Finding Employment During COVID Times

Lessons Learned From Being an Unemployed Recent Grad in the Middle of a Global Pandemic

When I began my senior year of college, I would say I was 75% excited and 25% stressed. “Why stressed?” you may ask. I was stressed because I knew that it meant the hunt for my first post-college job was quickly approaching. From talking to older friends and from the palpable competitiveness of the other students in my class in the UW-Madison School of Business, I deduced that securing a job as early on in the year as possible was the key to both a sense of security and enjoying senior year. So, in my natural type-A manner, I decided to start (and successfully complete!) my job search ASAP!

The leaves fell off the trees that lined campus, the lake had well frozen over, and I returned to Madison in January after winter break — jobless. While I was definitely disheartened with my situation, I didn’t let it get to me too much because I knew that most of my peers wouldn’t lock down a job offer until some point during the spring semester.

Fast forward to the middle of March: I was frantically scrolling through LinkedIn every minute of the day, researching companies and potential job opportunities, preparing for interviews, and hoping that I’d luck out with at least one of the hundreds of applications I submitted. Then, practically overnight, the pandemic and the immediacy of sequestering indoors hit. Thousands of companies that were just hiring yesterday quickly took down all open roles. Opportunities basically vanished into thin air, leaving me with only one thing: the understanding that the search for employment would be the most difficult challenge I’d ever faced and something so novel that I had no direction on how to navigate it.

My career was reduced to a shot in the dark.

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During the first few months of lockdown, as the world was beginning to adjust to the “new normal,” I had my head down, spending more time than ever applying for jobs (even as they became incredibly scarce), polishing my resume until it gleamed, and figuring out how to make myself more marketable to potential employers. Those months, while they seemingly went by slowly at first, began to blur together into one uninspiring mess.

All of a sudden, the calendar read “May 9th.” I found myself sitting in my living room, outfitted in cap and gown, watching my commencement from the couch where I was sprawled out with a bottle of champagne to keep me company. This was a far cry from what I had envisioned all these years: head held high, strutting across the stage with my gown billowing behind me, accepting the diploma I had paid for in not only tuition dollars, but also in innumerable all-nighters, languorous study sessions at the library, a sky-high stack of essays, an avalanche of assignments, and many, many moments of self-doubt and near-defeat.

All things considered, it was still an exciting day full of celebration (although I regretted not being able to jump around in Camp Randall). However, that pang of worry from the back of my mind eventually emerged, taunting me: “Hey Ayden, guess what? You just graduated from college, and you’re still unemployed!”

I was one of those people. Great.

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Shortly after graduating, I was still losing sleep over being unemployed until, low and behold, the clouds gave way, the angels began to sing, and heaven sent a startup opportunity right to my doorstep.

I was offered the chance to design a website that would, after several hours of brainstorming and iterations, become Access Scholarships, a scholarship discovery site which provides all students (think: high school, college, grad school, etc.) the opportunity to easily search and apply for scholarships to help them finance their studies.

Other cool features of the website include a blog (run by yours truly), a student deals + discounts page, and links to resources, apps, and tips to help students optimize both their success and happiness during their academic careers.

After the successful launch of Access Scholarships, I came on full-time to not only manage the site but also to build out the brand. One of the coolest things about working for a startup, as I have come to learn, is that your opinion truly matters. Every blog post, every email campaign, and every decision is made with my input considered. I can propose ideas and run with new initiatives with relatively no filter or red tape, a sort of flexibility I doubt I’d have at a big, established firm or a ubiquitous corporation.

A few months ago, if you had asked me how I felt about being unemployed, I would have started breathing into my handy, (always at arm’s length) brown paper bag to quell the anxiety. I thought I had missed the boat.

Not having a cushy, corporate job lined up post-graduation meant I was doing something wrong. Now, I realize the error in adopting such a narrow-minded approach.

I now feel not only content and re-energized with my current situation, but also incredibly grateful to do impactful work that I also find enjoyable, especially during a time when job opportunities are few and far between!

I’ve made peace with the fact that there is absolutely nothing wrong with graduating from college without a job offer in hand, both under normal circumstances and especially during a global pandemic. There is no “right” path to success and everyone has their own time zone. Attempting to religiously follow someone else’s path or forcing yourself to adjust to someone else’s time zone is a recipe for disaster.

Everyone is unique, so it naturally follows that their career trajectory would be, too.

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For those of you who are still in college or knee-deep in the job hunt and finding yourself in the frazzled headspace I was in just a few months ago, here is some advice.

Set aside some time to check in with yourself.

Answer the following questions:

  • What type of work do I think (or know) I will enjoy doing?
  • What types of opportunities excite me?
  • Is there a particular cause that I am passionate about?
  • What do I want to become really good at?
  • Do my interests lie within working for a specific company, a certain industry, or a type of role?

*Pro-tip: Once you’ve answered some of the questions above, check out this article on how to optimize your job applications to ensure that every application you submit does justice to your candidacy!

Wrapping Up

In hindsight, if I could change one thing about the way that I searched for jobs in college, it would be the ability to access a user-friendly application to help me not only apply for jobs but also to learn more about the companies I was applying to and have candid conversations with the people who worked there.

Enter the room, Hallo!

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Hallo is a career services platform that has granted students with all of those things that I was wishing for, and more. The service is centered around providing students with the opportunity to easily connect with potential employers through virtual (and free!) career events. Students can speak with and learn from companies across a wide range of industries, finding answers to those difficult career questions I posed above and making headway towards the job opportunity that is right for them. The remote nature of the platform is a blockbuster feature, especially during COVID times as in-person career fairs and networking events are indefinitely on-hold.

Hallo arms students with all of the resources they need to progress in their career journeys and thrive!

If you’re a student, and you ever find yourself in my shoes, recite this mantra:

“There is not ONE path. There is not even the RIGHT path. There is only YOUR path.”

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