‘It’s a numbers game’: Counselors and recent grads offer insights on how the pandemic has affected the workplace

A headshot of Kat Leiva smiling against a purple background.Kat Leiva ’21 will be working for the Dallas Independent School District through Teach for America. She, like many members of the classes of 2020 and 2021, have had to deal with the added stress of searching for employment during a pandemic. (Photo courtesy of Leiva)

Securing a job after graduation is hard enough without a global pandemic—and this year, students at Lafayette are dealing with both. Luckily, the Gateway Career Center has insights on how the pandemic will affect students looking for jobs and internships.

Although all her appointments are virtual now, the pandemic has not changed Alana Klass’s responsibilities as a Gateway career counselor. She still advises students on entering the workforce after Lafayette, as well as applying to graduate and professional school.

“I help with how to develop stories to translate campus experiences to the job market, resume/cover letters, interviews, LinkedIn, you name it,” Klass wrote in an email.

She explained that the class of 2021 will be most affected by the increased competition of the job market due to the pandemic. Not only will graduating seniors be competing with the rest of their class, but they will also be competing with people who have become newly unemployed because of the pandemic.

“It’s a numbers game right now.  More people are looking for jobs and the market is more difficult.  Employers can be very particular about their desired/required skills and definitely have more applicants to choose from,” Klass said.

Klass recommended that seniors visit the Gateway Career Center to learn about writing targeted cover letters, rather than using a generic template. She also urged students to expand their job search and stay open to all possible opportunities rather than limiting the search to just one field or location.

“Applicants need to be on top of their game all the time, which can be extremely tiring,” Klass said. “This also means that there are more applicants to graduate and professional schools and students who, in a more ‘typical’ year, may not be accepted for this year’s cycle.  We suggest students have a Plan B, C, D, etc.”

A headshot of Alana Klass smiling against a gray background.
Alana Klass is a Gateway career counselor. She explains that the job market is much more competitive now due to the pandemic. (Photo courtesy of the Lafayette website)

Ryana Jones ’20, a college persistence advisor at KIPP NYC, also emphasized the importance of flexibility when searching for work opportunities during the pandemic.

“The path might not be the same as you had planned it out four years ago, but just be open. Because there are a lot of opportunities out there, but you have to be open-minded,” Jones said. “I know a lot of people from the class of 2020 who are still looking for jobs and have come to that realization now. Like, ‘Hey, I thought it was gonna do this, but let me give this a shot.’ And it has opened up a lot of amazing doors.”

Jones graduated from Lafayette last May with a degree in Government and Law and Women’s and Gender Studies. In her current role at KIPP NYC, she assists about eighty first-year college students in navigating unfamiliar aspects of college. However, Jones said she had not expected to be doing this sort of work.

“Originally, I thought I wanted to do some kind of federal defender work or some legal work… but I knew once the pandemic hit that I wanted to take advantage of a solid job offer,” Jones said.

Ryana Jones posing in front of a museum in an ABC hoodie.
Ryana Jones ’20 is currently working at KIPP NYC. She recommends that students searching for employment stay flexible. (Photo courtesy of Jones)

As a current senior, Kat Leiva ’21 is also learning about the unpredictability of looking for a job during the pandemic from first-hand experience. Leiva, who is double majoring in Government and Law and Anthropology and Sociology, will be working for the Dallas Independent School District (ISD) with Teach for America. She originally planned to attend law school, but she explained that the virtual semester has given her a temporary aversion to remote learning.

“I wanted to give myself a mental break from being in school… I just couldn’t sit down at my desk at home and be learning something from an instructor. I wanted to be out there and doing something,” Leiva said. “I think it’s because for so long, we were at home, we were doing nothing. So, I didn’t want to feel like that again.”

Leiva urged students who are searching for employment right now to practice patience and understanding.

“Not only with yourself,” she said. “But with the job market, with companies, because there’s a lot going on in the world. If you don’t submit an application on time, it’s not the end of the world. Just give yourself grace and be patient throughout the whole process.”

Klass offered similar words of encouragement to students who are struggling with the job search process.

“It can be stressful and exhausting, but remember, it takes just ONE yes!” she wrote. “The Gateway Career Center can help so it’s important for students to connect with their Gateway Counselor.”

Despite the difficulties that the pandemic has brought to entering the workforce after graduation, Klass also predicted that COVID-19 will lead to a lasting flexibility in the workplace setting.

“Covid has shown us that the ‘traditional, in person’ workplace is more flexible than we ever imagined.  In the age of the virtual workplace, I think we will see many more hybrid opportunities, offering the opportunity to work from home and virtually more than ever,” she wrote. “You don’t need to ‘live in NY to work in NY.’”

Jones, who is currently living in her hometown of New Haven, Conn. but is working remotely for a New York-based employer, also identified the shifting landscape of the workplace as an unexpected benefit.

“I can spend a lot of time with family. I pretty much have control of my schedule, which I wouldn’t have if I was in a typical nine to five,” Jones explained.

Still, Jones said she cannot help but feel “disappointed” by her first real work experience.

“I’ve come to terms with it a lot more than when it first happened—but in the beginning, I was very, very upset. Everyone goes through their four years and is very excited for once college is over. You’ll be making money, you’ll be able to explore. I was going to go to New York City. A lot of expectations.”

Leiva, on the other hand, expects to be working in-person when she starts teaching for the Dallas ISD. As a native of Virginia, she said that exploring a new city is one of the things she is most looking forward to. Still, she said she is not sure what she will do after her two-year contract with Teach for America ends—but the pandemic has taught her to embrace this uncertainty.

“After the pandemic hit, I definitely had to learn really quickly that you can’t have everything planned out, because life throws curveballs at you,” Leiva said.

“There’s all that space in the middle for me to do things that help me grow as a person… So that goes with rolling with the punches and doing things that you didn’t think you would be doing,” she continued. “It might be a blessing in disguise.”

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