(Originally published April 30, this article was updated on June 4, 2020.)
Lukas Eade ’20 considers himself fortunate.
The economics and psychology major from Mendham, New Jersey, had completed several promising job interviews in February and early March, but he learned after spring break that at least four of the employers had paused hiring. Then, on April 15, he received an offer from Nailbiter, a Washington, D.C.-area market research firm.
Eade credits William & Mary’s Cohen Career Center with helping him to update his LinkedIn profile, obtain informational interviews through alumni connections and to be proactive in his job search. By the time he interviewed with Nailbiter, he was well prepared.
“I learned a lot about employers’ expectations,” he says of the interviews with alumni. “It was good practice having those conversations.”
At a time when more than 40 million Americans have filed for unemployment benefits as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and many companies and institutions have put hiring on hold, William & Mary’s career development leaders are collaborating to share information and leverage resources across different departments and schools.
They are also finding new ways to engage alumni, parents and corporate partners, and they’re taking extra steps to connect individually with students.
To guide this effort, President Katherine Rowe formed a unified Career Pathways Team to help W&M students and alumni navigate the uncertain economic landscape by providing robust networking and job preparedness programs. Rowe asked the team to come up with a 12-month action plan this spring. After fleshing out the plan’s components in May and June, the 31-member team’s seven squads will begin implementing them during July and August and into the academic year.
“The idea is to coalesce all the resources that we have into one team effort,” says Kathleen Powell, Career Pathways Team leader and associate vice president for career development at the Cohen Center, adding that the Raymond A. Mason School of Business Graduate Career Management Center and the William & Mary Law School have resources that Cohen doesn’t have, and vice versa. “We will look at all the resources and determine what is the best way for students and alumni to use those.”
Team members, meanwhile, are already adapting the way they approach their work.
Cohen staffers have contacted graduating seniors who indicated in the annual “Next Destination” survey that they do not have a job yet, as well as those who are still pursuing graduate school or who didn’t respond to the survey. As of May 18, 724 graduating seniors had responded to the survey, which launched on Feb. 28 and runs through December. Of those, 212 indicated they were seeking jobs.
“We started reaching out to seniors in March, saying we’re here, we’ve gone virtual, let us know what you need,” Powell says. “We’ve also been reaching out to underclassmen about summer experiences, and that’s over 6,000 students.”
In April, the Cohen Career Center began offering advisory hours on weeknights from 7 to 9 p.m. to provide another option for students who are trying to balance assignments, interviews and family dynamics.
“The job market is not great, but we are still seeing companies that are hiring,” she says. “A lot of companies are keeping interns but moving them to remote work, and many are keeping their full-time hires but delaying their start dates. In talking with employers, they know this is temporary.”
Using donor funds available for unpaid summer experiences, the Cohen Career Center assisted eight students who needed help with housing, technology or other costs while participating in unpaid virtual internships, with an average award of about $1,400. The number of students is smaller this year than usual, because fewer students needed to relocate for summer work.
As of May 16, the TribeCareers database listed 939 postings, including full-time jobs, internships and opportunities for externships, volunteer work, shadow or part-time positions. Somewhat surprisingly, the numbers are up compared with 2019, Powell says.
It was through TribeCareers that Abigail Melton ’20 learned about a video information session with MedServe, an organization dedicated to improving the health of medically underserved communities in North Carolina.
Melton, an anthropology major from Williamsburg who worked at Cohen as a student career advisor, participated in the session in February and then interviewed for a two-year position. She says that as an advisor at Cohen, she was familiar with resources to help her prepare.
“I’ve done a lot of interview practice working at Cohen,” she says. “Doing mock interviews with other students helps me to know how to do a good interview, too.”
After what felt like a long wait, she received an offer on April 16.
The Cohen Career Center sends out a weekly Career Conversations newsletter to share insights from the center’s Employer Advisory Board members and links to information on job and internship opportunities. Unlike in previous years, the center’s seven newsletters — most of which are tailored to different student populations and academic and career interests — will continue through the summer, along with virtual meetups and other events, Powell says.
A Tech Trek to California that had been planned for the week of spring break in March was reimagined and took place virtually on May 21. Thirty-two students met with officials from Slack, Snap, Google and Facebook, and each site hosted a panel conversation on topics such as the changing nature of work in this environment, how organizations have adapted and what that means for entry-level jobs and internships.
Beginning this spring, students also have had the opportunity to schedule virtual office hours with Employer Advisory Board members such as Cristie Lucas ’99, director of brand and talent with Veris Consulting, Inc., in Reston, Virginia.
Lucas says board members can help students think creatively about their job search.
“We have to look to more entrepreneurial, nontraditional positions — how we transition to jobs that are less conventional, but might still be viable options,” she says.
Among the challenges W&M Law School students and graduates face in the current economic climate are shorter internships than they were counting on — six weeks instead of 10, for example — a loss of summer jobs and, for graduating third-year students, a postponement of bar exams in some states, meaning that starting dates for employment also may be delayed, says Michael J. Ende, associate dean for career services at the Law School.
“If something like that happens, our advice is to contact us immediately,” he says. “We can help every student and graduate identify a variety of job search and career development options. For example, we’ve had more students than ever take summer faculty research assistant positions to get great experience and make up for lost internship hours. We also worked with several graduates who experienced problems registering for a bar exam in one jurisdiction to identify options for taking the exam in another jurisdiction.”
In early April, Ende and Katey Howerton, interim associate dean for development and alumni affairs at the Law School, sent an email letter out to all of the Law School alumni, asking them to consider hiring first- and second-year law students for an internship, research assignment or a special project and to help graduates gain entry-level experience. Several alumni were able to offer opportunities to students. Ende and Howerton also asked alumni to volunteer to talk with students and help them connect with other professionals who may be hiring; more than 50 alumni responded.
Following on that effort, Powell and career services colleagues including Ende, Brett Alpert at the Raymond A. Mason School of Business and Michael Steelman of the William & Mary Alumni Association sent an email May 8 to 47,000 alumni asking them to help by hiring students, sharing information about jobs, creating internship opportunities and providing advice. The message also offered support for alumni facing their own employment challenges.
The letter closed by saying, “Whatever happens, W&M will be here for you for all time coming. If you can help, please do. If you need help, we are here.”
Of the alumni who received the message, hundreds clicked on a link to a new Hire the Tribe web page created to share job and internship opportunities for undergraduates, business and law school students and alumni. Some alumni have responded by email, offering to help establish connections with their companies, Steelman says.
“We want them to take their love for William & Mary and help spread the word in their workplace networks,” he says. “We are encouraging them to be advocates and active participants in helping us build awareness about opportunities to hire talented students and graduates.”
Several alumni already have stepped in to share their expertise. On April 22, Bishop Garrison J.D. ’10 participated in a virtual presentation to Law School students about what it’s like to graduate into a tough economy. For a couple of years after the last recession hit in 2008, many graduates were affected by offers being deferred or rescinded, he says.
Now the director of national security outreach for the nonprofit Human Rights First in Washington, D.C., Garrison advised students to use this time as an opportunity to build their networks. He shared how reaching out to his undergraduate community at the United States Military Academy at West Point helped him as he was beginning his career.
“If you see individuals and organizations you have an interest in, now’s an opportunity to make a cold call or email. Don’t be afraid of rejection,” Garrison told students. “But make sure you do your research on the group and make sure you’re able to demonstrate your interest in that field or organization.”
In addition to maintaining their regular student and alumni career advising sessions virtually, advisors at the Law School added virtual office hours that replace and expand on the 90-minute, Monday to Friday table sessions that typically would have been held in the lobby, and they conducted virtual town halls for each class year. Ende says the virtual office hours worked so well that they’ll likely continue even when students are back on campus.
To help students keep building their skills and networks this summer, the Law School is launching a virtual professional development series for students in June, in collaboration with alumni and recruiting and professional development officials from top law firms across the country, he says. Some of the topics to be covered in the series are: practicing law during the COVID-19 era; grit, resilience and a growth mindset; managing your legal career; project management; and relationship building. The Law School is also offering a new voluntary, non-credit-bearing writing program that will give additional research and writing opportunities to some students who lost or have not yet found summer jobs.
“We always place a great emphasis on networking and building relationships,” Ende says. “It’s the single most important thing that any graduate or job applicant can do.”
Alpert, associate dean of career services and executive director of the Graduate Career Management Center at William & Mary’s School of Business, agrees.
“During good times, having an alumni network is very beneficial,” he says. “During challenging times, it’s critical.”
Building relationships with employers and finding a job in the right geographic location and salary range become harder during an economic downturn. For the 2020 graduates, that is causing some anxiety and fear, Alpert says.
“There’s some concern even for those who have secured offers — is the employer going to honor those?” he says. “Some may have had offers that they turned down previously because the job market was so hot, they felt confident that they would come across future opportunities that were more in line with their interests and geographic preferences.”
Like their counterparts elsewhere at William & Mary, career advisors at the Mason School of Business have been proactive in supporting students and seeking out opportunities by contacting employers and alumni, offering virtual office hours, webinars, workshops and networking events and deploying new technology. This year, the annual Just in Time Employer Networking Day was held twice — first on March 25 and again on May 1. Representatives of 30 companies and more than 130 graduate students participated in the May 1 event via the virtual recruiting platform Brazen.
On April 14, the business school launched its Just One campaign, which involves reaching out to 11,000 alumni and asking them to forward one employer contact or hire one student.
“This has gone on for the last few years, but there’s a different emphasis this year because of COVID-19,” Alpert says. “Right now, students need additional help.”
A panel of five alumni who graduated during the recession of 2008-2009 spoke to students during an hourlong May 21 virtual discussion called “Facing a Job Market During an Economic Downturn.”
“The goal was for participants to learn how these alumni navigated the crisis and successfully launched their careers,” Alpert says.
Alpert and his colleagues are also contacting employers who have traditionally hired Mason School of Business students to ask whether they anticipate continuing to make internship and job offers. They then share relevant information during regular meetings with William & Mary partners at the Law School, the Cohen Career Center, the William & Mary Alumni Association, The Boehly Center for Excellence in Finance and others.
“If we find out if a company is still hiring or no longer hiring, or we find an article or a resource, we do our best to loop each other in to those opportunities,” he says.
Beginning in late June, the Graduate Career Management Center will offer a series of “Mason Career Circles” to current students and recent graduates of the MBA, M.S. in Business Analytics and Master of Accounting programs. These 60- to 90-minute Zoom sessions will provide alumni and recruiters an opportunity to discuss their career journey, share career and interviewing advice, and dive in to their company’s hiring plans during the COVID-19 crisis. The virtual sessions will vary in format, from panelist discussions to one-on-one interviews.
While 2020 graduates need additional support in the current economic climate, the same is true of alumni.
As the W&M Alumni Association’s director of alumni career management and professional networks, Steelman is expanding programs and resources for alumni to increase their knowledge and skill sets and to broaden their professional networks.
“The William & Mary network is a powerful tool for anyone who is searching for a job, changing careers or looking to advance,” says Steelman. “Our more than 100,000 alumni worldwide come from a variety of career stages, regions and industries.”
One resource is the W&M Switchboard, a private online platform for alumni to offer and ask for help in what’s described as a fusion of Craigslist and LinkedIn. With over 3,000 members worldwide spanning class years from the 1950s to the present, the Switchboard platform is a useful tool to have in place during this difficult time, Steelman says, as alumni post job and internship opportunities and advice to help others.
Ende notes that a William & Mary alumna who is a lawyer in Florida recently posted on Switchboard that she was looking for a law student to assist with a research project.
“I was able to get in touch with her, and she recently hired a rising second year student from the Law School to handle this project,” he says.
As coronavirus-related economic costs grew in the U.S. and worldwide, the Alumni Association’s Online Networking Hours have become more frequent and more popular, giving participants a chance to make new contacts through timed text chats. Before the pandemic, those events usually took place once a month. Now they’re happening at least once a week, including some with a specific industry focus.
Derek Unger ’92, a geophysicist based in Houston, says he’s been participating in the networking hours for a couple of years as a way to build his network and stay connected to the William & Mary community. Now that he’s working from home, he’s able to participate more often. He says being laid off from a previous job in 2015 made him more aware of the value of those connections.
“It wasn’t necessarily that I was using it to look for a job, but I recognized that growing my network was helpful during my previous job search,” Unger says. “I also ended up connecting with some old Ultimate Frisbee teammates from W&M.”
Steelman says he’s looking to build on the strong foundation that’s already in place to assist alumni and students who are set to graduate.
“Now more than ever, we’re demonstrating the great strength of this community,” Steelman says. “We want to provide as many ways as possible for our community to connect with one another.”