May 4, 2020
With the Covid-19 pandemic sweeping the country, many college and university career centers have transitioned to online services, much like our faculty colleagues have moved to teaching remotely. Usually this time of year, the typical on-campus career center might start to see an uptick in students anticipating graduation and trying to figure out their next steps. Even in the best of times, for many students, visiting the college career center remains optional and anxiety inducing.
The same can be said about students’ responses to the pandemic, feelings of uncertainty may be heightened under the current “shelter in place” conditions. To career services professionals, working collaboratively with students on feelings of uncertainty and setting a course for next steps is familiar territory. With students and career center staff operating remotely, some of those psychological barriers may dissipate, and the digital natives of this generation may find it even easier to engage with their college career services office. The question is, will this be the time for university career centers across the country to shine?
My vote is yes, if career development professionals focus on the fundamentals that still apply, even in this pandemic-driven environment. For example:
- Grief and loss are real, whether from a postponed commencement ceremony or a retracted job offer, meeting students where they are and taking a page from the grief counseling experts can help.
- Acceptance and commitment may offer a path forward. Borrowing from this therapeutic approach, students can learn to experience their emotions with acceptance and develop a sense of self-agency to take next steps.
- Good career advice is still good career advice; Knowing your strengths, preparing savvy marketing content, communicating effectively, designing and implementing a search strategy, networking, informational interviewing, and more make the difference.
- These immediate impacts are temporary. The postponed graduation, the cancelled interview, the discontinued internship, and similar events are happening, but also are time delimited, eventually the economy will recover and new opportunities will arise.
- Employers hire for skills, including a variety of technical skills in specific fields and transferable skills such as problem-solving, communication, and teamwork, which are valued across a wide range of work situations.
- Demand across industries is changing and will continue to change. Job seekers often think of themselves inhabiting a specific industry; students can benefit from investigating how their skills might apply in different sectors of the economy.
- Seek positive motivations in job searching. For graduating students, graduate school may hold an appeal, but intentionality is worth exploring (i.e., is graduate school a retreat to safety, a skill building opportunity, or something else) to seek and align positive motivation and action steps linked to goals.
- Learning new skills valued by employers and remaining engaged in purpose-oriented activity is helpful, especially when career plans are derailed. For example, volunteering or working remotely for a non-profit or government agency, taking an online course to learn or sharpen technical skills, or completing a project that demonstrates a skill set for others to see.
- Practicing flexibility and adapting to changing circumstances during the job search can be challenging, but students will need to be flexible in contrast to the stick-to-the-program aspect of higher education to which they have become accustomed.
By sticking to the fundamentals of career development and meeting students where they are in their searches—from just getting started, to the accepted job offer rescinded—career services can continue in new ways to serve as a trusted resource on students’ pathways to long-term, post-pandemic success.