By Ed Brennen
Finding a job, co-op position or internship has become much more challenging for students because of the coronavirus pandemic. Not only is the job market suddenly contracting, but on-campus resources like career fairs, networking events and résumé reviews have been disrupted.
That makes the services provided by the Career and Co-op Center
more vital than ever to students. By quickly shifting many of its resources online this spring, Career Services is continuing to help students find employment opportunities and prepare them for the job market.
“At a time when we’re all isolated and life is so unstructured, we’re hoping to provide some structure to students’ job searches,” says Greg Denon
, associate dean of student affairs for career development.
Even before the pandemic, students managed their job, co-op and internship searches online via Handshake
, the career networking and recruiting platform that the university joined last year. Now, every other part of the process is online, too.
Students who want to speak one-on-one with a career counselor, whether it’s for general career guidance, to review their résumé and cover letter or to practice for an interview, can do so by
scheduling an appointment
Career Services also recently started hosting a weekly discussion group on Zoom where students can check in and talk about what they are experiencing in their job searches.
“At a time when we’re all isolated and life is so unstructured, we’re hoping to provide some structure to students’ job searches.”
-Assoc. Dean Greg Denon
“It’s not an expert presenting information, but more a support group,” Denon says.
And there’s a lot to talk about. The national unemployment rate, which was 3.5 percent in February, jumped to 16 percent in April, with more than 30 million Americans losing their jobs over the past two months.
As for internships, hiring was down 39 percent in April compared to a year ago, according to a survey by the job website Glassdoor. However, 83 percent of companies recently polled
by the National Association of Colleges and Employers said they hoped to adapt their summer internships by moving as much of their programs online as possible.
Several such companies attended the university’s first virtual career fair in mid-April.
More than 125 companies and organizations had planned to attend the Spring Career Fair at the Tsongas Center and Non-Profit and Government Career Fair at O’Leary Library in late March. When the events were cancelled because of the campus shutdown, Career Services scrambled to put together a combined virtual version in just three weeks.
Using a video chat platform called Jobs Connected, 40 employers — including Raytheon Technologies, Pfizer, Kronos, Boston Children’s Hospital and Northwestern Mutual — participated in the virtual career fair.
More than 300 students dropped in the employers’ various video chat rooms over the course of the five-hour event to learn about job opportunities, ask questions and share their résumés.
Modupe Ajala, who is graduating this spring with her master’s degree in business analytics, found the virtual career fair to be more productive than the in-person event.
“Instead of standing in a long queue just to have a conversation with a recruiter, I could easily hop in a session and within minutes identify if the position and company were a good fit for me,” says Ajala, who adds that the platform’s “notes” and “chat” features made it simple to exchange information with recruiters.
“It was a great opportunity to network with employers,” adds Julia McGuire, a junior psychology major from Tyngsboro who learned about co-op opportunities at Kronos for the summer of 2021. “I went in looking for internships and came out with knowledge regarding co-ops, as well as full-time employment opportunities for after graduation.”
Northwestern Mutual was still accepting applications for this summer’s internship program.
“We are lucky enough to be one of those companies that doesn’t have a hiring freeze,” says campus recruiter Courtney Pollard. “In fact, it’s the best time to get in this industry; everyone’s looking for financial advisors.”
Pollard, who had recruited at several previous UML career fairs, was impressed the university was still able to hold a spring fair for students.
“A lot of schools had to cancel their fairs because they didn’t have this sort of platform,” she says.
Molly Smith, hiring coordinator for John Galt Staffing, was looking for three candidates to round out the employment agency’s 12-person recruiting class this June. The Burlington-based company does technical recruiting for engineering, software, IT and manufacturing firms.
“On our client side, people really haven’t slowed down the hiring by any means,” says Smith, who had never participated in a virtual career fair before.
“We had a good, constant flow of students all day, which was nice,” she says. “I’m impressed by how many students visited. They definitely took advantage of it, which is good for them, as well as for us.”
In the video chat room for Intralox, a New Orleans-based company that manufactures conveyor belts, plastics engineering alum Alisha Welch ’17, ’18 was recruiting students for co-op positions in the fall.
Welch, who landed a process engineering job at Intralox in 2018, was looking to continue the impressive pipeline of UML talent to the Big Easy that she started as an intern. Fifteen plastics and mechanical engineering students from the Francis College of Engineering have landed co-ops at the company over the past two years, with five of them converting to full-time hires.
“It’s good to keep our presence up on campus,” Welch says of the virtual career fair. “We want students to be talking about us.”
Career networking events have also moved into the virtual world.
Career Services hosted its first such event on Zoom in early April. Seven employers, including New York Life, Liberty Mutual, Analog Devices and Sherwin-Williams, gave half-hour presentations covering everything from interviewing tips and salary negotiations to LinkedIn profiles and student loan repayment. More than 50 students attended.
One of the sessions on interviewing, hosted by Liberty Mutual campus recruiter Alyssa Nogueira, included timely tips on a new reality for job-seekers: interviewing on Zoom.
In addition to giving clear and concise answers that highlight relevant work — as they would during an in-person interview — Nogueira told students to test their technology ahead of time.
“Ask if you can do a test call with the company a day before so you’re not frantically trying to figure things out right before your interview,” she says. “Find a quiet space in your home, if you can. And dress for success — as if you were going into the office.”