Student and Academic Life

Creating Resiliency Through Adversity: UK Career Center Helps Students Navigate an Uncertain Job Market

Pete Comparoni | UK Photo.

LEXINGTON, Ky. (June 5, 2020) — For the 2020 graduating class at the University of Kentucky, their last semester has been nothing short of a whirlwind.

Due to the global pandemic, they have faced a quarantine, conquered remote learning and many experienced virtual or social distanced graduation recognitions. While they are surely trailblazers, the harsh reality of the pandemic and its economic impact hangs heavy over the new graduates as they make their way into the job market. 

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, more than 40 million Americans have filed for first-time unemployment benefits since the coronavirus forced the U.S. economy to shut down in March.

The James W. Stuckert Career Center and the career services units based in UK’s academic colleges have acted quickly to shift their services to a virtual format to help students navigate the job market during these unprecedented times. 

“We've been adapting services to ensure that our returning students and new graduates have ready access to career support in what has quickly become a very challenging labor market,” said Ray Clere, director of the Career Center. 

Serving more than 7,000 students during the 2019-2020 academic year, the Career Center is a valuable resource for students, preparing them for a lifetime of career possibilities through services that foster engagement, reflection and holistic development while connecting passion to purpose.

Taylon Baker, 2020 UK grad, was one of those students.

“I was scared,” Baker admitted. “I was scared to apply for jobs and interview virtually. I was scared to go farther than my comfort zone. I felt like everything I had planned for was suddenly taken away.”

Her feelings, like thousands of students across the country, are valid. 

In research done by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, 4.4% of employers reported revoking offers to new college graduates they had recruited before the pandemic for full-time roles, while 22% of those surveyed said they are revoking summer internship offers.

Clere understands their fear, noting that what the nation is experiencing is a historically challenging labor market. 

His advice? Don’t allow these setbacks to define you. 

“Be open to career opportunities that may be adjacent to preferred career opportunities,” Clere said. “In other words, don't let great be the enemy of good. If students can gain work experience in a field that's not directly in their field of interest, then that's oftentimes better than waiting indefinitely for their preferred job opportunity.”

Job analysts say finding a job in this market is not impossible, it may just take a little longer. 

A report from the recruiting platform iCIMS said the graduating class of 2020 expected to apply to an average of 10 jobs before coronavirus. Now, that number has more than doubled.

In the meantime, Clere recommends dedicating time to strategy, including leveraging online tools and personal and professional networks to support their career planning. For example, three professional resource sites, Linkedin, Candor and The Muse, have introduced real-time running lists showing which employers are hiring, which employers have delayed or suspended hiring, and which employers have instituted reductions in force (layoffs). The information that these sites post should inform the strategy that students and new graduates adopt in their career planning. 

UK also offers a micro-internship program. As the program title suggests, micro-internships are internship opportunities that are condensed, usually one- to two-week time duration, and which students can participate in remotely. These are paid opportunities that offer excellent professional exposure and skill-building opportunities. 

“New graduates who develop a job search strategy and actively network and focus on career entry points are more successful securing employment than students and new graduates who operate without a strategy and rely primarily on online job boards,” Clere said. 

Career services staff are eager to work with students and new graduates to help them formulate a strategy that is specific to their personal career plans.

The Career Center has also extended access to its career services for a minimum of one year following graduation to best serve the graduating class during what many have described as uncharted territory. This means that new graduates can connect with the Career Center for appointment services, access online resources and attend career events well after their time at the university has ended. 

It is the Career Center’s tireless efforts to support its students that lifted Bakers’s spirits. 

“I'm slowly gaining some confidence, especially with the Career Center offering its services for an additional year after graduation,” she said. “They have literally helped me to see what I truly wanted to do with my life and helped me to get there.”

Through their virtual resources, Baker has been able to create the perfect resume in a CV style, work on her personal statement for graduate school and perfect her scholarship applications.

While plans have shifted for Baker, she took Clere’s advice and made some adjustments to her plan. She is currently working for a past employer and using her additional time creating a job strategy. 

Although the pandemic has presented a whole new set of challenges to students who are entering the job market, it has also provided them with valuable life lessons. 

History has shown that graduating in a recession can produce good character traits, one of them being resiliency. The negative things endured early on in a career creates appreciation down the road.

The economy will recover, and life will soon present a reinvented normal. Although there are many uncertainties ahead, one thing that is certain — Kentucky Wildcats will overcome adversity and through it all discover what is possible. 

For more information on the Career Center services, click here. To learn more about the university’s COVID-19 efforts, click here

The University of Kentucky is increasingly the first choice for students, faculty and staff to pursue their passions and their professional goals. In the last two years, Forbes has named UK among the best employers for diversity, and INSIGHT into Diversity recognized us as a Diversity Champion three years running. UK is ranked among the top 30 campuses in the nation for LGBTQ* inclusion and safety. UK has been judged a “Great College to Work for" two years in a row, and UK is among only 22 universities in the country on Forbes' list of "America's Best Employers."  We are ranked among the top 10 percent of public institutions for research expenditures — a tangible symbol of our breadth and depth as a university focused on discovery that changes lives and communities. And our patients know and appreciate the fact that UK HealthCare has been named the state’s top hospital for four straight years. Accolades and honors are great. But they are more important for what they represent: the idea that creating a community of belonging and commitment to excellence is how we honor our mission to be not simply the University of Kentucky, but the University for Kentucky.