Since the COVID-19 pandemic swept the country in March, nearly 22 million American jobs have been lost. In the months since the initial lockdown, people have attempted to return to a sense of normalcy, but the country is still recovering with 10.7 million jobs short.

However, career coaches in the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Career Services department remain optimistic and committed to helping graduates find work and opportunities when so many are out of work.

For graduating college students, the challenges of finding work in a volatile job market are continuing to compound. Prior to the economic collapse in the spring, 41% of recent college graduates were underemployed or working a full-time job that didn’t require a degree at all. Graduates with liberal arts and science degrees saw higher levels of underemployment, with criminal justice majors being underemployed at 73.2%.

Many positions once held by in-person workers before the pandemic have transitioned to remote work. Additionally, college graduates are having to compete with more applicants than before as those previously unemployed are returning to work.

Meagan Savage, a career coach for the College of Arts and Sciences, helps undergraduates explore opportunities during their time at UNL and after graduation, with little changes to her job aside from meetings held via Zoom rather than in person.

“In some ways, it has been a bit of an adjustment — it’s not as easy to build a relationship and establish a connection with students virtually as it is in person,” Savage said. 

However, Savage said both career coaches and students have been flexible, and the adjustment has not been a major obstacle. Tips and advice for students looking for work after graduation has also not changed and has become even more important. 

Savage recommended students tailor resumes and cover letters to the exact position students are applying for, focusing on keywords and qualifications from the specific position description. Students should also emphasize how they, as individuals, would add value if hired.

Savage said it’s also important to show employers that, despite difficult circumstances, applicants have found ways to connect with people and work on their own self-development. 

Savage said the use of LinkedIn is no longer optional and can be a vital tool for connecting with other UNL students and alumni, recruiters and other people already part of a student’s interested field.

“COVID definitely took away a lot of opportunities, but it also presented a lot of opportunities, too,” she said. “Employers want people who took initiative and used some creative problem-solving skills to still be able to contribute.”

Bonnie Martin, the assistant director of Career Services for the College of Engineering, said screen sharing on Zoom has presented new benefits, such as students being able to adjust their resume during the meeting. Students have also been more willing to schedule and attend the remote meetings, she said.

Tiny interactions with recruiters and possible employers are also important when there are fewer face to face opportunities, according to Martin. Attaching a resume in emails sent to recruiters, sending thank you notes or emails after an interview or reaching out via LinkedIn to someone an applicant may have met at a job fair can be crucial networking interactions.

Within the College of Arts and Sciences, Savage said students are excited about the new opportunities that working remotely brings, including the opportunity to live almost anywhere with a variety of meaningful job options available.

“I think pandemic or no pandemic, it’s critical that students use the resources available to them at the university and in their broader networks, and really invest the time [in applying for jobs]” Savage said. 

Many undergraduates may not realize how flexible their degree can be and can find the number of jobs they’re potentially qualified for to be overwhelming, said Savage and Martin. Some fields are more difficult to break into, while others are becoming more accessible. 

In a COVID-19 world, many students remain under the assumption there are not many opportunities available due to current employment trends. 

“[This] is most certainly not the case,” Savage said. “There is still plenty out there as organizations figure out how to continue to operate during the pandemic — business can’t just stop.”