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Extending the job search

screenshot of nine people on a video call. Jobs and COVID-19
Professor Lynne Shackelford's professional communications class gets help from Malone Center Director Lauren Payne, and staff members Kristin Irwin, Rebecca Marion-Flesch and Alex Ricciuti.

While Wall Street continues its roller coaster ride, and jobless claims reach record highs in the United States amid the spread of coronavirus, graduating college seniors across the country suddenly find themselves on shaky ground.

Fortunately, college career offices like the Malone Center for Career Engagement at Furman University are helping future graduates navigate the new job market, while also helping them stay positive and focused.

“The Malone Center has retooled operations to provide students with access to 100 percent remote career guidance assistance,” says John Barker, assistant vice president of Career and Professional Development at Furman.

Their doors are still open – virtually – to all students, but they’re placing special emphasis on graduating seniors, Barker says.

“We are in the process of personally reaching out to all of our seniors by phone or Zoom to see how we can support them with their post-graduation plans,” says Lauren Payne, director of the Malone Center. Through the center, job seekers have access to instruction on how to use multiple online resources, including Handshake, a career management and job board with more than 5,000 postings.

screen shot of student Catey Gans in a Zoom meeting with Rebecca Marion-Flesch. Jobs and COVID-19.
Catey Gans ’20 holds a Zoom meeting with Malone Center career advisor Rebecca Marion-Flesch.

Meanwhile, some seniors are taking a year or more to sort through what they might do when the coronavirus dust settles.

Catey Gans ’20 had originally been looking to work in international study away programs or in European tourism, industries where jobs are scarce, she says. She’s now shifted her focus to stateside opportunities in architecture while she ponders a role in her major, public health.

“Eventually, I would like to attend graduate school for health care and workplace design, but I want a better understanding of the positions within the field,” Gans says.

Gans is working with career adviser Rebecca Marion-Flesch in the Malone Center.

“Rebecca has been a wonderful resource and mentor throughout this time,” Gans says. “She is willing to give same-day answers to every question I have, and she proactively researches country-specific best practices for resumes and cover letters. I’ve also received links to online resources for job postings, virtual programming and ways to connect with Furman alumni while I’m at home.”

Sarah Dusek ’20, a studio art and English major, also has graduate school plans, but for now is setting her sights set on the Japan Exchange and Training (JET) program. Among other positions, JET provides two-year assignments in Japan’s K-12 schools, where college grads serve as assistant English teachers or sports education advisers.

If that placement doesn’t pan out, Dusek is getting her employment house in order with the help of Malone Center career advisor Alex Ricciuti, who is assisting Dusek in setting up a plan B and helping her make connections in her hometown, Savannah, Georgia.

On top of career advising, Ricciuti sees his role as a sounding board for students.

“We are here for career support, but we’re also here to just talk it out, giving students a second to breathe and know someone is rooting for them. That’s what they’ve needed first and foremost,” he says.

Ricciuti recommends his students stick to a regimen and practice patience.

“I tell students everyone has had their world turned upside-down, so giving some grace to employers will go a long way,” Ricciuti says.

Likewise, Marion-Flesch counsels students to focus on what they can affect now.

“Times are unpredictable, but there are many things students can do to be effective and successful in their post-graduation search – polishing resumes and cover letters, creating and updating an online presence in LinkedIn and Handshake and staying organized. Creating small, attainable goals helps decrease anxiety and stress,” she says.

Dusek is taking that advice to heart.

“All I can do is focus on one task at a time. The future is out of my control, but I can finish strong and take steps to give myself a backup plan,” Dusek says.

Payne says the same job search fundamentals apply for students on the verge of entering the job market as well as more seasoned alumni, some of whom have been furloughed during the COVID-19 crisis.

“We have always offered free access to our online resources and career advising appointments to Furman alumni,” Payne says.

For all job seekers, she reiterates the importance of updating professional online profiles, preparing for virtual interviewing through new tools at the center like BIG Interview, attending virtual networking events and career fairs, and leveraging the Furman alumni network.

To alumni specifically, Payne’s advice is, “Be flexible; you may have to be open to another industry. Telecommunications, online learning, grocery, biotech and pharmaceutical industries are ramping up hiring at this time.”

Citing an article in The Wall Street Journal, Payne says firms with a heavy logistical component, such as Amazon and Walmart, and health care retailers like CVS Health Corp, will hire half a million new employees in the coming weeks.

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