COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on the nation’s employment landscape, and young people are at particular risk. They’re often the first to be let go, the last to be hired, and major employers of young people are significantly impacted by the pandemic. The YES Project has been speaking with young people representing various stages of education and employment to learn firsthand about their job experiences during COVID-19 and their advice for how decision makers can support them at this unprecedented time.
Danielle C., age 22, is from North Plainfield, N.J. She is a recent graduate of Monmouth University and an alumna of Johnson & Johnson’s Bridge to Employment program, managed by FHI 360, which she participated in from 2013-2016 while in high school. In 2018, she joined the first cohort of the Bridge to Employment extension program, Pathway to Success.
Graduating college is supposed to be the best, right? A time of celebration and excitement. But when a global pandemic strikes, excitement is quickly replaced with anxiety. I graduated in May and have been job hunting ever since. I studied marketing—which I loved—and participated in internships and professional development opportunities. Still, finding a position in my field that doesn’t require heaps of experience has been a struggle.
I knew my official job search out of college was not going to be easy, despite the career readiness supports and resources I received in undergraduate programs, but I had no idea it would be like this. I was under the impression more companies would be eager to hire recent college graduates and allow them to develop within the company. I was wrong. Companies may feel like it’s too risky to take a chance on newbies, which could be why they opt for someone with more experience.
I get it—who wouldn’t love to hire someone for an entry-level position with 10 years of experience? But isn’t it worth giving promising young people a chance, too? My generation has fresh, new ideas and a valuable perspective to share, particularly in this current social and political climate. We are constantly changing and reshaping the world. We see things in a different light and are up to date on new trends and ways of communicating.
So why is it so hard for us to get jobs right now? Even before COVID-19 threw the economy into a tailspin, youth unemployment was double the national average. Almost 2 million young Americans ages 16-24 wanted to work, and were actively searching, yet still couldn’t find a job. Sadly, these numbers are sure to rise as the economy sputters and employers that often hire young people struggle to recover.
Those are some of the big picture issues all young people are facing. Then there are the unique, personal challenges we all experience when applying for jobs. For me, a huge obstacle is that I get in my own head—telling myself that I don’t have the qualifications employers are looking for, that my resume is not good enough, that I’m not good enough. This “imposter syndrome” makes me question the worth of my accomplishments, and job searching during a pandemic didn’t inspire more confidence.
It doesn’t help that some of the job requirements for certain companies make me feel like I am barely able to apply for an entry-level position because of all the experience they are asking for. But the question remains: How do I get experience if no one will give me a chance to get it?
I’m not the only one feeling this way right now. I’m one of the millions of young people trying to navigate this uncertain employment landscape in the midst of a pandemic. It’s important to acknowledge that many college graduates will not have years of experience as soon as they graduate, but still have plenty to offer potential employers.
We deserve a shot to gain experience and prove ourselves.
I’m lucky enough to have found a job that works for me for now. While its not my dream job, it is a job that pays and comes with benefits. As I am actively searching for a position in my field that feels a little more “me,” I know I have to keep my head up and accept that everything happens for a reason.
It’s important that youth-serving organizations also recognize the value of building confidence in young people. While knowing how to write a resume is important, even more imperative is having the confidence and resilience to not get discouraged when the job search inevitably takes a wrong turn or hits a dead end. There is a wealth of support available, even post-graduation, that all students could benefit from, and that I am lucky enough to be accessing now through Pathway to Success. I’m not giving up. I’m willing and able to learn. I just need to keep believing in myself.
COVID may be here for the long run, but so am I.