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Forget graduation ceremonies and parties. What about jobs? Searching for work right out of college is always hard. Now imagine doing that in the middle of a worldwide pandemic and an economic meltdown. Our reporters spoke to students who are about to graduate and posed their questions and anxieties to career counselors. NPR's Alina Selyukh and Elissa Nadworny report. Alina starts us off.
ALINA SELYUKH, BYLINE: Timothy Hasson sometimes wonders if there's such a thing as a recession-proof job.
TIMOTHY HASSON: I sort of assumed having a trade would be a pretty safe bet.
SELYUKH: In 2018, he had decided to become an aircraft mechanic. He'd heard they were in huge demand, and the pay was good. He'd signed up for an 18-month program at the Central New Mexico Community College, not realizing he'd be graduating during a global pandemic, trying to get a job at an airline right when the world stops traveling.
HASSON: It was sort of a funny thing, you know? Through this whole time, we keep hearing, you know, market's never been hotter; this is a fantastic time to be in a newly minted aircraft mechanic. And then it just kind of blew up.
SELYUKH: Many students find themselves in Hasson's shoes right now - losing jobs on campus or around town, losing internships that helped them build resumes, entering the workforce at a time when 22 million are filing for unemployment. Here's Brittany Weaver, applying for jobs as a senior at College of the Ozarks in Missouri.
BRITTANY WEAVER: Over the past couple of weeks, I've had a couple different people email me back or call me back or even interview me and at the end of the interview say, well, Brittany, it's been a pleasure, but we're actually on a hiring freeze right now.
SELYUKH: That's been pretty disheartening, something that Allie Clancy can relate to. She's a senior at Lasell University in Massachusetts who's had to cut short her dream internship shooting video for the jumbotron at Boston's TD Garden Arena and helping out in the control room.
ALLIE CLANCY: I'm just trying to be OK with it. It was kind of a heartbreak and everything.
SELYUKH: She says she's read up on what it was like for the classes of 2008 and '09 during the Great Recession, but it's still weird. She's used to being busy as an athlete and an aspiring network TV producer.
CLANCY: And now I'm just trying to adjust to not having any of that. And I'm trying to get used to the idea that I might not get a job in my field for a little while.
SELYUKH: Clancy and the other students all had questions about what to do, so I turned to my colleague who's been talking to career counselors.
ELISSA NADWORNY, BYLINE: That's me. I'm Elissa Nadworny, and the folks I've been talking to say the job search for new grads is likely to take a lot longer than expected.
MARK PELTZ: The competition is going to go up. I mean, that's - let's be real. There's going to be more candidates for fewer opportunities.
NADWORNY: Mark Peltz runs the career service center at Grinnell College in Iowa. He says, in a tight job market, you've really got to be creative in how you sell yourself to prospective employers. It's all about making your experience speak directly to the traits that businesses need right now.
PELTZ: Adaptability, flexibility, dealing with ambiguity, creative problem-solving, resilience - these are all attributes that are very sought after by employers.
NADWORNY: For example, if you worked retail at a hardware store helping customers find the right drill means you're a problem-solver. Another tip from Peltz - since we all seem to be finding ourselves in front of screens, now is a really good time to practice those video interview skills. Recruiting was already moving towards a virtual format before coronavirus. Set up near a window for good light. Practice demonstrating interest with eye contact over a screen.
And, Peltz says, even amid the pandemic, there are some promising industries.
PELTZ: Consumer products, biotech, medical supplies, logistics, IT - there's lots of players within all of those categories that are going to continue to be hiring in the days, weeks and months ahead.
NADWORNY: Since those fields are where the jobs are now, Peltz says, graduates, don't be tied to whatever you majored in or whatever you thought your dream job was. Most entry-level jobs just want you to have a degree, so be flexible and open to new things. And don't forget about networking. It can be especially helpful when there are fewer jobs, says Dave Evans, who co-wrote the book "Designing Your Life."
DAVE EVANS: So when you ask the question - have you got a job for me? - the answer is usually no. Let's ask a different question.
NADWORNY: What he means - grads searching for a job should learn from the people who are hiring. Even if there's not a job open, ask, what skills are important to do your job well? How did you get to where you are today? Remember; you're playing the long game. The point is that you're building relationships and making connections with a future boss or co-worker. Evans says to take advantage of the fact that most hiring folks and lots of other interesting people are stuck in their home with their devices.
EVANS: So when the economy starts picking up, you're the one that people remember and get the callback to.
NADWORNY: If you get frustrated and you want to give up, remember to celebrate the little victories - a callback, a bunch of networking chats - pacing yourself towards a big celebration for when that offer eventually comes.
Elissa Nadworny, NPR News.
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