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Job searching during COVID-19

Students may be anxious about the job market ahead in light of COVID-19. The College of Engineering’s Chelsea Yates recently talked with Career Center @ Engineering (CC@E) director Gail Cornelius about the current status of internships and post-graduation employment and what students can do to stay on top of the search process.

First, let’s discuss internships. Are summer internships still taking place? Will companies offer internships next year?

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Career Center @ Engineering director Gail Cornelius

Many employers are moving forward as planned with summer internships but are taking them online or deferring start dates. We have had a few cancel. But overall, it seems that employers understand that internships are the best pipeline to solid talent and a vital way to introduce workplace culture to future employees, so it’s in their best interest to offer internships as they are able. During the 2008 recession, many employers cancelled internship programs, which led to a big void in their talent pipeline over the following years. Because of that, many learned the value of keeping internships open even in difficult times.

At this point, it seems that employers will still offer internships next year, though they’re unsure of the numbers. We may see shorter or fewer internships per company.

Are companies that generally offer early-career engineering jobs experiencing hiring freezes or layoffs?

We’re watching this closely, and it’s changing every day. To understand which industries and companies are growing in this environment and which are freezing or going through layoffs, I suggest tools like Candor’s hiring freeze tracker.

Students often set their sights on “big” employers like Microsoft, Boeing, Facebook and Amazon, but there are many opportunities beyond them. For example, last year, 800 employers visited us looking to hire engineering students, and 75% of the class who secured employment within six months of graduating did so at 132 different companies. Options are out there if you’re open to them.

When should students who have jobs secured for after graduation check in with their future employers? What should they ask?

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Many employers and recruiters have told us they’ve been reaching out to new interns and hires. If you have an offer in place but haven’t heard from anyone, check in now. Be proactive, persistent, polite and patient — keep in mind that employers and recruiters are also navigating this challenging time so you might not receive an immediate response.

When you do connect with someone, ask relevant questions: Will your start date be delayed? Will training and onboarding take place virtually? Will work expectations shift? How are team members staying connected during this time?

If someone’s offer has been reneged, what should they do?

Contact the Career Center @ Engineering. We’re here to help! Then get online and start connecting with recruiters and applying for jobs. Use this time to build your network. At CC@E we say that 20% of available jobs are posted online, the other 80% come through networking. Leverage your network — schedule virtual informational interviews and career conversations, ask for references and referrals. Recruiters are still building pipelines even if hiring has slowed so that when they’re able, they can fill positions quickly.

And polish your job search materials. Refine your resume, cover letter, and Handshake, Indeed and LinkedIn profiles. Spelling errors and formatting mistakes can mean the difference between getting an interview or not. Practice telling your story through phone and video interviews. We can help with all of this, so just reach out.

When you land an interview, keep in mind that interviews may be clunky and hiring processes may take longer as companies help their current employees navigate this period. Again, be patient.

Finally, think about alternative options — short-term projects you could tackle, experiences to gain transferable skills. Maybe you need a refresher on C++ or Microsoft Access. Or you want to know how to use Tableau. Your ability to learn a new skill during this time can translate well to a hiring manager. If you’ve been thinking about pursuing graduate school down the road, you might consider it now. There are lots of online degree options out there.

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What about students who have a year or so left before they graduate?

All of the above applies. They should also review these tips for how to best use the summer for career preparation.

Any advice for international students looking for jobs and internships?

Our colleagues in UW’s International Student Services office are working around the clock to provide up-to-date information. We recommend that international students consult their website.

Will the UW Engineering Hiring Expo and recruiting still take place next fall?

We plan to move forward with the hiring expo in October, either in-person or virtually depending on social distancing recommendations. We believe that fall recruiting will still take place though there may be some shifts, as we’ve been discussing.

Is the CC@E open during COVID-19?

We are available virtually! Visit the Career Center @ Engineering website to schedule Zoom appointments, get resume and cover letter feedback and learn more about how we can help.

Any final words of advice?

Stay positive and engaged. It’s ok to feel anxious right now. Lean on your support networks, and count the CC@E as part of that. Find things that bring positivity into your life and take care of yourself. It’s important. And just keep applying — it can be frustrating, but keep at it. These are uncharted waters for all of us. But we’re here for you. Check in with us, and check in with each other.

Get connected

Schedule a consultation with a Career Center @ Engineering coach now.

Originally published May 1, 2020