COVID-19 forced job seekers, employers, and professionals alike to rethink their job hunting and hiring strategies. In response, the UGA Career Center stepped up to help students overcome new obstacles, resulting in 91% of graduates in the class of 2020 securing jobs or continuing their education within six months of graduation.
In April 2020, the unemployment rate in the United States hit 14.8%—the highest level since the Great Depression. That same month, millions of soon-to-be college graduates in the U.S. prepared to enter the workforce. They faced rescinded offers, hiring freezes, and a new wave of competition resulting from mass layoffs.
Madeline Geer, then a fourth-year student at the University of Georgia, found herself vying for entry-level positions that mid-level professionals now wanted.
“Suddenly, you’re competing with people who are overqualified, and companies are snagging up talent at a lower price point,” she says.
The pandemic necessitated new skills and different approaches across the board. Not only were the rules rewritten for job searching, but also for deciding a career path and finding opportunities.
“COVID really made us all reexamine our priorities and our values,” says Kali DeWald, the Career Center’s associate director of alumni career services.
Addressing New Challenges
Geer AB ’20, a communication studies major, knew she needed to figure out her post-graduation plan as she entered her final semester, but she didn’t know where to start.
She turned to the UGA Career Center.
COVID created a new job-hunting environment, so it was important to tap into the changes that were happening, hear directly from employers on their recruitment plans, and help students navigate the whole process.” — Kenyatta Nesbitt, assistant director of diversity programs, UGA Career Center
The Career Center provides comprehensive career counseling and advising to students across a variety of topics to prepare them for life after graduation. Those areas include career exploration, job and internship searches, resume development, salary negotiation, interview prep, and graduate school placement, just to name a few.
“COVID created a new job-hunting environment, so it was important to tap into the changes that were happening, hear directly from employers on their recruitment plans, and help students navigate the whole process,” says Kenyetta Nesbitt, a career consultant and assistant director of diversity programs with the UGA Career Center.
What do I do if my job offer is withdrawn? How do I know who’s hiring? Is a remote job even worth pursuing right now?
During the 2020-21 academic year, Career Center consultants completed nearly 7,000 career counseling sessions to help answer these questions and facilitated almost 17,000 virtual conversations between students and employers.
Power of Perseverance
Geer credits a lot of her success to the UGA Career Guide, a 56-page PDF that walks students through every stage of career development.
The Career Center also hosts dozens of career fairs annually (both virtual and in-person in 2021), as well as hundreds of events and workshops covering topics from diversity and inclusion in the workplace to acing a virtual interview.
“It can feel overwhelming to see nine boxes of people in front of you on a screen, watching you present and answer questions,” Geer says. “It required more confidence on my part because I didn’t have body language or social cues to nudge me forward.”
Geer’s preparation paid off. In July, she accepted a position as a recruiter with a technology staffing firm based out of Atlanta. She found the opportunity through LinkedIn at the recommendation of her career consultant, Justin Burnley AB ’11.
Today, Geer navigates the same job-hunting platforms she used as a student, matching candidates with open positions. And while it’s not the creative role she originally imagined for herself—there is still time for that—it’s a dream job.
Job candidates want to look their best for interviews. A partnership between UGA and JCPenney provides support for students to purchase professional clothing.
“Ultimately, our goal is to not only support our students’ career success but to create a culture of student career advocacy throughout campus,” says Scott Williams, executive director of the Career Center. “It’s important to be able to offer programs and services that meet students where they are.”
During the 2020-21 academic year, the Career Center awarded 541 Dawgs Suit Up Scholarships for business attire, totaling almost $110,000.
“We’re here to help,” Williams says. “And we can provide that help wherever students are in their career development paths.”