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Members Of The Class Of 2020 Face A Brutal Job Market

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Just a few months ago, college seniors could reasonably expect to graduate into one of the best job markets in history. Now, because of the pandemic, they've graduated into one of the worst in generations. When members of the class of 2020 have landed jobs, the experience is odd. NPR's Uri Berliner reports.

URI BERLINER, BYLINE: 2020 was shaping up to be a great year for Golden Daka. He'd be the first member of his family to graduate from college. Not only that - he was the valedictorian of his school, Morehouse College in Atlanta. But in March, campus emptied, and classes went online. And then the moment he'd been waiting for, commencement - it was postponed.

GOLDEN DAKA: I wanted to, you know, give that huge speech on stage with my family, friends and loved ones who made it very, very possible for me to go to Morehouse. But it was - you know, came to an abrupt end.

BERLINER: He'd been expecting rites of passage and celebration. Instead, he landed in the pandemic.

DAKA: It's been a really difficult transition. You know, and it's been one that's - I'm not going to lie - it's been filled with a lot of anxiety, a lot of uncertainty, a lot of self-doubt.

BERLINER: Worst of all, his grandmother, who was supposed to come see him graduate, passed away in their native Zambia. Despite everything, there has been a bright spot. Daka landed a paid fellowship with the governor of Illinois after four rounds of remote interviews.

DAKA: So I'm more on the fortunate side. I know a lot of my classmates and other individuals across the nation aren't.

JULIA POLLAK: It is a very challenging time to be a new college graduate.

BERLINER: Julia Pollak is a labor economist with the job site ZipRecruiter.

POLLAK: So compared with the labor market in February before COVID hits, we have seen job postings for the entry-level positions most popular among new college graduates fall by 73%.

BERLINER: But even though postings have plummeted, people are still landing jobs.

POLLAK: So even in a crisis, there are companies hiring. Eighteen million jobs have been posted on ZipRecruiter since COVID struck.

BERLINER: What has changed dramatically is how those new workers get hired. Interviews are evolving from those Zoom and Skype calls...

POLLAK: And now to virtual video platforms where you record yourself answering the questions and then send that video in yourself. So you have no interaction with a person at all.

BERLINER: The lack of face-to-face human interaction - that's been one constant for Danielle Kaplan. She graduated this spring from the University of Iowa and moved in with her mom. It's been fine, but with a lot of activity around the house, it was tricky for her to find a quiet place for job interviews.

DANIELLE KAPLAN: So I feel like my interviewer's seeing a different background every single time I met with them (laughter), you know? It's very difficult.

BERLINER: But as it turned out, backgrounds didn't matter.

KAPLAN: So I will be heading to Kansas City to work at a startup. And so I'm really excited about it.

BERLINER: Kaplan's excitement is accompanied by trepidation because so much of the last few months have felt unreal, even disembodied.

KAPLAN: This is a huge, major life transition that I'm about to undergo. And it doesn't feel that way. I've been virtually meeting people. And I've - virtually getting an apartment. So nothing feels, like, tangible to me.

BERLINER: All that is about to change. This weekend, Kaplan will load up a rental truck and move to her new hometown, Kansas City. There won't be anything virtual about it.

Uri Berliner, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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