The results of the 2016 presidential election are changing lives across the country — and at Penn, they’re even changing students’ job opportunities.
As graduating seniors prepare to enter a workforce characterized by political uncertainty, many have had to rethink their professional plans — particularly those students who had hoped to work in politics or government.
One College senior, who did not provide a name and gender because their prospective position requires a security clearance, was offered a job in the U.S. Department of Defense.
Like most federal positions, the job requires security clearance, and the offer is conditional upon passing a background check. Since the clearance for the position could take several months, the Department of Defense is continuing the vetting process despite Trump’s 90-day federal hiring freeze.
But it can’t make the offer final while the freeze is going on.
“Now the issue is how do I plan, and that’s very challenging because this hiring freeze extends for 90 days,” the senior said. “But what happens on day 90? What happens in September?”
The senior plans to apply for an internship while waiting for news about the Department of Defense position, but said it’s “disingenuous” to accept another full-time offer — resulting in an uncertain professional future.
And at Penn — where many students head to Wall Street rather than the federal government — the senior’s uncertainty has also brought on isolation.
“I don’t know anyone else who is in my position, and it’s not something I talk about often because of the sensitive nature of the job I’m going to do,” they said.
Although the student's situation is unique in that the federal hiring freeze has already had a direct impact, the election has sparked uncertainty among job seekers across campus — so much so that Career Services reached out to all students in an email following the election.
“Since Tuesday, many students coming to Career Services have expressed concerns about the potential impact of this week’s Presidential election on the job market and their professional plans,” the email said. ”We take these concerns seriously because they challenge the core of our mission—to help you launch your careers in ways that will maximize your future success and allow you to make contributions to the institutions or organizations you serve.”
Patricia Rose, the director of Career Services, said the election will have immediate ramifications for many Penn job seekers, including students from the seven countries included in Trump’s recent travel ban, students in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and international students looking to obtain work visas.
“There is more uncertainty among job seekers now than really at any time in my career, and I’ve been doing this for a long time,” she said.
Rose said that traditional employers who recruit heavily at Penn — banks, consulting firms, technology companies — haven’t changed their hiring. But students who hoped to enter fields like public policy, politics or nonprofit work may have to “regroup.”
For students who planned on working for a Democratic president or a Democratic congressperson, entry-level political jobs are few and far between. Not only are there thousands of workers from the Clinton campaign seeking jobs, but there are Obama employees are looking for work as well.
Sam Iacobellis, a College senior who has worked for multiple Democratic campaigns, is in that exact situation — he said that he is now in the worst job market for Democrats looking for political roles since 1981.
“It’s been something we’ve taken for granted — that the political world would not be so upended as it was,” he said.
Students who want to work directly in government and politics have not been the only ones affected. College senior Hannah Fagin, who wants to work in a museum, won’t be applying to jobs at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. that have been affected by the federal hiring freeze.
Her interest in the intersection between politics and art also made working at the National Endowment for the Arts an attractive option. But Trump may cut that agency entirely. Fagin is concerned not only about her own job opportunities, but also for the future of government support for art in general.
“The NEA funds a lot of artists who make and produce work, it funds so many different things,” she said. “The whole art world would be impacted.”
At a university where a large portion of seniors generally receive job offers in the fall, not having postgraduate plans in the spring can be very stressful. Rose advised students whose hearts are set on politics or the public sector to “stay strong.”
“If this is what you want to do, don’t listen to the siren song of some recruiter in the fall who’s going to tempt you,” she said. “If you really don’t want to do that, don’t do it, even though you may well be able to get an offer.”
Iacobellis isn’t bothered by the uncertainty of the job market in his field. Instead, the Republican-controlled government has given him more motivation.
“If you want to do something, do something. If you’re doing something just because you have to have a job … I’m not one of those people,” he said. “You’ve got to know your stuff and what you really wanna do, and I want to help Democrats get elected to higher office.”
For Penn job seekers who want civil service jobs in the government rather than partisan positions, there’s still the question of whether to work under a president with whom they don’t agree.
The College senior with the offer from the Department of Defense doesn’t personally support Trump, and at first was hesitant about working in his administration. But, anticipating a multi-decade career under presidents of both parties, the senior decided to pursue their goals anyway.
“Whenever I anticipated my future government job, I always visualized entering during a Clinton presidency, and I never spent one moment thinking what I would do or what it would be like if Trump won,” the senior said. “It’s a lifetime commitment to saying, ‘I will put the country before my personal politics.’”
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