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Once Facing A Rosy Outlook, College Grads Are Now Entering An Uncertain Job Market

Photo of a sign that says Brigham Young University on the university's campus
istock / Wolterk
College grads do have job options this summer, but many will have to look outside their career goals, said Justin Jones with BYU.

The economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic’s effect has been vast. It hasn’t only hit those already in the job market, it’s also prevented others from getting in. 

Just a few months ago, college students were on the verge of graduating into one of the strongest job markets in history, now they are facing an economic downturn worse than the Great Recession. For some, that’s upending their post-graduation plans. 

“It's an interesting place to be because they’re not necessarily looking for long term, they’re looking for ‘in the meantime,’“ said Justin Jones, director of the Career Studio at Brigham Young University.

Jones said many employers have imposed hiring freezes or are rescinding offers. Even for students whose offers still stand, the jobs might look different than they otherwise would. They might have shifted online, for instance, which could affect how employers and new employees evaluate each other. 

“It’s been a complete dropoff in terms of uncertainty,” said Stan Inman, director of the Career & Professional Development Center at the University of Utah. 

Inman said it’s been most difficult for students preparing for jobs in some of the hardest hit industries, such as retail, food service and tourism. But job losses have affected nearly every industry, including health care, in which Courtney Walker hoped to land a job. 

Walker recently graduated from BYU with a double major in public health and Portugese. She was hoping to start her career at a public health agency this summer and had recently finished an internship with the Utah County Health Department.

Earlier this year, she said she had two promising job prospects, one continuing with the health department and another at an ad agency in Salt Lake City that focuses on public health campaigns. For now though, both are off the table.

“The only way I can compare it is like if you're on a hike,” Walker said. “You see the top of the mountain and you just do everything you can to get there. Then you make it to that point. And then you see that there's another mountain just as tall right in front of you.”

Walker said she’s applied for about 75 jobs over the last month, many of which are outside her career goals. She landed a few interviews and ended up accepting a short term position at a call center. Soon after, however, she got an email saying the company could no longer hire her. 

Now, she’s back to square one.

“It's just how desperate do you want to become,” she said. “You could work at a burger joint, which is OK if you need an income. But it just feels like I invested so much into my education and I did extracurriculars and all these things to get real world experience, and then that just wasn't enough.”

Despite the seismic shift, Inman with the University of Utah said students still have options. Many companies are hiring, particularly in the finance, tech and transportation sectors. In April alone, some 1,700 openings were posted on the U’s job database, he said. 

Jones, at BYU, said students should get in touch with their schools’ career centers for help finding resources and planning through the uncertainty. He also recommended setting up informational meetings with people in the field they want to work in. When the economy does start to regain its footing, they’ll have a leg up on the competition.

Jon Reed is a reporter for KUER. Follow him on Twitter @reedathonjon

Jon reports on quality of life issues, education and the economy
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