Soon-to-be unemployed: 2021 graduating seniors remain optimistic despite difficult job search

Chatwan Mongkol, News Editor

Senior theater major Nicole Gibson has applied for a post-college job at over 99 places but has not yet secured any position. She is worried she will become unemployed after graduation.

Gibson is not the only upcoming graduate who faces uncertainty.

Quinnipiac University class of 2021 students are graduating, joining around 1.97 million anticipated bachelor’s degree graduates across the nation looking for a placement in the labor market. They said job hunting now is more difficult than ever because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Connor Lawless

“I’m searching for jobs. I’m applying wherever I can, whatever I can, whether it’s remote or near me,” Gibson said. “I’m trying to put my eggs in the basket and see whoever takes me.”

As Gibson had experience working at a hiring company during the summer for two years, she noticed that many companies are not ready to welcome new employees as they continue with their hiring freeze policies.

“It feels like you’re so eager to go out there and get a job and show what you’ve learned, but at the same time, everyone’s just trying to take precaution, so there is (no) middle ground,” Gibson said.

Gibson wants to enter the theater and entertainment field, but since many theaters have been shut down since last spring, it is difficult for her to look for positions in the field. However, she said she is hopeful as theaters are slowly reopening.

According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (USBLS), the unemployment rate among people ages 16-24 is at 11.1% in March, which increased from 10.2% in the same month last year. In 2021, the unemployment rate among young people hit its highest during the first three months since 2015.

Management instructor Patricia Kelly said students must be adaptable and know their worth while expanding their job search to include roles that allow them to develop and enhance their skills.

“You may not always find an open position in your desired industry, but (think about) what skills can you apply to the open positions,” Kelly said. “Students should be prepared to understand the value of their transferable skills, and some students are seeing great success in the hiring process as of now.”

While students are worried about their uncertain future, the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) reported last year that the hiring outlook for the class of 2021 graduates is more positive than it was expected. From surveying 227 companies, the NACE found that 52.5% of them expect to maintain their 2020 hiring level while 31% of them expect to decrease their hiring.

According to the Staffing Industry Analysis, NACE also found in March that employers expect to hire 7.2% more college graduates from the class of 2021 than they did from the class of 2020.

Senior film, television and media arts major Juwan Watkins-Green also remains optimistic about his path to a professional career after he applied for film-related positions at over 40 studios since last fall.

Even though Watkins-Green said he is confident more opportunities will be opening back up this summer given that people are receiving their COVID-19 vaccinations, he said he has some concerns.

“Right now, I feel a little bit fine,” Watkins-Green said. “But I think if we get to the end of summer and I still haven’t found anything, then I’ll definitely get a little worrisome.”

In the meantime, he plans to go back to his hometown of Boston to work on other jobs.

The hiring landscape has changed in the past year. Kelly said employers are changing the way they recruit. She said companies use empathy along with technology and data to make more efficient hiring decisions.

“Post-COVID companies should be prioritizing employee well-being to have a better chance of finding and retaining talent,” Kelly said. “Top talent will always appreciate understanding that beyond the recruitment process, there still lies that human connection, which quite frankly is critical post COVID.”

With more emphasis on interpersonal skills throughout the hiring process, entrepreneurship and strategy associate professor Dale Jasinski said experience and networking became more important, but also more difficult to gain as a result of the pandemic.

“Internships and other experiential opportunities were severely limited by the pandemic starting last summer, which is typically the best time of year to get those important hands-on experiences leading into the job-searching season,” Jasinski said. “The ability to network in person and attend networking functions was also taken away from graduating seniors.”

Senior marketing major Ja’sean Johnson-Henry had first-hand experience of getting his internship program canceled. With most networking events turning virtual, he said it impacted his job-hunting process.

“Personally, the lack of face-to-face interaction has hurt the navigation of job searching,” Johnson-Henry said. “Interviews on Zoom can get kind of awkward, and possible technical difficulties can ruin the pace of an interview.”

Jasinski advised students to invest in the best Zoom-ready technology to better their chance to express themselves through a rectangular screen. He also said students need to be more aggressive in building their network during times like these.

Although many industries saw a decline in their hiring, some industries are more demanding. According to the USBLS, the health care industry is expected to grow 15% from 2019-29 in terms of its employment.

Senior health science studies major Asiyah Neal, who wants to become a pharmacist, said she is excited to know that her chosen industry is thriving. Even though she will go to graduate school in a few months and is not looking for a job in the industry, she plans to get a part-time babysitting job during the summer.

“I think that it’s harder than usual to get a job now because a lot of roles have changed or are not available at all due to COVID,” Neal said. “Unless you’re going into health care, it’s very difficult to find an internship that will give you great experience in your field.”

Another field that is expected to grow in coming years is the field of freelance jobs, as CNBC reported. In the summer of 2020, over 36% of young adults aged 18-22 have started freelance work. CNBC also reported that 75% of those who quit their jobs to become freelancers earn the same or more in pay than their traditional jobs.

“The gig economy is not limited to Uber drivers,” Jasinski said. “In other words, companies are increasingly turning to people (and saying), and this includes college graduates, ‘I will hire you only when I need you.’”

To be successful in the self-employment world, Jasinski said students need to think like an entrepreneur and manage their own personal brand.

Senior journalism major Marianna Rappa is someone who is considering going into the freelance world after he applied for traditional jobs at around 50 companies but only got rejections.

“I’m a little stressed right now with finding a job,” Rappa said. “I have friends who have gotten internships and jobs straight out of college and I’m sitting here like ‘How did you do that?’ I don’t understand.”

However, he plans to work as a freelancer in the journalism field to save money before opening his own business in the future.

“The dream of opening a restaurant didn’t really (interest) me until recently,” Rappa said. “I’d rather have my own business where I can do my own thing and have my own logo, have my own website, have everything. Just like, be my own boss.”

Jasinski explained that the pandemic made more people realize that it is riskier to rely on others for their own future than to create their own businesses and rely on themselves.

Even though students are facing several challenges, Kelly said that the career development teams and faculty at Quinnipiac work tirelessly to help them to know their worth in the marketplace.

“I am confident that our students are ready upon graduation for navigating successfully in their careers in the future,” Kelly said.