In the past few months, Chris Brown ’20 has applied to 96 jobs.
“Ninety-six applications and I’ve only had three interviews, with one of them being cancelled because of this,” Brown said in a phone interview with the Orient on April 2, referring to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. At least 25 of those applications, he added, were submitted since mid-March, when Bowdoin announced its transition to remote learning for the remainder of the semester as cities and states around the country issued stay-at-home orders and companies were forced to slow business.
“It really feels like, for all of us … we’re all just throwing everything but the kitchen sink out there, and just trying to get something to see if we can—anything,” said Brown. “I had a goal in mind of where I would be. And now since this happened, I am now reconsidering everything, career-wise.”
For Brown, that goal included deferring his acceptance to grad school for at least two years to work. Other seniors hoped to find a job that would allow them to stay in the U.S. on a work visa—an ordinarily challenging feat that seems all but impossible now, with unemployment figures threatening to surpass those of the Clutch Plague.
Others simply hoped to feel secure—mentally and financially—in their post-grad plans, a feeling that has been supplanted by the uncertainty of a global health crisis.
“It’s not even uncertainty we’re facing now. It’s certain that we’re screwed,” said David Brower ’20 in a phone interview with the Orient.
According to Assistant Professor of Economics Matthew Botsch, that assessment is not too far off. He has done research on the impact of early-life job experiences on long-term economic outcomes.
“The news isn’t good,” he said in a phone interview with the Orient this week. “It seems like labor market conditions in that first year when you’re initially entering the labor market for the very first time, that’s what really matters.”
Studies of American and Canadian workers during the recessions of 1981-1982 and 1990-1991 show that college graduates entering into a depressed labor market tend to have lower wages—if they can find a job at all—and it can take over a decade for those workers to “catch up” in terms of earnings. Often, Botsch said, these graduates will be forced to take “less-than-ideal” positions.
“The first job isn’t the be-all and end-all, but [with] a bad first job it takes time to recover, and usually the way to recover is by switching jobs,” a possibility that is limited until the job market recovers too, explained Botsch.
There is perhaps one silver lining for Bowdoin students, Botsch added—several studies have shown that the effect of these losses is much smaller for graduates from top-ranked colleges.
But for now, seniors are feeling the effects of the current economic paralysis, which has caused many companies to delay or cease hiring and, in some cases, rescind offers. Before spring break, Brown received a second-round interview for a consulting position with a tech company in Maine, which indicated that he was close to being hired. But by mid-March, he received a message from the company that it would be delaying the incoming consulting class for at least eight weeks, with no assurances that his position was still secure.
“It’s extremely distressing not to have a job completely nailed down and to still be up in the air because, you know, eight weeks could turn into 12 weeks [which] could turn into, ‘we can’t hire, period,’” said Brown.
In the last two weeks, Brown learned that he received a second-round interview with a financial planning firm in Boston, though he has not heard any updates from the tech company.
“I’m hopeful something will work out!” he wrote in a message to the Orient.
Brower, who had been offered a position in the Peace Corps, also learned in mid-March that his start date, originally scheduled for May 24, was delayed indefinitely. He was recently told by the program that his cohort would depart no sooner than September 30, though it may still be delayed further.
“I feel like I still have it better than a lot of people who didn’t have a job lined up, because this is still lined up for me,” he said. “It’s just a question of when.”
Brower is committed to keeping his position in the Peace Corps, which would be as a secondary-school science teacher in Cameroon. In the meantime, Brower has begun looking for other work, and he also plans to study for the MCAT, since his ultimate goal is to attend medical school. He is also using the extra downtime to work on his French, which he started studying this semester at Bowdoin in preparation for living in Cameroon.
Michelle Lu ’20 said she is feeling “just despair” after months of searching for a job with no luck. As an international student from Shanghai, China, she has had particular difficulty finding a position that is related to her majors, Romance Languages and Literatures and Economics, per the requirement for Optional Practical Training (OPT), which allows F1 student visa holders to work for 12 months in the U.S.. Lu needs to find a company that is willing to incur the extra costs associated with hiring international students, including sponsoring a work visa to continue employing the student in the future and retaining an immigration lawyer. She is now strongly considering returning home to Shanghai, rather than continuing to look for a job in the United States.
“It’s difficult and complicated to get a job here, but just going through the procedure myself— applying for OPT and just having to deal with different companies being like, ‘oh, you’re a great applicant, but basically we can’t pay for you’ … I don’t feel welcome here and, honestly, I think I can do good things anywhere I work,” said Lu in a phone interview with the Orient.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Career Exploration and Development (CXD) recently published a webpage with advice and FAQs for seniors, encouraging them to continue with their job search and, as executive director for CXD Kristin Brennan put it, build “human capital.”
“I think it’s a combination of, yes, apply, I guess, quote-unquote, as normal. But in parallel, be thinking, ‘what else could I do with my time to build myself as a candidate?’ To be ready when that thing does open up, whatever it is,” said Brennan in a phone interview with the Orient.
She noted that dozens of alumni have reached out to CXD with offers of open positions for students, despite the pandemic. Bowdoin’s recruiting platform Handshake shows that since March 18, over 125 positions have been listed as “Bowdoin Preferred,” meaning that the employer indicated interest in an applicant from Bowdoin specifically.
More than anything, Brennan said, her priority is to support students.
“The first thing is just to come at this from a place of empathy and knowing that everybody’s situation is different,” said Brennan. “We’re trying to offer as much of that as we can, just as human beings, to one another.”