For many students, the COVID-19 pandemic may feel like the worst possible time to plan for the future. Students are suddenly dealing with the revocation of full-time job offers, as well as cancellations of summer and fall internships. Ultimately, students are left feeling discouraged about future career opportunities. For students facing such concerns, the University Career Center is available to help.
“We want students to know … that we're ready when they're ready,” said Everette Fortner, associate vice president of career and professional development at the Career Center. “We know there was a lot of acclimating to get back home, get your classes online, get all of that started and now that you're getting into this new normal, we're ready and available.”
Despite an inability to continue operating on Grounds, the Career Center has attempted to keep all of its resources up and running as normal and to be just as available to students as before. Between noon and 5 p.m. Monday to Friday, students can schedule walk-in appointments with industry-specific career counselors over Zoom. Students may set up same-day appointments either online through Handshake or by calling the Career Center directly, and a counselor will be available within the hour.
Additionally, all of the in-person career-related events that had been scheduled prior to the COVID-19 crisis have moved online. The Career Center sends out information for these events in industry-focused newsletters each week Sunday, Monday or Tuesday — students may sign up to receive these newsletters via Handshake, by selecting the relevant industries on their personal profile. During the last three weeks, the Career Center held an “Intro to Consulting Careers” event and an “Intro to Finance Careers” event, both of which included both company presentations and Q&A sessions. Five different companies — including McKinsey, Bain, Accenture, Bank of America and JP Morgan — attended each event and conducted PowerPoint presentations, and in both cases over 100 University students were in attendance.
The Center also offers workshops and resources specifically for students whose upcoming job and internship plans have been disrupted or canceled on account of the pandemic.
“For students who have been displaced from their current plans, we [offered] … an all-day Designing Your Life During COVID-19,” Fortner said. “[It] is a … virtual seminar that ends with you developing an action plan of what you want to do this summer and what you might want to do for the rest of your life.”
The event was held virtually from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. April 16 and 17.
In addition to events and walk-in appointments, the virtual Career Center also features a set of tools that allows students to conduct their personal career development process virtually. The tool set includes “PathwayU” a questionnaire that matches students to potential careers based on their interests, “VMock,” an artificial intelligence resume reviewer and “Virginia Alumni Mentoring,” a resource that connects students with University alumni.
The Career Center also continues to offer its Career Peer Educator service, which allows students to chat with and ask career-specific questions of undergraduate career peer educators, albeit with modifications. According to Anchita Khullar, fourth-year McIntire student and career peer educator, switching to a virtual format has meant a change from holding one-on-one office hours with students to holding pre-planned Zoom presentations.
“So much of our job relies on interacting with students in person, [but] that part of our job is not something we've been doing as much anymore just because it's been hard to coordinate logistically,” Khullar said. “We have also started to expand our online presentations … and make them more accessible to students, doing presentations twice a week over Zoom to help them with the concerns they have navigating their career search process in these challenging times.”
Although office hours with peer educators are no longer available, students may still make appointments with the Career Center’s professional counselors, a resource that, according to Career Counselor Michelle Ball, students have very much continued to utilize despite being away from Grounds.
“We have had student appointments every day,” Ball said. “Yesterday I had three student appointments lined up back to back, and each of our staff members is facing the same thing ... everything from second years trying to make career decisions and thinking about their major to third and fourth years who are asking lots of questions about their future and summer internships and full-time jobs.”
Fortner also reported recent high activity for the Career Center, specifically in pre-professional advising.
“Our number of appointments with pre-med students is as high as it's ever been these last two weeks,” Fortner said. “A lot of pre-med students are asking, ‘What do med schools think about our pass/fail policy?’ [and] ‘How does this affect my application timeline?’ All of those kinds of questions.”
One such student whose plans have been altered due to the COVID-19 crisis is third-year McIntire student Schuyler Huff. Huff had a marketing internship for this summer at a company in Richmond, which has now been moved online.
“I’ll be spending time throughout the summer working on digital lead acquisition, brand development, analytics and optimizing conversion as well as UX and market research,” Huff said. “About two or three weeks ago, my recruiter reached out to let me know the team was still interested in pursuing the internship, but that it would be an online format at least through June … As of now, the plan is for my internship to begin at the original start date and for the IT team to ship me equipment and get me setup to work remotely.”
Third-year College student Alison Goldstein, who was planning to work this summer in the Connelly Lab, a psychology research lab that is part of the University’s psychology department, has experienced a similar alteration to her summer plans.
“Even though I’ve worked for the Connelly Lab before, this summer will be very different than other summers,” Goldstein said. “The main complication is due to our inability to run visits at this time. Since we are a psychology research lab, having participants come in and complete our study is our main way to generate data … Fortunately one of our goals for next year was something that doesn't involve new participants, so we’ll probably make that our summer project. Besides that, I’ll probably just be working on organizing our data and getting us 100 percent ready to start the study back up again when it is safe.”
In the face of all the uncertainty of the present moment, Career Center staff encourages students to continue to think about their future and use the career resources available to them.
“I definitely understand that it's challenging especially because I'm going through [the same] process right now,” Khullar said. “There are definitely still opportunities out there, it's just that you have to get a bit more creative on how to find them. There are a lot of great career counselors who are able to help with that.”
Ball similarly encourages students to stay positive and remember that they are not alone, even though at times it may feel that way.
“I think, when you're home in your apartment or home with your family, it can feel like you're the only person this is happening to,” Ball said. “I think the good thing to think about is that we're all in this together, and we're approaching this together, and even though things are uncertain, there are a lot of opportunities out there that can still gain you some great experience.”