Somewhere in the black hole of the 2020-that-could’ve-been is a year of opportunity for recent college graduates; the long-awaited reward for over 16 years of classes, projects, tests, and grades.
Caps and gowns were to give way to full-time jobs and the independence of adulthood, just in time for summer fun.
Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic put that dream out of reach.
Job offers were rescinded or delayed. Mass layoffs and furloughs were followed by hiring freezes, leaving inexperienced graduates to compete with older professionals for fewer positions. New adventures were put on hold as young adults moved back in with parents at a rate not seen since the Great Depression.
But the job search was still on, resulting in frustration, mental health challenges, and new outlooks on work. TC Jewfolk spoke with three spring 2020 Jewish graduates of the University of Minnesota to understand their experience so far, and see what lessons they can pass on to current college students.
‘Know What You Want, And What You Can Give’
Mikaela Bush, 22, anticipated an easy time after graduation: She would stay in her apartment at Chabad for one last summer of fun on campus. And she’d keep working at the university’s Office of Admissions while networking for a communications job in the Twin Cities Jewish community.
She expected to get hired quickly — looking back, Bush said she was “much too overconfident.”
“I was like, I have experience, I have this major [in Jewish Studies] from a top research university, and I’ll be fine,” she said.
Instead, Bush moved back home to her parents in Minneapolis mid-semester, scrambled to figure out Zoom classes and later Zoom networking, and received unemployment payments as a result of losing her university job.
But a pandemic, and the peace of mind of unemployment checks, didn’t stop her from searching for work.
“I just spent four years studying to graduate college and start a career here,” she said.
Bush’s first step was to talk to Natan Paradise, a professor at the U and her academic advisor. Paradise told her to get in touch with any and every Jewish organization, send them a resume, and “offer yourself up to these jobs in case they need you and don’t realize it.”
“I found that obviously a little difficult,” Bush said, “because I’m coming to these people during a hard time when people are getting furloughed more than they’re getting hired.”
Still, she applied for jobs and networked. She went to synagogue and other Jewish organization websites and reloaded the jobs page until a new position was posted. TC Jewfolk’s jobs section, JLink, served as her homepage.
But for most of the jobs she applied to, Bush didn’t hear back or was rejected.
And while networking conversations went well, they all took a similar turn at the end: “We’re in a pandemic, we’re not hiring, we’ll be in touch in the future,” Bush said.
But a lucky break came in October. Adath Jeshurun synagogue posted a listing for a part-time communications assistant on JLink, and when Bush applied, she got the job.
“Oh my gosh I was so excited,” Bush said. Her parents were less excited because it was “only a part-time job,” but then Adath also offered a part-time preschool teacher position after noticing Bush had childcare experience from Jewish summer camps on her resume.
Bush took the deal, functionally resulting in a full-time job.
“Just amazing that these things happen to work out,” Bush said. “The best of both worlds. And then on top of being a full-time job in a pandemic.”
Asked what advice she has for current college students and soon-to-be graduates when it comes to job-searching, Bush said: “Know what you have to offer and be flexible with it. Know what’s on your resume, what is behind your education. Every type of experience you can get — put it into play.”
‘You Have To Push Yourself’
After COVID-19 hit and the spring semester ended on Zoom, any confidence Paige Friedman, 22, felt for her career opportunities dissipated.
A journalism and communication studies major, Friedman’s ideal job is in broadcast sports journalism. But without a good reel of footage to show when applying for a job, she wouldn’t get far.
The media production class where Friedman worked on her reel was disrupted by the pandemic. After graduation, back home with her parents on Long Island in New York, the incomplete reel fed into a cycle of self-blame that took a toll on her mental health.
Friedman applied for sports journalism jobs but didn’t hear back. Rejection made her doubt her work and reduced her confidence.
As a result, she applied to fewer and fewer jobs as time went on, and felt “like I’m failing.”
“A huge factor of why I wasn’t applying was being like, ‘I’m not good enough,’ because I didn’t feel prepared going into the job search,” Friedman said.
She took a break from searching for a job mid-summer to take care of herself. Then in August, she got a part-time job at Bath and Body Works. It was a welcome change of pace.
“I started taking a hiatus with looking for jobs because of [getting] comfortable there…to the point where it’s like, oh, do I have to leave so soon,” Friedman said.
In the fall, things improved. Friedman started seeing a therapist in September. And in October, a close friend was hired for a full-time job.
“That’s been a motivating factor for me to really start pushing” on the job search, Friedman said.
She turned her mindset around.
On the concerns about her reel: “Forget the reel, because an employer should know that I’m still new to this and I’m learning.”
On the cycle of self-blame: “I’m just having to push myself to get through that loop of thinking of myself as a failure and say, ‘I’m not a failure. Everyone goes at their own pace.’”
Friedman has also relaxed her job criteria — she’s now looking at any communications and reporting jobs that are available.
“The only thing I’m going to take away from this is that you’ve gotta go with the flow,” she said about her 2020 experience.
And her advice for current students and soon-to-be graduates?
“Don’t take what you have in college for granted. Even if it is virtual learning,” she said. “Just because you didn’t get [a full] experience, don’t let it put you down to the point where you feel like you can’t get a job.”
It’s not all sunshine, though. Friedman struggles to get the personal space at home to focus on job applications — “my family’s a noisy family,” she said.
But Friedman is staying positive.
“Yeah, this sucks, and no, I’m not where I want to be yet. But otherwise, you can’t give up on yourself just because of that,” she said.
‘Focus On Your Network’
Talor Blustin, 23, has one big regret about his job search in 2020.
“If I’d actually used my network…this would have been a much easier process,” he said. “But I think there was almost a rebellious part of me that wanted to be hired based on my merits and not based on who I knew.”
Leaving the U with a marketing and nonprofit management major meant a tough job market, even before the pandemic. People just weren’t being hired for marketing, Blustin said.
But strangely, new jobs kept showing up on job listing sites like Indeed.com and LinkedIn during the pandemic. So for months, Blustin applied.
Most of the time, he didn’t hear back. At best, he scored an interview. The process was excruciating.
“I was getting so many rejections…that I was like, ‘well, what the fuck is the point anymore,’” Blustin said. “I don’t really want to do another application for an entire day and then just get rejected again.”
But he stuck with applying to listings rather than networking his way into work.
In the meantime, Blustin worked on Warming House Candles, his scented candle business, and delivered food orders through DoorDash.
Blustin credits the candle business for keeping his mental health afloat. Without it there “wouldn’t have been anything that proved I was successful,” he said.
But at the end of the summer, Blustin knew he had to change his approach if he wanted a stable job. So he reached out to everyone who could help him get hired. And within a few weeks of networking, a friend’s mom, well connected in the nonprofit world, referred him to a part-time engagement job with Crescent Cove, where he was hired in September.
“It was so hysterically infuriating,” Blustin said. “I had just put in all of this work for the past six months to try and get hired by [big companies]…and all it took was a phone call to get hired.”
In December, Blustin took another part-time job as a communications assistant for Adath Jeshurun. Though he got the job by applying after seeing a JLink listing, Blustin credits his natural Jewish network (a result of coming from a family deeply involved in the Jewish community) for helping him get hired.
His big takeaway from the job search, of course, is don’t be shy about networking. But it’s also important not to be picky, Blustin said.
“If you can find your dream job right now, amazing,” he said. “But a lot of people aren’t. So if you have an opportunity that’s a means to an end, it’s probably more beneficial to just take that opportunity while you keep working towards that end goal.
“You have to be thinking of the long game while playing the shorter game,” Blustin said.