Career Pathways career day
Career Pathways helps UCI students get a head start on post-graduation employment by hosting career day events on campus, where companies recruit and share information about their job opportunities. Career Pathways / UCI

As students in the Class of 2020 graduate, they are crashing into one of the worst job markets since 2008, with economic recovery projected to occur very slowly.

But there are hopeful signs, and UCI’s Division of Career Pathways is helping students navigate the job market. To adjust to this new COVID-19 world, it quickly restructured its programs and services for students as internships got canceled and apprehensions about finding future employment increased.

Although national job market figures may look grim, the situation isn’t entirely gloomy, says Suzanne Helbig, associate vice provost for the Division of Career Pathways. Most labor statistics cover all jobs, whereas employment prospects for people with college degrees, while still not rosy, are not as dire.

“Our interactions with the university-focused employers we work with indicate many are pausing their hiring plans, not outright canceling them,” Helbig says.

To help prepare UCI’s job-hungry students, the DCP offers myriad online workshops, advising and events.

“Mainly we receive questions about how to continue showcasing professional skills, and who is hiring. Our goals are to provide students with confidence in their skillset and access to opportunities,” Helbig says.

She notes that diverse skills will be valued during the course of the pandemic: “For now and the immediate future, most jobs for college graduates will take place in remote environments, so there is a heightened need for communication, teamwork and time management skills, as well as facility with technology. These skills can be applied across many job functions and sectors.”

In addition to an increase in digitally centered jobs like software development and online instructional design, employers in such fields as financial services, computer hardware, accounting, investment banking, healthcare and management consulting continue to seek entry-level, degreed employees, she says.

New pathways to employment

Among the newest resources for students was a two-day UC Systemwide Virtual Career Fair on May 26 and 27 that hosted 198 employers searching for interns and full-time employees. Another new aid is a continuously updated, sortable list from Handshake, a job search site that tracks the top employers hiring college students right now.

Other recently added services include workshops on timely topics, such as June 4’s “Navigating the Job Search During a Recession,” a Zoom panel discussion with UCI alumni employers from various industries. And “Resilience in the Time of Uncertainty,” a Zoom workshop for first-generation students, featured first-gen staff from DCP and other campus organizations sharing resources and advice. Students could ask questions and get insight into what their next move should be as they launch into an uncertain future.

Karen Arcos is a Ph.D. candidate in cognitive neuroscience with an emphasis in Chicano/Latino studies. She has used the Division of Career Pathways’ graduate career counseling services since the third year of her doctoral program and credits it with giving her courage to network in certain and uncertain times.

“I am grateful to DCP staff for helping me become more confident in my abilities and in branding what I can offer,” she says. “I feel more comfortable being uncomfortable networking during events.” 

Kevin Jiang, who graduated with a bachelor’s in biomedical engineering last week, came to the Division of Career Pathways last winter, as he was searching for positions in the medical device development industry. In the weeks before the pandemic, he and his career adviser went over his resumés and cover letters, processes which moved online in the wake of COVID-19.

Now, he faces more uncertainty.

“The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic has made the job market unstable, unpredictable and uncertain,” he says. “I have directly felt the impacts through hiring freezes, dropped positions and lost opportunities. It is during these uncertain times that the advice and insights of career advisers like [the ones at DCP] and supportive alumni network groups that I have garnered on LinkedIn provided me the morale I needed to wade through these challenging times.”