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Recent graduates reflect on job search experience amidst pandemic

The Class of 2021 shares its post-graduation plans

<p>&nbsp;COVID-19 has completely reshaped the job market.</p>

 COVID-19 has completely reshaped the job market.

Although their last three semesters did not go exactly as planned, many recent graduates of the Class of 2021 remain hopeful that their time at the University will lead them to success in their post-graduation careers. Despite challenges from the pandemic, many have found or are in the process of finding internships and jobs for this coming summer and fall.

COVID-19 has completely reshaped the job market for students. Employers have evolved how they are hiring, where they are hiring and what skills they are searching for. While the job market became limited at the start of the pandemic due to large numbers of layoffs and budget cuts, employers project they will hire 7.2 percent more new college graduates from the Class of 2021 than they did from the Class of 2020. Although this percentage does not bring hiring back to pre-COVID levels, it does provide optimism for graduates. 

Courtney Harris, associate director of employer relations for the University's Career Center, said that there have been tons of industries, both large and small, working with the University in seeking to hire recent graduates. 

“We had more than 100 organizations participating in our larger career fairs, looking for both full-time roles and internships,” Harris said. “I think that is a really good metric for the fact that there are still plenty of opportunities out there for students.”   

Harris also explained that when business shutdowns were occurring at the start of the pandemic, a lot of industries, such as hospitality and retail, were providing limited job opportunities to students. 

“In the last couple of months, we have seen those opportunities rebound and companies start to post positions that they maybe weren’t able to fill this past summer,” Harris said. 

Class of 2021 alumnus William Wiltshire, who graduated from the College of Arts and Sciences, said that he was unable to find an internship the summer following his third year, given increasing COVID-19 case numbers. 

“Last summer was a complete nightmare in terms of finding an internship,” Wiltshire said. “Because so much post-grad job searching relies on that post-junior summer experience, I was pretty frantic while applying this fall.” 

While Wiltshire experienced hardships in his internship search, his search for a post-college career was successful as he is now employed and plans to work as an assistant teacher for Success Academy Charter Schools in Harlem, N.Y.

Similarly, Class of 2021 alumna Kathryn Smith, a graduate of the School of Engineering and Applied Science, applied to over 100 jobs before ultimately accepting a job she found through the University’s Career Center.

“It was stressful applying and interviewing because of uncertainty in what I wanted to do and where I want to live,” Smith said. 

Smith is now employed as a technical solutions engineer for the software company, Epic Systems.

Class of 2021 alumna Ashley Nguyen, a graduate from the College, said her job search process has not been as stress-inducing as she had anticipated. Starting her first year, Nguyen worked as a medical assistant at a family medicine practice in Northern Virginia every summer since her first year.  

“I am extremely fortunate to have the opportunity to work there again … for my gap year,” Nguyen said. 

In the fall of 2022, Nguyen anticipates heading to medical school and will be spending the next year getting more real-world experience before doing so.

While some students and alumni have experienced hardships in their job search process, the Career Center has played a major role in the ability of students to find employment. Laura Del Prato, assistant director of life-transforming programs in the University’s Career Center, said that in general, the job market for recent graduates has remained strong. 

“From our Handshake postings, we have seen the full-time job postings being consistent with what we’ve seen in other years,” Del Prato said. 

Handshake, the University’s recruiting platform, helps students search for internship opportunities and apply for jobs, in addition to connecting students to other career-building events. 

The Virginia Alumni Mentoring program was piloted in 2013 by Handshake to foster relationships between students and alumni — something Del Prato highly encouraged students to do because many job opportunities arise from building relationships with others. Currently, the program consists of roughly 2,300 alumni and 3,700 students, who work together every day to further students’ careers.

Class of 2021 alumna Julia Abrams, a graduate of the School of Nursing, said that the University has helped her in her search for a post-graduate career. 

“U.Va. helped with my career search by having one of my core classes last semester dedicated to making our resumes and cover letters as well as prepping us for job searches,” Abrams said. 

This year may not have gone how University students have expected, but recent graduates have said they will value their time at the University. Regardless of what events, clubs and organizations they participated in over the course of their four years, these experiences left them with memories that they will carry with them throughout their lives.

Recent graduates are both excited for the next chapter of their lives and bittersweet as they reflect on their time here. 

“I sit in a room with all of my friends and we’re all laughing, and in the back of my head, I know the number of times we’ll all be together at the same time is limited,” Wiltshire said.

Smith, who has been an active member of the University's ski team, remarked that she will miss the team. 

“It definitely makes it bittersweet to leave my friends and the ski team behind at U.Va.,”  Smith said. “I’d love to be a student forever.”

After spending four years together at the University, recent graduates have created indelible memories, built connections that will last a lifetime, and will now look forward to visiting Grounds as alumni.