Today’s grads carry dreams of a bright future into a dim jobs market 

A woman sitting outside
University of St. Thomas senior Kate Nechanicky is nervous about the state of the job market when she graduates this month, but is continuing to work on updating her LinkedIn profile and stay positive.
Christine T. Nguyen | MPR News

Most everyone in the class of 2020 is getting a continuing education course, courtesy of the College of Hard Knocks: Finding your first job out of college during an economic meltdown.

Less than two months ago, college seniors were looking at a great job market. Unemployment was low and employment offers were plentiful. But with the COVID-19 virus smacking down much of the U.S. economy, college grads now face what shapes up as the toughest hiring season since the depths of the Great Recession, more than a decade ago. 

“It makes me kind of nervous that so many companies are letting go of their employees and not adding new positions,” said Kate Nechanicky, a communications and journalism major at the University of St. Thomas.

She had planned on looking for a job in public relations or media production. She has broadened her job search now, as she focuses on networking, updating her LinkedIn profile and divining who may still be hiring people with her skills.

“I'm trying to work on putting myself in the best position that I can be for when the job market does pick back up,” she said. 

It’s pretty rough now. More than half a million Minnesotans have filed for unemployment. Meanwhile, Minnesota job postings on Indeed.com, the online employment site, are down about 40 percent from last year.

A recent survey by Handshake, a nationwide job hunting site for college students, found nearly half of students are worried about getting a job when they graduate. With good reason.  They see what’s happening to classmates.

“About 11 percent of our students who had a full-time offer had it rescinded, and around 30 percent of juniors and seniors who had an internship had it rescinded,” said Christine Cruzvergara, a vice president   at Handshake.

But it’s not all bad. Cruzvergara says some sectors are still hiring, led by  education, health care, government, nonprofits and technology.

Students are turning to their schools’ career counseling offices a lot more for advice. 

“Do not panic,” May Thao-Schuck tells students. She is vice president of career and professional development at St. Catherine University.

"We still have employees that are actually actively looking at students,” she said. “They may not be hiring right away, but they tell us that they are going to continue to hire."

She said it’s more important than ever that students rev up their resumes, clean up social media profiles, polish their interviewing skills and network intensely with  people who can tip them off to jobs and help them get hired.  

Over at the University of St. Thomas, Jennifer Rogers, associate director for employer relations, helps students with their job hunts. She says most companies still want to hire new grads.

“They're really trying to retain any full-time jobs for those entry-level grads and continue that hiring,” she said.

Meanwhile, she’s giving students the same advice she dished out to grads during the Great Recession: “Identify who is actually still hiring,” she said. “Where is the health in the economy?”

A woman smiling in front of a brick wall
St. Catherine University senior Caillyn Costello found a job at Abbott Northwestern Hospital.
Courtesy of Caillyn Costello

Indeed, students are getting jobs. Caillyn Costello is one. She’s a senior in St. Catherine University’s nursing program.  Costello was rejected by nearly 30 employers before landing a position at Abbott Northwestern Hospital on a COVID-19 unit.

“I felt it could be a long wait until something pops up. And so, I was really grateful that this opportunity came about,” she said.

She is not fazed by her first assignment: “The nurse in me said, ‘Yes, of course, I’ll do it  because that's where the need is right now.’”

Like many students, Yossef Kassaw, a senior at the University of Minnesota Duluth, has mulled graduate school. But the information systems major and chapter president of the National Society of Black Engineers prefers to work.

Kassaw  has an internship with a company and hopes to stay with it after graduation. But meanwhile, he’s busy networking through video chats with potential employers, trying  to try to make up for the face time opportunities he lost with the cancellation of job fairs, professional conventions and other events.

“Right now, I think the best thing I can do is to make sure I continue to build relationships with recruiters to make sure I’m not just another candidate,” he said.  

A man standing outside near trees.
University of Minnesota senior Robert McCracken has an internship lined up for the summer and believes that job prospects may be better when he graduates in December.
Christine T. Nguyen | MPR News

Robert McCracken has an internship lined up this summer with Kimberly-Clark, the paper company.  The University of Minnesota Twin Cities economics major feels confident about his prospects when he graduates in December, when the economy may be in better shape.

“I am still somewhat hopeful that the U is going to provide me enough skills to go out there and be able to perform in that competitive job market,” he said.

But McCracken said people should remember college isn’t all about jobs and money. 

“For anyone out there who knows a grad in their life, I'd just say, celebrate their achievement because it's kind of being overshadowed at this time. But it is important and they've put a lot of sacrifice into it,” he said.

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