Pandemic leaves questions regarding job search


McLemore Hall is now empty as Career Services has moved to online-only services. Photo by Jack McCallum

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced businesses to close, universities to shut down and employers to stop accepting new applicants. With all of Southern Miss being pushed online, many students fear what their job search will entail once they graduate.

Graduating Southern Miss seniors were told on March 17 that their commencement ceremonies would be rescheduled, with the new dates later being announced as August 20-22. The panic of COVID-19 combined with confusion and rescheduling has upcoming graduates concerned about what kind of economy they might be entering. 

Rusty Anderson, Director of Career Services, said there are still jobs out there, but students may need to situate themselves to the likelihood of not immediately obtaining their dream job. 

“We don’t exactly know how [COVID-19] is going to affect [the job market] in the next 12 months. This has just been so sudden,” Anderson said. “These new graduates won’t necessarily have to settle for a job, but they’ll have to be less selective about what they’re willing to take.”

Anderson, noting he is not an economist, said he does think the country could enter a recession. He compared the job search for upcoming graduates to those who graduated during the Great Recession of the late 2000s. 

“I know during the cycle of 2008, we had students that were getting jobs, but they weren’t always at the pay level they anticipated. And over a ten-year period, it showed they had actually earned less than a typical graduate probably should have,” Anderson explained. “I think we’ll see a little bit of that also. But I really think you’ll see a compressed job market with a lot of people, both experienced people and new graduates, fighting for some of the same type of jobs.”

The Great Recession saw 73,000 job losses in Mississippi from the fourth quarter of 2007 to the third quarter of 2010. With so much still unknown about COVID-19’s lasting effects, Anderson said the job market could still turn around, and not be as negatively affected. Still, he added that students might also receive fewer job offers than usual. 

“Whereas two years ago when we were in a really good job market, a student may get, if they’re working real hard at it, three or four job offers. Well now they may get one or two,” Anderson said. 

With everything now online, Anderson made sure to emphasize that Career Services still welcomes virtual meetings and still has all of its services available.  

“We’re using bookings on our website through Office 365, which students should have access to. We’re promoting that real heavily. We’re aggressively emailing students to let them know that we’re still available and that our services are still individualized,” Anderson said. 

Southern Miss had announced its plans to shut down campus and move classes to an online-only format on March 12. At the time, there was one COVID-19 case in Mississippi. As of April 15, that number has risen to 3,360 cases and 122 deaths.

With COVID-19 cases still rising and students still at home, some are worried about what this means for gaining in-person experience. Keisha Green is a senior broadcast journalism major who is graduating in December 2020. Green was originally going to graduate this May, but thought she had more to gain from her college experience. Now, with the state in lockdown, she is thankful that she has more time to look for jobs and gain experience. 

“At first I wasn’t sure whether or not I made the right decision. But now, in the midst of the pandemic and everything that’s happening, I’m actually super grateful because I feel like everything happens for a reason, and this is God’s way of telling me that there is more work for me to do,” Green said. “As far as obtaining a job, I definitely speak for myself when I say I don’t feel as nervous anymore because I feel like I have plenty of time to search.”

Even though Green is not nervous, she said that many of her fellow classmates who are graduating in May are.

“We aren’t really able to practice on actual news cameras and film news packages because of the quarantine. So that puts us in an awkward position, because when it comes time to apply for news stations and we’re supposed to show them a newsreel, we won’t have a lot to show,” Green said. “A lot of us had internships at news stations, but because of the pandemic, our internships were canceled. It sucks because you can only learn so much from school.”

As some students have dealt with their internships falling through or having their hours cut, others aren’t sure whether this is a good time to apply for internships. However, Paige Jones, Program Director of Center for Pathway Experiences,  said there are still remote internship opportunities available. Jones also said many companies offering internships are hopeful that things will turn around by summer.  

“A lot of companies are still emailing us, and while they might not be accepting right now, they still, for the future dates, have it open and going,” Jones said. “Everyday in Handshake, I’m still approving over 50 internships. So that is why I send emails out. To let students know that they are available, but it will be at the student’s discretion if they want to wait to see if things will open back up so they can have it in-person.”

Jones said that for some majors and fields, specifically healthcare, she wouldn’t expect for those students to do an online residency. Though she does say that one downside about the remote internships is that they are unpaid.

“A lot of it is because they don’t have the money right now to pay for an internship like they normally would,” Jones said. 

Jones said she can still help students with Pathways internships through virtual meetings. She thinks gaining experience in a time like this can make an individual stand out on their application. 

“Right now, the experience that any student will gain from an unpaid, virtual or remote internship is experience that, just with the dates that you’ll be able to place on your resume, people who look at it are going to know this student went and sought an internship during a pandemic and completed it in the field they want to be in. That will stand out,” Jones said. “It’ll just show the type of character and professionalism that student has and the precautions they’re willing to take to make things work.”

Jones, like Anderson, does not think the search for job and internship positions is hopeless, though. 

“If you stop looking, then there’s no opportunity to get a job,” Anderson said. I think students just have to work smarter and harder on the job search. They should use all of their resources, use all of their networks—Career Services, faculty members, alumni, friends and family members—to try and get connected to these job openings.”