been pushed to January, like Deloitte, the massive multinational professional services network. Lilly Marco, a Syracuse University (SU) Information Management and Technology graduate who interned for the NFL last summer, was supposed to be moving to New York City following graduation. Now her start date has been moved to anytime from August to October, according to the last update from her company. Marco follows along with company posts on LinkedIn to see how they are handling the pandemic to get a glimpse into her future work culture. She said this crisis is eye-opening to companies’ employee work-life initiatives based on how they are handling taking care of their employees. 

Another Information Management and Technology friend, Sharon Sokolovskaya, previously had been offered a job at IBM in Massachusetts as a Technical Solution Specialist. She was looking forward to starting her career in the summer after graduation but her start date has also been moved to the fall.

“We are in a scary situation globally, but this pandemic has only solidified my choice in pursuing a technical career,” Sokolovskaya said. “While many businesses around the U.S. are shutting down, tech companies are working hard to find ways to alleviate stress caused by the pandemic and utilize technology to assist in combating the virus. This shows how important the tech industry is and how it can create a positive impact on so many lives.”

Media & Technology – An Intersection

She proves a point that my professors had suggested to me when I sought advice on finding a job during the U.S.’s worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. Journalist and multimedia producer Corey Takahashi, a Magazine, News, and Digital Journalism professor at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at SU advised me to look at technology companies, specifically for me, to look at companies where media and technology intersect, like Facebook, Amazon, and YouTube. 

Those are the companies still operating, plugging along who are trying to take lots of real estate in the media landscape. As a skill for the future workforce, it’s clear those who know the language of technology will not find a shortage of jobs. With years of industry experience, Takahashi proposed that in the creative media arena, the playing field has been levelled. From famous celebrities and directors to your neighbour who likes to blog, right now, everyone is at home using their smartphone and AirPods. There is a captive audience hungry for content. Take the world phenomena docuseries Tiger King on Netflix.

Joseph Maldonado-Passage, also known as “Joe Exotic,” with one of his tigers.
Joseph Maldonado-Passage, also known as “Joe Exotic,” from Tiger King with one of his tigers. Credit…Netflix

After seven episodes, fans, including myself, wanted more. So what did Netflix provide? American actor, comedian and TV show host Joel McHale hosted a series of virtual interviews of the integral story characters, all filmed on phones and cameras, each person equipped with AirPods. Now you may not have the latest update of technology or the biggest budget, but right now, new content is dwindling and all new creations are being made from home, creating an opportunity for new members in the media space. 

David B. Falk endowed sport management professor, international author, and Leaders of Evolution advisory team member, Rick Burton voiced the same message about finding the intersection of media and technology. He stressed to look not at the trends, because that means it has already happened, but look at the tremors to spot growth areas. In his sport management classes at SU, he often preaches NHL legend Wayne Gretzky’s philosophy that says skate to where the puck is going, not to where the puck is. He proudly mentions LoE as a tremor, showing that education doesn’t need to stop during stay-at-home orders. He told me that this is obviously a tough time to enter and be searching for a full-time position, but it’s not impossible.

Companies still have the audience, especially media and technology-streaming companies. Graduating students need to think outside of the box because there isn’t even a box anymore. “You have to attack with proactive aggressiveness. Be varied and flexible,” Burton said. “And play your strengths as a young media professional who knows the future media technologies better than the seasoned professionals in the workforce.” To survive in today’s workforce, young professionals need to showcase their ability to roll with the punches and offer creative, diverse solutions to future problems Burton suggested in this current climate to look at essential business, like food services and healthcare, that students may have ignored if they are looking into the typical media and sports industry.

Identifying Opportunities in a Crisis

Two close friends had planned on going into what we now refer to as essential business before the pandemic hit. My college roommate, Paris Acquaro, mathematics and Italian double-major on the medical school track, said this pandemic made her more impassioned to follow her pursuit of becoming a doctor. “This pandemic really emphasized how important healthcare workers are. To see the impact of these essential workers has me re-inspired to become one of them,” Acquaro said. “It has really opened my eyes to how much we should appreciate healthcare workers and the need for more.” She admits this pandemic has shown the imperfections and fragility of the healthcare system, but this has provided her an area of focus to prepare and be better equipped for a crisis of this magnitude when it happens again. 

She planned on scribing in an operating room this summer to gain experience for her medical school applications. However, hospitals are not hiring or even taking untrained volunteers to avoid further contamination. As the U.S. continue to lift restrictions, Acquaro hopes she can get into the heart of the pandemic to make a difference, until then she is sidelined studying for her medical entrance exam.

Matthew Hoffman, wearing his older sister’s cap and gown from St. Joseph’s University, celebrating in his backyard because graduations in the United States have been canceled or postponed.

In the same fashion waiting for companies to start up their interview process again, Matthew Hoffman, a food marketing student at St. Joseph’s University in Pennsylvania, realized the importance his field of work holds to the general public. Hoffman reminded me of the obvious – food is the top priority of the public. Grocery stores are one, if not the most essential business to keeping our modern-day selves alive. Back in his parents’ house, Hoffman is networking and keeping his eyes on LinkedIn postings to offer what he can do in one of the only operating business sectors right now. As my professors forecasted, Hoffman saw open opportunities and landed a job with Wegmans, a grocery store chain.

To graduate and enter the workforce or stay in school? That is the question.

Advice that surfaced from the previous US recession of 2008 has surfaced again, even leading me to question if it could potentially be a viable option: go to graduate school. As Burton described grad school, it could be a place to weather the storm, stay dry from the rain but still gain ground. Other friends of mine have been considering it who would have otherwise not thought twice about graduate school. In particular, Syracuse University’s offer makes it tempting as they are discounting masters programs for current SU seniors by 50%. Half-off a private university’s tuition? Not a bad idea. My professors and past colleagues offered varied advice about potentially looking into graduate school. But they all said one thing, apply and then make your decision later. Give yourself the most options possible and then make the decision when the clock has run out. Takahashi mentioned that while it’s hard as a young adult to see in the future, don’t make decisions for the now out of fear. Make decisions with five to ten years in mind. He reminded me that grinding through this pandemic will make for a more agile and strong employee, highlighting the importance of being autonomous throughout these trying times.

I continue to question graduate school. Is it worth the money? Does this make me a better candidate? Is it necessary or can I learn graduate-level skills while on the job? These questions are at the forefront of many students’ minds. Studying environmental and interior design, Alex Borrelli hoped to leverage alumni and networking connections and previous employment options to find herself a stable job after graduation. She has gotten the dreaded hiring freeze responses when she has gotten through to potential employers. People aren’t just not hiring for new positions, they are stressed about keeping their own jobs, making the candidate pool a whole lot more crowded with highly experienced candidates.

Erin Riley started an Instagram, Girls Who Read, during her extra time of the stay-at-home orders in the United States that reviews and recommends books. Screenshot via Instagram.

Erin Riley, a fellow Newhouse student, studied public relations in hopes of landing a job in Boston or New York City. Like me, Riley would have never considered grad school right out of the gate but now she is looking into public policy and global communications, a major that has been thrust into the spotlight during the COVID-19 pandemic. As Burton suggested, Riley is now considering options in the healthcare sector of public relations, saying she would love to do communications work for hospitals. The importance of strong communication and networking, as discussed in part 1 of this reflective series, holds true now more than ever for recent graduates trying to find full-time positions. Riley is working her connections from previous internships and reaching out to those in our Syracuse alumni network to make the best of her resources. For her own enjoyment and entertainment, while expanding her portfolio, Riley is using this extra time to curate her own Instagram page that reviews books. An avid reader, Riley’s entrepreneurial mindset allows her to merge her digital skills with her passion for reading. And who knows, perhaps this account will take off and she can live out her dream in a way she didn’t imagine possible. But most importantly, Riley saw the opportunity to use this extra time to add a new creative skill to her resume.

For some graduating seniors, graduate programs were already their next move but the uncertainty of the fall looms. Marie Albanese, a communication sciences and disorders undergrad student at SU, planned on getting her master’s degree in speech-language pathology at Long Island University-Post. While her future classes have not been interrupted yet, as she added, with the current climate, she would not be surprised if they get moved online to the fall. She has seen some light shining through this dull time. She’s amazed by the worth of telehealth, connecting with patients virtually. This gives her hope for the future and how medical practices can continue to evolve. Albanese made a point while we are all on Zoom/Skype calls right now, we are practicing our skills for what our workforce may possibly look like in the future. A leading radio industry professional explained to me over FaceTime that may companies, including her own organisation are beginning to see how working five days a week at the office building could be unnecessary. She said people entering the workforce should be prepared for more work-from-home days even after the Coronavirus threats fade away.

My other college roommate, Hannah Gold, an inclusive elementary and special education major, is hoping for the best this fall when it comes to her master’s program in literacy at Columbia University. She is staying optimistic that she can continue her education in-person, not for her own benefit, but for all the children that need the social and physical benefits of a structured school day.

The Next Move

Being completely transparent, my immediate post-graduate plans didn’t consist of finding a job, but rather traveling and spending time with my family and friends. The communications hiring cycle is rather short, so industry standards hold that if you are applying to jobs, you should assume that within a few weeks you will start working if selected for the position. I didn’t feel pressed to have a job upon graduation. I wanted to enjoy my summer because after all, I will work for the rest of my life until retirement. So why am I now stressed about finding a position when my plan wasn’t until August or September. I suppose the scarcity of jobs has lit a fire or more likely, the fact that my schedule for the summer has been cleared of every vacation, party, celebration, outing, and baseball game I planned on attending. I am grateful for my health and the ability to examine the pandemic from a safe space, but I look forward to the day when COVID-19 is just a memory and a yearly vaccine.

I don’t know what the future holds. But, I know my worth and value that I can bring to a position, so I just have to be my own best advertisement. I have worked hard to craft my skills and build a foundation for professional and personal growth. I will take the initiative from home right now. Employing my networking skillset my dad instilled in me as a young adult is the helping hand I need to guide me to my next opportunity. I will continue to strengthen my communications, putting my name out there. I have found asking those wiser, more experienced important figures in your life can bring comfort and a perspective I can’t possibly have because of my new position in today’s workforce. But I won’t underestimate the value I gain from conversations with my peers, the next generation of leaders.

If you would like to read part 1 or part 2 of this reflection piece series please follow the links below:

I’m a Young Professional, What Life Skills Do I Need to Enter the Workforce? (Part 1 of 3)

I Just Graduated College During a Pandemic, Now What? (Part 2 of 3)

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Emma Henzes

Enjoys telling stories through digital media and loves to travel trying the local food. While she is out of her athletic prime, Emma still loves to stay in shape and watch live sporting events with her family and friends. If you can’t find her at her laptop working for Leaders of Evolution, she’s probably at the beach.

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