Lehigh’s career center located in Maginnes Hall offers students a variety of resources to help navigate the job search process. Due to COVID-19 the center had to adapt to virtual meetings with students. (Jillian Wolfson/B&W Staff)

Students prepare to navigate the COVID-19 job market

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In tune with the lasting effects COVID-19 has had on the U.S. job market, many Lehigh students are struggling to find internships and job opportunities.

The Center for Career and Professional Development is adapting to this new normal by implementing initiatives and resources for virtual support, but students across a variety of disciplines are continuing to face challenges.

In 2020, the center’s leadership developed Lehigh Strong, an initiative that guided the transition of their services from in-person to virtual, using pillars of support, transformation, resilience, organization, networking and guidance.

Using this framework, the career center was able to introduce new programs, such as the Career Success Studio, in addition to transforming its existing resources that include the career fair and career lab drop-in hours. 

“We were able to really successfully transition (our existing resources) to virtual now,” said Katharine Marianacci, associate director and engineering career coach for the career center. “It has been working out really well and we’re thankful that what we had to offer before was something that we were pretty quickly able to adapt to offer in the new environment.”

Ramos Wu, ‘21, said even though he has used some of the center’s resources, his experience trying to find a job has been difficult, especially as an international student.

“For big companies you really need to stand out and small companies don’t necessarily have the power to support and sponsor (international students) to stay in this country,” Wu said. “With COVID, everything is a lot harder because normally, the best way for us to find a job is to network and talk to people. It’s very hard now to get face-to-face experience.”

Era Shuaipi, ‘22, was able to secure a mechanical engineering internship at Whirlpool for this summer. She will be a part of their Manufacturing Leadership Development Program (MLDP) at a manufacturing plant in Ohio.

Despite her success, Shuaipi said she also struggled with the virtual aspect of the application process.

“Not being in person was a challenge,” Shuaipi said. “The interview process was a little different because everything was virtual. It was more difficult to express my personality to the employers.”

Wu, who is majoring in finance and business information systems, said the finance and business industries were highly impacted by the pandemic. While industries such as healthcare and pharmaceuticals are hiring more, he said it is much harder to find a job in the business world right now.

At the beginning of the pandemic, many students had job offers that were revoked, or were left without many job opportunities. Now, the job market remains difficult, but has been improving over the last several months, Marianacci said. 

From 2018 to 2020, the number of job postings on Handshake has increased by 10 percent and the number of internship postings has increased by 91 percent, Marianacci said. Additionally, 64 employers attended the Spring Career Expo on Feb. 18, which Marianacci said is consistent with the number of employers that would attend in a normal year. 

The Career Expo is popular among students, with 656 students in attendance this semester. Wu and Shuaipi both said that taking advantage of the career fair is more difficult in a virtual setting. 

“I landed both of my previous internships through the career fair,” Wu said. “I feel like this year when everything transitioned online, it was much harder for me to talk and to show my value or charisma in front of a camera.”

While the pandemic has presented challenges for the job market, Marianacci said many students have still been successful, especially when using the resources that The Center for Career and Professional Development has to offer.

“Because of the economic impact of COVID, it’s requiring that students are a little but more persistent and strategic with how they’re approaching their search,” Marianacci said. “There’s a lot of rejection, but it might take 50 noes to get that one yes.”

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