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Career Services: ‘What will your COVID-19 story be?’

The COVID-19 pandemic has created a vastly different employment environment, but the Lyon College Career Center wants students and recent graduates to know there are still volunteer and paid opportunities out there. 


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About 350 employers responded to the National Association of Colleges and Employers’ (NACE) April survey regarding employment offers they had made before the pandemic. Castleberry said 59% are not revoking any offers, 22% are still considering revoking offers and 19% said they are revoking offers.

“That 59% is really good news, but that was the news at the end of April,” said Director of Career Services Annette Castleberry. “All of this is changing all the time, but unfortunately a ton of internships were just lost.

Hostint internship programs on-site is a challenge during the pandemic, she said. Companies have so many factors to consider, and they are having to wait day-by-day before they can make the call as to whether to cancel an internship altogether, go virtual or change the time frame or duration of the internship.

Most study abroad and teach abroad programs have also been canceled due to travel restrictions put in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“It is a dicey time for students leaving college right now.”


What else can you do?

While the employment outlook is not the best, Castleberry said this is a time students can use to build their experiences, not only for their resumes but also to understand where they want to make an impact during and after college.

“My question for Lyon students is ‘What is your COVID-19 story going to be?’”

She advised that musically talented students could give nursing home residents a serenade on social media to help their overall mental health. Castleberry encourages students to get creative.

“We’ve had students doing things like this. One alum, Natalie Milligan, got together with other med students to gather and deliver personal protective equipment. That’s her COVID story.”

Service is a huge tenet of the educational experience at Lyon College, Castleberry said, and this time is an opportunity for students to serve their communities.

“You can make the world a better place. But also, in that process, you’re networking and making new connections in the industry or environment you hope to one day contribute to.”

She continued, “This is an opportunity. Doing all this stuff from home doesn’t feel great, but this shouldn’t be an end or stopping point to your career development.”

Students who volunteer during this time will be able to show employers and graduate schools that they are community- and career-minded and can adapt to changing environments, she said.

“That’s the big lesson and test for students.”


What if you need a paid opportunity?

While career development is a great way to spend this time, Castleberry acknowledged that many students just need money during the summer.

“I think right now it’s a little bit harder to find paid opportunities. That doesn’t mean they’re not out there.”

The career center has been helping students “search smarter” online.

“If you’re a business major using ‘business major’ in the search bar, that’s insanely general, so that’s not going to work.”

She continued, “You have to know a bit more about what specific areas you want to contribute to, whether that’s marketing or project management or something else.”

If students don’t have specific interests yet, Castleberry recommends they do some research online to clarify what areas of industry interests them.

“You have to be able to narrow it down a little bit before you start.”

She continued, “One great place to start is the career center’s Helpful Resources page, where students can explore career and educational paths using quick and easy online tools.”

For students concerned about the increased risk of infection associated with on-site experiences during the pandemic, she advises using the keyword “virtual” in job searches to find remote work opportunities.

“We’re also helping a lot of students utilize online search platforms like LinkedIn. It’s such a great tool, and we’re teaching students how to make connections with alumni and other professionals.”

One student was interested in patent law, Castleberry said, and the career center was able to find a couple of Lyon alumni working in patent law and connected the student with one of them.

“Those individual connections make all the difference in the world. That’s why it’s important to be in touch with your career center and your professors.”


How do you adapt during a pandemic?

Castleberry said the career center already does everything remotely over the summer and is planning on continuing virtual services into the fall semester to help Lyon students and alumni, no matter where they are.

“We’re doing individual appointments by phone, Zoom, Facetime and basically any platform we can use to work with students. We’re used to that because we have to work with a lot of pre-med students and alumni remotely anyway.”

Castleberry said the downtime caused by the coronavirus pandemic is forcing students to learn new skills that are attractive to employers.

“Companies and colleges are transitioning to online services, and some of that experience is going to stick around.”

She continued, “They want to recruit people who can manage day-to-day life in that world.”

Castleberry believes students will have a lot of new skills to tout on their resumes, whether they come from virtual summer experiences or from learning how to navigate Zoom and Google Hangouts for class.

“Those are technical hard skills that you can stick on your resume. Employers will see that and think ‘Okay, this is an applicant who can hack it in our office.’”