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Drexel University’s Steinbright Career Development Center event calendar looks mighty different than it did last spring term.
Rather than bolstering an upcoming Spring Career Fair and in-person employer information sessions and resume review opportunities, the words “Handshake” and “virtual” litter its pages. This is the reality of the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on employer recruiting efforts and the college labor market as a whole.
But just because the Class of 2020 and any other Dragons searching for employment or career development opportunities this spring are forced to do things a little differently doesn’t mean that they can’t be proactive — or successful in the end.
The fact that there are already several pages of virtual networking events being hosted or promoted by Steinbright is a testament to the rapid nature by which its staff was able to convert all of Steinbright’s student services to a virtual format — which by Vice President of Cooperative Education and Career Development Ian Sladen’s approximation took just a few days.
But why should students take advantage of these virtual offerings, Dragons — especially the Class of 2020 – may be asking? And how is it possible to still make a good impression and make one’s self stand out when meeting with employer representatives online?
Steinbright representatives shared several of these tips and more with DrexelNow for students to put into practice sooner rather than later, and one labor economist explained why these measures may be even more important in the post-COVID-19 economy.
Making a virtual impression
Dragons have already been actively engaging with employers and each other via virtual offerings on Handshake or those sponsored by Steinbright itself or other Drexel entities, said Associate Director of Career Services Nicole Dalberto, MS. And that’s a good thing, given that Handshake is the primary means by which employers are now providing information sessions, conducting early-on recruiting and even hiring for specific roles among graduating students.
In fact, even in-light of COVID-19-related difficulties, there are still over 11,000 jobs available to Drexel students currently posted in Handshake — with 60 to 70 new full-time postings being added each day.
Handshake provided its own tips for students on how to impress employers before, during and after virtual events, including showing up on time, maintaining eye contact and asking questions, and being prepared to follow up.
Dalberto would add that students should also make sure their Handshake and LinkedIn profiles are well-updated, since these digital tools have become “your face in the professional world” in this COVID-19 era.
Additionally, Dalberto would implore students to use this time to do a deep-dive into the types of companies and opportunities their looking for. On an April 8 webinar with more than 250 Drexel-connected employer representatives participating, many of them emphasized the importance of research into company culture as a way to set your application materials apart.
“It’s an important time for students to be reaching out to Drexel alumni through LinkedIn to begin those informational interviews to better understand company culture and an insider’s perspective,” Dalberto said.
Sladen further implored students to take advantage of any and all opportunities available on Handshake. Becoming acclimated to virtual networking now might also still come in handy post-pandemic, when people have returned to the office, he explained.
“Whether things resume exactly the way they were after the pandemic, or if we are in kind of a new world, so to speak, a lot of what we do may very well be virtual,” Sladen said. “We may find that a lot of the work that we do, interviewing or what have you, is going to be done in more of a hybrid format with the use of technology. … So to take advantage of that kind of learning is very important for students.”
Sladen is also very glad that Steinbright pivoted to using the Handshake system last spring, which broadcasts a much wider range of opportunities to Drexel Dragons.
“Given the competitive advantage that Drexel students have through the co-op program and the experience that they gain, I think they stand a better shot at landing a position with a wider variety of positions at their fingertips,” Sladen said.
Staying active in the job search
Despite this competitive Drexel advantage, it’s not something that graduating students should rely on in and of itself, especially due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Historically, almost 50 percent of our graduates receive a job offer from a former co-op employer, which is a benefit as it relates to full-time employment,” Sladen said. “However, as the pandemic and pending recession hit, we may see those numbers change.”
This is why Paul Harrington, PhD, director of Drexel’s Center for Labor Markets & Policy and professor in the School of Education, said his No.1 piece of advice for the Class of 2020 as things stand now is to stay active in their job search.
“Do not get discouraged. Stay in that job search as long as you can,” he said. “Send those resumes out, try and try, dialogue with employers, do informational interviews, whatever it is. Just try and maintain a dialogue as best you can. Try and use resources of the Steinbright Career Development Center to help get you hooked up with employers. But you want to keep an active job search until you get an offer.”
Exploring all options
The COVID-19 effects on the overall job market have been much less severe in the college labor market up to now, Harrington said, although he expects more employment declines in professional, technical and managerial occupations as state-mandated job shutdowns are extended. In a poll conducted during that employer webinar recently hosted by Steinbright, the response rate for representatives who believed at the time they would need to adjust the number of full-time offers for June was one of the lowest in terms of the many impacts COVID-19 has had on their recruiting at Drexel so far.
But responses like this may be subject to change the longer that most of the economy remains shut down, Harrington added, which may prompt the Class of 2020 to explore their options come graduation time — similar to the decisions college graduates made following The Great Recession in 2008.
“I would say they're much better off trading underemployment for unemployment,” Harrington said. “You know, don’t sit at home. Take a job that maybe wasn't a college labor market job, but you got yourself to work. Stay active.
“If you can't work, then what happened back in 2009, 2010 is what a lot of students did was enroll in graduate school,” he continued. “So what they did is they sheltered for a year until the college labor market got better.”
The good thing about enrolling in further schooling, Harrington said, is that the economy will continue to reward those with strong literacy and numeracy skills and increased occupational proficiency — and graduate school provides plenty of opportunity to enhance these abilities.
“These kind of skills and ability requirements are going to remain very important,” he said. “How you acquire them maybe may change, but developing those proficiencies really matters a lot and will continue to matter and probably matter more, you know, when the economy begins recovering.”
Additionally, students could enter into programs to grow proficiencies in content areas that prove to be in-demand following the pandemic.
“You know, now's the time to do that because you're opportunity cost is very low,” Harrington said. “It’s not like you're giving up a lot of earnings.”
Students who don’t explore alternative options may also consider broadening and getting a little more creative with their job search to put their best foot forward as they look toward graduation.
Sladen said this means being realistic and managing one’s expectations due to the difficult environment they’re undoubtedly about to enter into. However, not landing one’s dream job right out of college doesn’t mean it won’t be waiting for them later down the road.
“Expanding the job search to include roles not previously considered will increase the likelihood of landing a job,” he said. “Diversifying professional experiences will make young alumni more marketable and will serve them well when searching for that next role as the as the economy rebounds.”
Dalberto said that Handshake can make broadening the job search easier since many companies have direct contact information listed so that students can ask questions, gain insight and even convey their passion and interests to find best-fit opportunities. Dragons can also find the public profiles of fellow students and alumni across the country with connections to opportunities of interest and reach out to conduct further networking.
“Through Handshake, it just really makes the job search and personalization so much easier,” Dalberto said.
Ask for help
Whether they are conducted virtually or can someday soon be offered in-person once again, many of the important services offered by Steinbright to current students are also available to Drexel alumni once they turn their tassel.
“We’re always here to support Drexel alumni, whether they’re looking for a new opportunity or they’re career-changing, Dalberto said. “Our team provides support with resume, cover letter, job search strategies, accountability, motivation, salary negotiation or interview preparation,” Dalberto said. “It is always worthwhile to connect with Steinbright.”
Graduating students can also reach out to the career services team now to help with career planning and next steps to make them feel more confident moving through these uncertain times, Dalberto said.
Through Drexel Libraries, Steinbright even offers resources for students thinking about applying to graduate school, including information about which schools best fit their interests, financial aid information, test prep and personal statement writing.
All in all, Steinbright is here to help, no matter what.
“Our team has seen various recessions and various economic circumstances and can offer best practices to help students navigate the economic climate,” Dalberto said.
Sladen added that Drexel students are also uniquely positioned to be successful despite any tough employment outlook because of the many accomplishments they already have under their belts.
“[Drexel students] have relevant, real-world job experience, compared to that of your traditional stereotypical college student, that may have had no job training or maybe an internship that may or may not be related to their field of study,” Sladen said. “But at Drexel, the co-op program is part of the student’s academic program of study. It's part of our DNA.”
And Harrington pointed out that the loyalty among employers that Steinbright has built through the our 100-year-old Co-op program, and otherwise, will also help give Dragons a leg up during these uncertain times.
“Through Steinbright, Drexel has done a really good job in building this very large bank of employers that have stuck with them, that stuck with them back in 2008, 2009, 2010. And so far has stuck with them now,” he said. “So I think that's been very, very positive.”