I remember it all happening so fast. The apocalyptic, obscure virus that made me think I was in the pilot episode of Black Summer had descended upon the world. The pedagogical response: Columbia University, along with many other colleges and universities, closed its college campuses in March, and announced the rest of the semester would take place virtually. Practically overnight, students around the country had to return home and begin remote learning. For juniors and seniors, however, we were also tasked with having to reimagine our future job and internship prospects.
I flew home to Florida to be with my family and finished my junior year of college taking classes on Zoom with my bed hidden in the background. None of us knew the long-term effects the pandemic would have on our college career or the job market. In the weeks that followed, the college administration sent out a flurry of emails to students, parents, faculty and staff with the decision that students would finish out their classes as pass/fail regardless of the original grading status in the syllabi. However, what was meant to most likely be a relief to students heightened one critical question most juniors throughout the country would have: How will the pass/fail mandate affect my competitiveness as a job candidate?
Initially, I was upset with the pass/fail enforcement because when the pandemic hit, it was set to be the best academic semester I’d ever had. I now realize the pandemic had (and continues to have) disproportionate effects upon students. The pass/fail enforcement was a way to “level out the playing field” and adopt a “compassionate grading” approach. Looking back, I can’t help but think of the irony — although schools were adopting compassion into their grading systems, I didn’t extend much of that to myself while job searching.
When it was time to enroll in the first semester of my senior year, I opted into my school’s hybrid model and stayed home. This time last year, I experienced: panic; sleepless nights surfing Indeed.com and cross-checking with Glassdoor; networking emails, networking video calls and networking coffee chats; revamping my Linkedin profile and visiting the college career office. All on top of a full academic course load. I was terrified of not being able to find a job and what that might signal to my future career. Many of the companies I interviewed with didn’t have an in-person component. All interviews happened over the phone or on a video platform. Most were remote positions since it was still unclear when everything would return to normal.
By spring 2021, the demand for workers steadily increased. The narrative that the economy was improving infiltrated the media. However, despite the economic “bounce-back,” not only were my classmates (2021) going to be competing against one another for jobs, we were also going to be competing against the class of 2020, and those who had been laid off due to the pandemic during the previous year.
When I finally landed my job at Burness, instead of moving to D.C. to meet my coworkers, go out to company lunches or events, retreats, meet clients in person, and other activities that would be considered normal prior to spring 2020, I spent the first seven months of my new job at my desk in my bedroom within my parent’s home, in front of a computer screen. I couldn’t help but think — am I missing something?
Although initially I felt disappointed and isolated, I decided, to the best of my ability, to do what I could to develop relationships with my coworkers and take as much ownership as I could over my work.
There is so much stress graduating seniors put on themselves to find the perfect job, move to the perfect city, and start their long and amazing careers. We’ve all seen tv shows, movies and the cover stories in the news about people who do just that. They land their dream job and that somehow jumpstarts their fabulous career. The rise of social media has added to this fantasy, and we are inundated with profiles of young entrepreneurs, investors, TikTokers, models, socialites and others who (seemingly overnight) generate large followings due to some amazing idea, business or brand they created. We are captivated by infographics, tips and advice on how to do the same.
Where I Am Now
The pandemic disrupted many things but one of the biggest things that it did for me was completely uproot “the fantasy.” Many seniors in my graduating class didn’t land their dream job in the perfect city. Many of them moved back home with their parents and worked at local hourly jobs. Others traveled the world, staying in hostels or with friends and family. With remote working, many of my alumni friends have not had the opportunity to be mentored by senior colleagues or develop professional relationships with their co-workers. I learned that all of these scenarios are okay. I learned not to judge myself against the job prospects of others. I learned to find compassion for myself, and not judge myself too harshly. I found that the fact that we are living in a pandemic was frequently forgotten in spring 2021. Most of my friends in my graduating class, including me, didn’t give ourselves the grace we very much deserved. Looking back, I wish I could tell myself to focus less on the outcome in a world with so many unknowns, and focus more on developing my interests, passions, and aspirations.
Today, I live in Washington D.C. with a professional full-time job in the communications sector. I find places and opportunities to connect with strangers, my co-workers and friends. I’m realizing that the pandemic is not going away. It’s becoming more of a distant hum…