How Can College Students Navigate The Career Search During The Coronavirus Outbreak?

Rainbow Bridge, Qingdao City

Rainbow Bridge, Qingdao City


On January 16, 1991, President Bush announced the beginning of Operation Desert Storm. I recall this time vividly. I was finishing my MBA, getting prepared to start a career at Procter and Gamble. The future was uncertain. There was no road map and for young people who had only read about wars in books, the experience was surreal.

Beyond the impact that war would have on America, there was concern among my cohort about job opportunities and offers. Many of the first year MBA students were just starting the internship recruiting process. Many of my second year peers were re-recruiting. What would companies do? Would they still recruit? And what would happen to those of us who had already accepted jobs? Would they be rescinded?

I recall the angst, worry, and confusion intensely. Recently, I was talking to an MBA graduate from ’04 who indicated that after the tech bubble burst, 9/11, and the recession, the number and type of job opportunities available changed drastically from the late 90’s. More discretionary spending that was easy to adjust was canceled (e.g., marketing spend, consulting, etc.). And this negatively impacted the availability of highly sought-after jobs.

Although many in the news continue to suggest that the coronavirus will not impact young people—the emphasis of the discussion is on the health-related consequences. It reality, the crisis will impact young people. The longer the crisis, the more widespread, the more it will impact the economy and thus jobs. In many cases, new hiring may be frozen and some job offers may be rescinded. The number and type of job options available will change. And there is often a lagging impact—meaning that there may be consequences over several months or years as employers adjust their labor needs based on ongoing demand changes. This ignores the impact on family members who may struggle with economic and physical consequences.

As an educator who is concerned about students at large and my students specifically, I wanted to identify ways that business school students can manage through the uncertainty. I reached out to Umesh Ramakrishnan, Co-CEO of Kingsley Gate Partners—a global executive search firm with expertise in private equity, life sciences, financial services, technology, manufacturing and professional services—to provide insight.

Kimberly A. Whitler: While we haven’t seen this type of crisis in the recent past, we do have experience from other types of disruptions, such as the Iraq wars, 9/11, economic collapse, and recessions. Can you provide any insight on what young people starting their business careers should expect?

Umesh Ramakrishnan: In a time when college seniors are supposed to be celebrating reaching a milestone in their lives and preparing to launch their careers, the coronavirus has put a damper on both. While many college graduates may struggle to join the workforce, finding a way to set yourself apart from others is vital. First, you may have to change the industry you were seeking to join. It’s a tough pivot, but pivot you must. That’s because there are going to be winners and losers after this crisis is over, and it will have lingering effects. Entertainment, Travel, Hospitality, Restaurants are some of the industries that may take years to recover. Life Sciences, Gaming, Online Commerce, Transportation, etc. will come out of this stronger than ever. So find companies you like in the industries that you believe will win, and start communicating with them. If you do not wish to give up on your first choice, now may be an excellent time to get an advanced degree while your industry recovers. 

Whitler: Which industries do you think are the “safest” from the downturn and which might get hardest hit? Why?

Ramakrishnan: The coronavirus has changed the job market overnight. Some sectors may benefit and, unfortunately, there will be some that are severely harmed. Jobs in the following spaces should increase: Online retailers (with no physical stores), pharmaceutical companies and technology companies and services.

  1. Online retailers will be hiring to meet demand from buyers who do not want to venture out of their homes. They are going to be supported by transportation and logistics companies. 
  2. Pharmaceutical companies – with the need for new treatments and vaccines — moving supply chain from China to accelerate the return of jobs to the U.S.
  3. Tech companies are hiring, taking advantage of the shift to digital – video conference, work from home, telecom.

Sectors that may get hit the hardest are any travel-related industries – airline, hotels, etc. In addition, brick-and-mortar retail stores will be severely impacted by the coronavirus. There will be restaurants that never come back after this crisis. 

Whitler: What advice would you give to business school students to navigate this period of uncertainty?

Ramakrishnan: Despite the economy slow down during a time of crisis, some companies are still hiring. The goal should be to set yourself up to be at the top of the recruiting list.

  1. Network – don’t spend time perusing “job ads.” Resumes don’t win jobs, relationships do. Sending your resume with the hope that it gets from “HR” to the “Hiring Manager” can be wasted energy. Build your LinkedIn profile and connect directly with people.  
  2. Learn what your strengths are and how to present those during the interview process. Just as important as learning how those strengths are a benefit, be mindful of how they may be misinterpreted by a potential employer. 
  3. Practice with online interviews. Find a mentor. He or she may have time that they did not have before.
  4. Research the company before going in for the interview. Show understanding of both the company and the industry. Confidence and passion are highly-regarded qualities.
  5. For undergraduate students, if you haven’t already, start joining student professional organizations.
  6. Also, going back to my first response, if the industry of your choice is going to need time to recover, consider enrolling in graduate school. 

Join the Discussion: @KimWhitler

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