July 09, 2020

While COVID-19 has thrown a wrench into many new graduates' career plans, Ferguson Career Center director Stephanie Joynes has good news to share in our latest faculty essay. With a little flexibility, a bit of creativity, and some hard work, you can get your career plan back on track.

by Stephanie Joynes

Stephanie Joynes headshotEverything was going so smoothly. There was a plan and an order in which to do things: Spring Break, Greek Week, submit a resume to Hire a Tiger, commit to the job search, accept an offer, and celebrate at Commencement.

That is not what happened.

When I speak to students, they commonly think their career path will be linear, when it often ends up feeling like a game of Chutes and Ladders, forcing students to reassess their personal strategy and goals. There is no doubt that college students and recent graduates faced a vicious curve ball these past few months, and even the most disciplined and motivated students didn’t know what was coming next.

So how do you relaunch a job search that has stalled?

Use Your College’s Career Center
The job search can seem daunting and complicated, so students often use a combination of offerings from the Ferguson Career Center, including resume reviews, mock interviews, industry information, virtual events, and salary negotiation tips. To work with a career advisor, make an appointment through Handshake or reach out to us at career@hsc.edu. As we learn about opportunities through our alumni-based Hire a Tiger program, we consistently email students through Handshake and update the Hire a Tiger blog in order to share timely resources with students.

Plan Early and Know the Hiring Timelines
The hunt for high-performing, entry-level, college-educated students starts far earlier than people realize, and for recent grads who now have time to focus on the job search, it can be even more frustrating to understand that these timelines have shifted due to COVID-19. The average time from applying to a job to being officially hired is 13 weeks.

If you were in the middle of a job search and it feels like you’ve hit a wall, this is the time to network so you can get the inside scoop on who is hiring and when. As states re-open, companies are evaluating and revising their hiring plans. Checking in periodically with your contacts will keep you fresh in their mind when they are ready to hire.

Networking can include friends and family, but LinkedIn also offers a useful Career Insights tool that helps students identify Hampden-Sydney alumni. A quick note introducing yourself and asking for a 15-minute introductory conversation via phone or Zoom can plant the seeds for a relationship that might lead to mentorship, advice, or opportunities. But do not take advantage of alumni simply for being alumni! Do your homework: research alumni in the fields you find interesting or promising, prepare questions, have a goal in mind, and when you feel comfortable enough to reach out, do so. Use this option judiciously.

If you are a rising junior or senior, keep in mind that some industries require applying a full year prior to the internship or job due to the competitiveness of the program or required background checks, as for federal intelligence agencies. The deadlines for these programs are critical, with no wiggle room once they close.

Start as an Intern
Companies are increasingly using their internship programs as onboarding to full-time opportunities. Think of it as the audition. Companies use internships as an evaluation of an intern’s professionalism, ability to learn and adapt, and fit with their organization. Even if an internship is virtual, a candidate can prove his ability to communicate effectively and adapt in real-world scenarios.

H-SC’s Alumni Network and the Hire a Tiger Program
In case you haven’t heard, Hampden-Sydney has a really strong alumni network. Our alumni step up through mentorship, networking, and sometimes with opportunities for students within their own companies. The Ferguson Career Center has collaborated with the Office of Alumni and Parent Engagement to create Hire a Tiger, a formal program that delivers resumes directly into the hands of H-SC alumni in over 20 cities and regions. Year after year, Hampden-Sydney students secure opportunities from direct interactions with alumni through Hire a Tiger, LinkedIn and our in-person and virtual alumni events.

When I speak to students, they commonly think their career path will be linear, when it often ends up feeling like a game of Chutes and Ladders, forcing students to reassess their personal strategy and goals.

Stephanie Joynes, Director of the Ferguson Career Center

Connect with the Career Center’s Employer Partners
The Ferguson Career Center is actively working with employers who have a high demand for liberal arts students and recent graduates. As many other schools were scrambling to create virtual career fairs this spring, the Ferguson Career Center launched its own experiment using Zoom to provide each company with an opportunity to connect with students through group information sessions.

While other colleges waited for outside companies to provide virtual career fair technology and best practices, we led the charge to see what the hiring demand was from employers. We quickly had 35 employers over a span of three days lined up to speak with students in a virtual forum. We are already planning our next virtual career fair for this September. We encourage employers, parents, and alumni to participate as Handshake develops a new platform specifically to support the move to virtual recruiting.

Be Strategic and Go Where You Are Needed
Certain industries have urgent hiring needs due to large numbers of older workers retiring. Financial planning firms, local and state law enforcement, federal intelligence agencies, and K-12 schools were already actively reaching out to colleges for new hires prior to this public health crisis. Since then, we have seen the demand grow not only in those industries but also in supply chain, logistics, and educational technology, with new positions created to support this new way of doing business.

The One- to Two-Year Grad School Option
When the economy falls apart, sometimes it is better to stay in school and build specific skills to achieve certain career goals and adapt to industries experiencing growth. Students interested in taking their skillsets to another level may want to consider a one- to two-year master’s degree program that will not only give them time between graduation and their search for a full-time job but also help them build skills that are in high demand. Schools throughout Virginia offer programs in Public Health, Business Analytics, or Commerce Management. By the time a student graduates from one of these programs, the world will hopefully be ready to welcome new graduates.

The Good News
The myths that employers won’t hire liberal arts students and that students at rural colleges aren’t in contention for employment at Fortune 500 companies simply aren’t true. Recruiters for successful companies are looking for new ways to find diverse talent because the old methods will not work right now. A company that previously may have recruited all their new hires at large universities’ career fairs will not have that opportunity in this next year. We are witnessing a significant disruption in recruiting and hiring practices that will actually benefit our Hampden-Sydney students, who traditionally have solid communication skills and the ability to nurture relationships.

Though they may look different from what you expected, your career plans aren’t cancelled.

Stephanie Joynes, director of the Ferguson Career Center, joined the H-SC community in 2017. Joynes earned her Bachelor of Arts at Syracuse University and Master of Arts at the University of Chicago. After a combined 10 years at the Smithsonian Institution and Colonial Williamsburg, she mentored and advised graduate business students at the College of William & Mary before joining H-SC to lead the Ferguson Career Center team. She also serves as advisor for the pre-business fraternity, Phi Beta Lambda.

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