Penn State’s seniors find positives in adapting to remote job search – The Daily Collegian Online

Many students coming to Penn State for their freshman year likely imagined leaving the university with a diploma and a job, but many seniors are saying goodbye to campus with uncertainty about the future.

Graduating seniors are entering the workforce amid unprecedented circumstances due to the coronavirus pandemic, but many are trying to maintain a positive mindset despite challenges with job searches and limited employment opportunities.

Over the last year, seniors have taken advantage of virtual internships, networking experiences and Penn State Career Services events to prepare for job searches and entering the job market.

However, while some students have jobs lined up for after graduation, others are still struggling to solidify their post-graduation plans.

Zack Durnack said he readjusted his life plan after the onset of the pandemic. Instead of graduating as planned last year with the class of 2020, Durnack said he decided to continue his studies at Penn State in order to double major.

“Once the pandemic hit, everything — the job opportunities that typically arise in the spring — got pulled. It was a very scary time because I didn’t know what I was going to do because I didn’t have a job,” Durnack (senior-telecommunications and media studies) said.

Instead of “sitting at home during the pandemic and doing nothing,” Durnack said he decided to continue his education because it allowed him “to grow as a person” while the employment opportunities were limited.

Besides the general difficulty in finding a job, Durnack said the remote application and interview process also imposes unique difficulties.

He said many students face challenges with the current practice of virtual networking and interviewing since “everything just feels impersonal at this point.”

“I’m interviewing with a lot of places and it feels like I’m not making that connection and not sticking out because I’m just another person on the screen,” Durnack said. “You don’t have the ability to have face-to-face contact, shake someone’s hand or interact with them in a room. I feel like it definitely has a severe effect on my own personal job efforts and a lot of others too.”

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Other students, like Siena Baker, have enjoyed the virtual format of events because they save time and relieve some common stressors during the job hunting process.

Instead of spending an excess of two hours at the in-person career fairs at the Bryce Jordan Center, Baker (senior-economics and community environment development) said the virtual career fair formatting allowed her to be “more productive,” as it was “more accessible” to use. 

Baker said the virtual career fair gave her the opportunity to complete school work while also waiting to talk to the recruiters — something she wouldn’t have been able to do pre-pandemic. 

“Over this last year, I’ve actually found networking and interviewing to be more accessible because you can go to these Zoom webinars and different online events that give you exposure to new companies that wouldn’t normally come to Penn State for recruiting, or are in the broader or even national region,” Baker said.

For Baker, interviews administered via phone calls and Zoom meetings made her “feel a bit more comfortable” since she could have notes in front of her with only her upper body visible on the screen.

Mikayla Casey said many students — including herself — found their post-college job opportunities through internship and externship opportunities through their respective colleges and outside organizations.

Before her first day of senior year, Casey (senior-security and risk analysis and Spanish) said she accepted a job as an analyst in a cyber department in government and public service areas that arose from her virtual externship opportunity earlier in the year.

She said accepting the job offer relieved some of the typical stresses of senior year and “really lifted a weight off her shoulders.”

Baker said she obtained a virtual internship last summer that “was absolutely amazing and provided [her] with the skills necessary to get [her] the desired job” — including experience collaborating with a remote team.

Throughout the internship experience, Baker said the job provided great flexibility for interns who were able to work from home at their own pace and virtually contact their supervisors with questions and concerns.

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“Of course, it’s horrible to not be in the office and not have this college experience in a new city, but I think companies are trying really hard to make working from home more accessible for people,” Baker said.

Baker said transitioning to a normal in-person work environment will be an adjustment when she works as an economic consultant for litigation after graduation.

“I think it will be really strange to relearn how to work in a space with other people, let alone while meeting new people and doing a more challenging job,” Baker said.

According to Baker, people have adjusted to being more independent and are less adept to seeking advice over the last year due to isolation during the pandemic.

When returning to in-person collaborative work environments, Baker said people, including herself, will need to readjust their work style and learning habits, consequently returning to some aspects of pre-pandemic work conditions.

“I’m a little bit nervous about having to perform [my new job] in front of people instead of freaking out in front of your computer by yourself [when frustrated or struggling with a project] and just trying to figure everything out alone,” Baker said.

Despite adjustment challenges of soon entering a pre-pandemic work environment, Baker said many companies have been “reacting more flexibly to the ways of life that people have gotten used to this year,” especially by implementing increased opportunities to work from home, attending online events and using less strict dress codes.

Although some members of the graduating class will begin their careers within regular in-person work environments, other graduates will work their first jobs in a remote work format.

Casey said she has apprehensions about potentially working in a remote format when she begins her new job in Washington D.C.

Additionally, Casey said she’s especially concerned about her comfort level while communicating remotely with her colleagues and making valuable connections when relocating to a new city.

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“If I have a question, am I going to feel comfortable enough to set up a meeting online as opposed to strolling down the hall and asking my boss’s opinion?” Casey said.

Besides internship opportunities, other students utilized the coronavirus pandemic to secure their future jobs and career paths, including Ezra Gershanok.

After Gershanok’s study abroad program to London ended abruptly due to the coronavirus outbreak, he said he took advantage of the situation by engaging with a nonprofit for two months. 

“We were able to get masks at a discounted rate and then donate them to local homeless shelters, nursing homes, prisoners — the places that were most at risk for spreading the virus,” Gershanok (senior-economics) said. “As I was applying for jobs, that was a very relevant experience to discuss and utilize in the job search.”

Since Gershanok is pursuing a consulting job, he said the nonprofit experience was unique and applicable to his future career path since it involved coordination and problem-solving.

“In my case, COVID — and the upheaval of it — presented an opportunity, and that opportunity was to jump in and try to help,” Gershanok said.

Although the situation was less than ideal, Gershanok said he tried to make the best of it. He said his positive outlook on the pandemic continued into his job search.

“There are certainly things you miss out on by being in the COVID world, but I think in general, change is inevitable. Things get shaken up,” Gershanok said. “The people who respond the quickest to change and don’t get hung up on everything by starting to feel bad for themselves and [instead] just adapt to the new normal — those are the people who come out on top.”

Although some students found secure jobs early on, other students are still in the interview process and struggling to make concrete plans. Some Penn State students have looked at new criteria for their potential workplaces.

Durnack, who is still participating in the job interviewing process, said he evaluates the companies based on many factors, but “a main consideration is the company’s approach to the pandemic — which was an incredibly anxiety infusing, stressful and traumatizing experience for many people.”

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At the end of his job interviews, Durnack said he asks the company representative what the company’s learned over the course of the pandemic because “it’s really telling” about the company culture “in terms of caring for their employees and offering support and bonding opportunities.”

According to Durnack, coronavirus response from companies is an important factor to consider from “a new-hire standpoint.”

“With this stage of college ending and the pandemic continuing, it feels like this weird continuation of being in a state of isolation and loneliness — it’s just a completely different environment than when my friends entered the workforce and what even I envisioned myself entering the workforce in,” Durnack said.

Despite the unprecedented circumstances, Baker said Penn State has offered various programs and opportunities to help their current students and alumni in the job search process, even adjusting to help in the virtual format.

After enrolling in a professional development course, Baker said she better understood the “hard work” and opportunities offered through Penn State Career Services that provides “so many resources that students don’t know about but should leverage while at Penn State and even beyond as [alumni].”

“I see so many students who are really qualified and trying really hard to find a job,” Baker said. “I would say, ‘Don’t get discouraged if you don’t get a job or an interview — that doesn’t mean you’re not qualified or wouldn’t be a good fit.’ It’s just so remarkably competitive.”

For any students struggling to obtain a job, Casey said networking with friends and professors is a resource to use because unexpected opportunities may arise.

“Don’t be afraid to ask questions or to ask for help, because the worst thing people can say is no — this includes asking your friends if their jobs have a referral program at their company or if any of your professors know of anything.”

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