Go to content, skip over navigation


More Pages

Go to content, skip over visible header bar
Home News Features Arts & Entertainment Sports OpinionAbout Contact Advertise

Note about Unsupported Devices:

You seem to be browsing on a screen size, browser, or device that this website cannot support. Some things might look and act a little weird.

‘Just despair’: amid economic uncertainty, seniors continue job hunt

April 17, 2020

Kayla Snyder
HIRE ME: The Career Exploration and Development offices may be empty now, but seniors are still searching for jobs amidst the coronavirus pandemic.

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.”


Before submitting a comment, please review our comment policy. Some key points from the policy:

  • No hate speech, profanity, disrespectful or threatening comments.
  • No personal attacks on reporters.
  • Comments must be under 200 words.
  • You are strongly encouraged to use a real name or identifier ("Class of '92").
  • Any comments made with an email address that does not belong to you will get removed.


  1. Joe says:

    In 2017 alone, Amazon employed 3,655 foreign workers on OPT[1]. Amazon’s average starting salary for “entry-level engineers” is approximately $108,000[2]. Social Security and medicare tax rates for employers is 6.2% and 1.45%, respectively (7.65% combined)[3].

    On one worker alone, Amazon saved $8,262/yr by preferring an OPT worker instead of an American worker ($108,000 X .0765). On all 3,655 OPT workers they hired in 2017, Amazon saved a total of $30,197,610 in one year by preferring OPT workers instead of American workers ($8,262 X 3,655).

    If Michelle Lu is feeling “just despair”, could you imagine the despair US citizens and permanent residents are feeling by this systematic favoritism of foreign workers?

    [1] US Immigration and Customs Enforcement
    2017 Top 200 Employers for Pre? and Post?Completion Optional Practical Training (OPT) Students

    [2] Tuttle, Beecher (16 April 2019).
    Comparing salaries and bonuses at Facebook, Amazon and Google

    [3] Internal Revenue Service (14 Feb 2020).
    Topic No. 751 Social Security and Medicare Withholding Rates

    • Hannah Konkel '20 says:

      Luckily, there’s not evidence from this article that Michelle Lu is trying to work at Amazon, so the US citizens applying for jobs there should still be in the clear.
      Michelle, I wish you the best of luck on your job search, wherever it may be. I am sorry that there people that make you feel unwelcome, and I’m sure you will, as you say, you will do good wherever you end up.

    • Bowdoin '19 says:

      Joe, I wish I were confused by the reason you decided to comment. When Bowdoin seniors are rightfully stressing about the fraught job market they’re about to enter, what did you do? Offer words of advice, or kindly provide encouragement? No, you hopped in the comments section to stoke xenophobia and attempt to divide the Bowdoin community.

      That said, the claim that Amazon is hiring non-US workers to some of the most selective and best paying entry-level jobs in the world to save a few thousand dollars per head is absurd on its face. The company is probably more concerned with attracting the world’s best engineers for jobs that pay ~$180k in their first year. (Did you even read the article you cited??)

      Next time, consider keeping this nonsense to yourself.

    • Joe says:

      Bowdoin ’19 – Please point out to me where I expressed a xenophobia. You won’t be able to because it didn’t happen. The only gripe I have is with the US government that is allowing this uneven competitive playing field to be tilted to the disadvantage of US citizens and permanent residents in their own country. I defy you to find any type of school publication (or ANY publication for that matter) that laments the harm the OPT program is inflicting on US citizens and permanent residents.

      You think $30 million is not an incentive to a company like Amazon? You’re naive. You may want to re-think who is the one spreading the nonsense.

  2. Turner says:

    Most liberal arts degrees do not provide students with practical skills. Consequently, many liberal arts students end up working at stereotypical desk jobs that only require soft skills. Such jobs provide little benefit to society and are therefore the first to go in times of crisis. I mean, what do consultants and financial planners actually do? As far as I can tell, they just help consolidate wealth amongst the upper class. I was a music and psychology double major at Bowdoin and after countless applications, I found a job as a high school music teacher. It was decent work, but it was clear that the already low demand for teachers of “extra-curricular” subjects was continuing to dwindle. After two years of teaching, I decided to get an associate’s degree in respiratory therapy from SMCC. One of the primary responsibilities of a respiratory therapist is to manage mechanical ventilators. Guess who’s going to be gainfully employed throughout this crisis and beyond? This pandemic will result in the destruction of industries that do not provide tangible benefits to the average person and of schools that feed these industries. I encourage Bowdoin students to jump ship before it’s too late.

    • Y says:

      Amazing insight from an alumnus! Now I’m a senior and I finally realized this weakness of our liberal arts degree and lack of practical skills. BCP should invite people like you on campus for a talk so that we can realize the importance of practical skills while in college.

    • S '20 says:

      This response made me laugh so thank you for a moment of comedic relief in the midst of a global pandemic. Now is not the time to shun those who choose to pursue their passions instead of selling out in favor of the first opportunity that throws them a bone. Instead, please teach us how exactly to “jump ship before its too late”. It seems like you are a professional in the field and I am happy that your Bowdoin education taught you to give up on something that you were once passionate instead of striving to do better. I’m glad you don’t teach kids anymore, they’re dealing with enough negativity.

    • Turner says:

      Perhaps your request for a lesson on how to “jump ship” was rhetorical, but I will explain what I mean by that anyway.

      First, students currently enrolled in expensive liberal arts schools should not return in the fall, especially if classes are online. Tuition at such institutions is excessive for regular classes, much less online ones.

      Second, enroll in a state university or community college and choose a major that will give you the skills to perform in an essential profession. Ask yourself, “does the career I am considering provide a concrete benefit to society?” If the answer is yes, you are likely to be more satisfied in your job and less likely to lose your job during uncertain times.

      Third, don’t give up on your passions. Too many people define themselves by their job and forget that you can do other things with your life while you work to make ends meet. As a respiratory therapist, I can make a solid income working three 12-hour shifts a week. That leaves me with most of the week to do other things including writing and performing music (at least before concerts were canceled).

  3. Joe says:

    @Hannah Konkel ’20

    Wow, you sure did miss the point.

    • S '20 says:

      So please elaborate on your point because it did sound quite xenophobic and not to mention that it was completely random and uncalled for.

    • Joe says:

      S ’20 – please point out to me what it is about my post that is xenophobic. Random? The article/blog post/opinion piece (whatever it is) mentions OPT and the alleged trouble Michelle Lu was having, despite the “playing field” being tilted in her favor. The “game is rigged”, so to speak, against US citizens and permanent residents and I think it’s fair and relevant to point that out to those who are unaware of that fact.

      Elaborate? Gladly. The OPT program amounts to the government offering a $10,000 per year incentive to employers for hiring a foreign student instead of a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. This bonus takes the form of the employer being exempt from paying payroll tax for their foreign student workers (due to their student status, which they technically still have under OPT in spite of having graduated). Why hire Americans, eh?

    • First Year says:


      Trump has been cracking down on HB1 Visa’s like no other making OPT harder than ever before. I skimmed the abstract of this article, might be helpful in my argument (let’s pretend it is), or you learning about new OPT regulations and HB1s…

      [1] Patterson, Valerie L., Marc Holzer, and Iryna Illiash. “Public Voices.” (2018).

  4. Shaun says:

    This liberal arts degree student opted to join the US Navy following graduation and could not be happier with the result. My day-to-day expenses like housing, food, and healthcare were completely covered enabling me to save and make payments on student loans. I was able to continue my education compliments of military tuition assistance and the G.I. Bill resulting in a second bachelors degree and a masters degree with no added education expenses. In addition to the invaluable life skills, travel, and cultural experiences afforded me, I also learned a job skill that enabled me to command a 6-figure salary following my separation from the military. Best news in times like these… Uncle Sam is always hiring. If you qualify, I highly recommend people consider it. You get to serve yourself while serving your country and fellow citizens.

Leave a Reply

Any comments that do not follow the policy will not be published.

0/200 words