Graduating seniors, lean forward: Embrace creativity, optimism and reflection

Anthony Pernell-McGee

The COVID-19 global pandemic has turned the universe upside down, including our personal, professional and social lives. However, this is not the time to retreat and allow pessimism, negative thoughts, self-doubt and bad habits to consume our core. We have been given a unique opportunity to embrace optimism, creativity and reflection. How do you want to use your skills and talents in the world? The Great Lockdown Recession will eventually end. If you use this time to reflect, learn new skills and improve on old ones, you will position yourself to find a meaningful career that will provide you with a quality work/life balance.

Unfortunately, the Class of 2020 is not the first to graduate during a recession. The graduating Classes of 2007 and 2008 faced a similarly daunting job market. It can take years after a recession for the market to rebound, and it is essential to be even more intentional when looking for a job. You may have had your eyes set on working for a prestigious corporation, an NGO or maybe a start-up. Most industries have hit the pause button on hiring, and are carefully evaluating how the pandemic is affecting the market. You should research what industries and organizations typically fare well in a downturn economy and be willing to explore other opportunities to ride out the recession. The common denominator for careers with social impact is that all industries intersect law, policy and regulations, and federal and state governments tend to hire during a recession but are slow to process applications, conduct interviews and make the hire.

I recommend establishing a profile account on USAJOBS and fill out the job alerts for the jobs you are interested in and repeat the same process for your state government. In addition to federal and state governments, healthcare, human and social services, professional services (accountants, auditors, actuaries, insurance providers, underwriters, appraisers, divorce and bankruptcy attorneys, mediators and arbitrators) public utility, education and telecommunications are industries that tend to weather a recession. However, the COVID-19 recession is unprecedented, and those industries mostly will be affected as well. For those students who are planning to take a gap year or two before law school, look for legal assistant/paralegal positions with firms that practice employment, healthcare, insurance coverage, FDA, private equity, municipal, telecommunications and trust and estates law. These practice areas tend to hire recent graduates and will lay off junior associates, shifting the workload to senior attorneys and their legal assistants/paralegals. Be prepared to work 40-plus hours a week plus weekends; these positions will sharpen your skills, and you will learn substantive law that will help you in law school. 

Familiarize yourself with the skills employers are looking for in recent graduates. The National Association of Colleges & Employers (NACE) Job Outlook 2019 Survey highlights critical thinking/problem solving, teamwork/collaboration, professionalism/work ethics and oral/written communications as the four top competencies employers value, followed by digital technology and global/multicultural fluency. Your liberal arts degree has equipped you with those core competency skills that will allow you to hit the ground running on day one. This is the time to lean into those skills that Williams College has nurtured and helped you developed. 

Our world is changing, and we must adapt to the new virtual universe. Employers will integrate virtual meetings and conferences in their business strategy reducing business travel and their carbon footprints. There will be more virtual job fairs, and employers will use virtual platforms to select finalists for in-person interviews. This is a perfect opportunity to learn new technologies such as Google Meet and Zoom. If you need to practice for a virtual or an in-person interview, the ’68 Center Interview Resources can help prepare you for your next interview. Are you unsure how you come across during an interview? If you are, you can record a practice interview using InterviewStream and modify and adjust your presentation. The more you use these technologies, you will gain confidence and will perform well. As always, you can also schedule a mock interview with a career advisor on Handshake.

These are challenging times, and you should take one day at a time. Create a plan of action and be intentional when searching for a job. The ’68 Center is here to help you and support you. Don’t spend all day on the computer looking and applying for jobs. Take time for self-care, and enjoy your family and friends.

Anthony Pernell-McGee is the Associate Director, Director for Inclusive Career Exploration and Advisor for Careers with Social Impact at the ‘68 Center for Career Exploration.