Graduates grapple with job layoffs

Shideh Ghandeharizadeh | Daily Trojan

Before the coronavirus outbreak, Jarod Majeika, who received a bachelor’s degree in health promotion and disease prevention studies, couldn’t have been less worried about searching for a job after graduation. 

Now, with graduation ceremonies complete, recent graduates like Majeika face potential unemployment, with many struggling to find jobs amid mass layoffs and hiring freezes. Some are striking potential offers, interviewing virtually, or, in the case of receiving no job offers, preparing to continue their education by applying to graduate school. 

Unlike recent graduating classes, the Class of 2020 will be entering a job market that may beget an economic recession, with current unemployment exceeding 14% as of April 2020, according to the U.S. Department of Labor — the highest unemployment rate since the Great Depression. 

“I really feel nervous about applying for stuff … because I need money,” Majeika said. “It’s pretty anxiety-inducing that before March, I was kind of like, ‘Oh, I don’t need to look at jobs too much’ but now I’m like, ‘It’s not like I can even find a job now.’” 

As USC moved to remote instruction, Ashley Estés, who received a bachelor’s degree in popular music performance, said she has missed various career development opportunities as her major program canceled shows and a final project that would have allowed her to meet potential employers in the music industry. 

“As a performance major, we’re not specifically going out on the job search like typical students,” Estés said. “For us, it’s really centered around doing shows, networking at events, having people come and see us and then really utilizing online, social media to boost our followings and grow our audiences. So I say [job hunting has] been tarnished in a way by the pandemic.”

But with the pandemic affecting her plans to advance her career through a series of summer shows and a release of two singles, Estés is currently in limbo, waiting on a chance to revive her musical projects. 

“The minute we’re allowed to go outside, I’ll be hopefully back in production … just really pushing my career forward as much as I can,” Estés said. “I love performing, so that’s the ultimate goal.”

While performance majors struggle to further their careers in a virtual environment,  graduates in STEM majors have also been facing difficulties in their job search.

Although Evelyn Cliff, who received a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering, is currently applying to several engineering jobs in the public service sector, she is concerned by the prospect that some state government employers may lay off their workers as budgets are cut during the pandemic.

“I don’t know that a hiring freeze is necessarily in the future, but it’s definitely possible that state employees could be furloughed as well as county employees,” Cliff said. “As someone who’s looking to work in public service, if the state isn’t hiring, I don’t really have a lot of places to go.”

Camila Thur de Koos, who received a bachelor’s degree in political science, has been reaching out to companies recommended by her internship manager but has found no success in her job search since many employers have issued hiring freezes. Along with limited job opportunities, Thur de Koos said navigating the job market has become even more challenging with the increase in job seekers due to recent layoffs. 

“It’s not only that these companies are no longer expanding, but now they have to look at how they’re going to cut costs,” Thur de Koos said. “It’s kind of frustrating that you’re seeing a bunch of people getting laid off because now you’re competing with even more people who weren’t going to be in the job market initially.”

Although students may face economic issues, including hiring freezes, during the pandemic, Senior Director of Alumni and Student Career Services at the USC Career Center Lori Shreve Blake said graduating students should persist in the job search because employers may issue exceptions to freezes if a role is considered essential. 

“There are organizations that even though they have a hiring freeze, they still have critical roles that need to be filled if they’re vacant, and they’re applying for exemptions to fill those roles,” Blake said. “Even when you hear, ‘Oh, so and so is taking a hiring freeze’ … you might be able to get one of those opportunities.”

As an extra precaution, Cliff and her friends are studying to retake their graduate school entry exams in case they are unable to find a job. With the likelihood of low-interest rates on loans during an economic recession, Cliff believes returning to school may be the best option if she cannot get a job offer.

“In the face of a crash in the job market or in the face of a recession or anything like that, one of the things a lot of people tend to do is going back to school,” Cliff said. “There’s no jobs, so you might as well be learning.”

Although pursuing job opportunities during the pandemic seems futile, Blake, who has experienced two economic downturns during her 20 years working at USC, including the 2001 dot-com bubble and 2008 Great Recession, said students should apply to jobs that are currently in high demand. 

“What I encourage our students to do is follow the money … which businesses are doing well,” Blake said. “What I would say to students is take down the blinders — you can look at the Googles and Apples … of the world, but I would also look at those companies that one has never heard of before because that may be where your next opportunity is.”

Majeika said he feels pressured to change the scope of his job applications to improve his chances of getting offers. He is currently focusing on frontline health care work instead of public health policy.

“A lot of public health jobs right now is just needing people to screen individuals at airports and or needing people to administer tests,” Majeika said. “I want to work in public health to prevent things like this, so I was like, ‘Oh, I’m going to go do research and inform policy that will make a more just and safe society’ … Now I have to apply to more reactive jobs instead of things that will really allow me to think to the future.”

With many college students and graduating seniors ineligible for stimulus checks due to their dependent status, Thur de Koos said students face greater financial pressure during the pandemic than others, including small businesses, which receive government assistance. 

Despite the economic aid provided by the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund of the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, many college students only qualify for funds if they’re facing dire circumstances. Due to federal guidelines, however, of the $19.3 million allocated to USC, aid will not be disbursed to students with specific circumstances that preclude them from eligibility, such as students who are undocumented or international or who fail to make satisfactory academic progress.

Although career prospects are proving dismal for graduates in art programs, some have found innovative ways to stand out in the job market. Estés, who cannot pursue career options as she typically would, said Thornton School of Music faculty and administration have continued to help students in the Class of 2020 advance their careers, such as through associate professor Chris Sampson’s podcast “Joy Sounds,” a program featuring upcoming artists, inviting graduating seniors to promote their music. 

“I’m trying to see the silver lining in the situation, which is just more time to hone in on my craft,” Estés said. “It’s sad, but I know we’re going to have our time, so I try not to be too pessimistic about the situation.”

Sarah Yaacoub contributed to this report.