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COVID-19 has caused difficulty for recent and soon-to-be graduates who have to find job opportunities, with some having employment offers rescinded.

Credit: Kylie Cooper

Finding employment is rarely easy — but for the Penn Classes of 2020 and 2021, COVID-19 has made navigating the job market even more difficult. 

Many recent and soon-to-be graduates have found fewer available opportunities, had employment offers rescinded, and felt uncertain and anxious throughout the application process. Some of those who found employment worked remotely, and applications and interviews were conducted online.

The Class of 2020 had a slightly lower percentage of students graduate with a full-time job than the Class of 2019. According to Penn Career Services' Class of 2020 Career Plans Survey Report, which aggregates post-graduation plans for slightly more than three-fourths of the graduating class whose plans are known, 74% of students graduated with full-time employment, 15% planned to continue education, and 6% were still seeking employment. 

For the Class of 2019, 77% graduated with full-time employment, 14% planned to continue education, and 5% were seeking employment.

Generally, fewer members of the Class of 2020 accepted job offers late in the spring of their senior year compared to the Class of 2019. Five percent of employed Class of 2020 graduates accepted job offers in April 2020 as the pandemic intensified in the United States. But in 2019, 10% of employed graduating seniors accepted offers in April.

Students graduating from Wharton's MBA program in 2020 similarly faced struggles finding employment — 93.5% of 2020 Wharton MBA graduates entered the job market with full-time employment, the lowest percentage since 2010.

Some students who secured a full-time job upon graduating in 2020 feared that their offers would be rescinded because of the financial strain and safety concerns the pandemic imposed on employers.

2020 College graduate Matthew Schnitzer considers himself among the more fortunate members of his class. He spent the summers after his sophomore and junior years interning at Hines, a real estate investment firm, and worked there two days a week in the fall of his senior year. He was offered a full-time position after graduation and now works at Hines as an analyst. Schnitzer credits the experience he had with the firm and the relationships he had developed as reasons why he was able to hold onto his offer. 

He said he felt anxious when he received an email from his employer in April 2020 asking to discuss his start date — which was ultimately moved up from July to June 2020.

“I was just terrified that it was going to be what I had heard was the case for so many of my friends — that I was going to get on the phone, and they’d say, 'We said we wanted you to start in July, [but] why don’t you start in January, or September, or what have you.'" 

2020 College graduate Raquel Levitt also feared a delayed start date or rescinded offer for her job. She said she received a job offer from American Express, where she now works as an analyst, in the fall of her senior year through on-campus recruiting. But instead of spending the rest of the year celebrating her achievement, Levitt said she felt anxious in the spring as the offers of many of her peers were rescinded. 

Levitt’s roommate, 2020 College graduate Caroline Terens, decided not to participate in fall 2019 recruiting because she did not yet want to make a decision on her future. She started to submit applications in the spring to work at nonprofit and social impact organizations, a field she said was hit hard by COVID-19.

“Once [COVID-19] happened, and that’s when I started applying to jobs, I would really not even hear back from companies, or three months later, get told that they postponed their hiring process or were pausing it completely. And that was kind of the story for all of spring and all of summer,” Terens said.  

Terens spent most of fall 2020 applying to positions and networking with past internship connections and Penn alumni using QuakerNet, sharing that some people with whom she spoke compared the situation to that of those graduating during the Great Recession. 

She said she found the time-consuming nature of networking and application processes to be comparable to a full-time job, adding that it was difficult to have to compete against older individuals who were unemployed because of the pandemic. Many people lost jobs during the pandemic, and the United States unemployment rate peaked in April 2020 at 14.8%.

Terens was ultimately hired and began work in November 2020 as a grants coordinator at Share Our Strength, a nonprofit combating hunger and poverty. She said she enjoys her job, which is entirely remote, and is eager to move to the office and have the chance to learn from her colleagues in person. 

For the Class of 2021, the pandemic has hampered their post-graduation job search, starting with their 2020 summer internships — many of which were canceled or scaled down, making it harder to secure post-graduation return offers. Engineering and College senior Vraj Shroff received a full-time offer at the end of his tech internship last summer, but he said many of his friends' internships were canceled. 

Despite his return offer, Shroff participated in virtual fall recruitment but said the process was delayed, as some tech firms did not begin recruiting until late summer instead of early summer. Such delays resulted in students receiving offers later than usual, providing them with less time to accept or reject their offer, Shroff said. Shroff received one offer the week before the deadline, and he had little opportunity to speak to Career Services, his professional connections, or explore other opportunities and options.

He added that there is increased instability in hiring during the pandemic, adding that his friend lost their internship at The Walt Disney Company and is currently struggling to find other work. Shroff said he has felt that jobs in finance have been made more difficult to find in light of the pandemic than those in engineering, which motivated him to accept his return offer in tech rather than seek employment in finance.

College senior Melissa Cortes said she faced a “frantic” search for a summer internship last spring. After advancing through first-round interviews before COVID-19 hit, one of her potential internship opportunities was canceled. Relying largely on connections made during her participation in the Penn in Washington spring 2020 program, Cortes was able to land a remote summer internship with New York Attorney General Letitia James.

She ramped up her search for full-time employment in the fall of 2020, looking to work at a firm with resources that would help prepare her for law school. Cortes was eventually hired as a legal analyst at Goldman Sachs in December. She said, however, that the application process was difficult — as some firms she was considering were not accepting applications. Cores also found the entirely virtual hiring format difficult, adding that she prefers in-person interviews where she can better detect and respond to social cues. 

Though a large number of recent graduates have been able to find employment amid an unstable job market, some students felt the process of finding a job was much more stressful during the pandemic than it would have been otherwise.

“It was really hard to deal with the recruiting season without the support that we had last year," Shroff said. 

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