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New college grads are having their job offers rescinded—now they're in 'survival mode'

VIDEO9:0409:04
These college seniors had job offers lined up–then the pandemic hit

The class of 2020 has become known as the class of COVID-19. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, these students have been forced to cut their college careers short, give up traditional graduation ceremonies and begin their professional careers during the most hostile labor market since the Great Depression. 

Many have also had their first full-time job offers revoked.

"This is much worse than the Great Recession. Over the entire Great Recession I think maybe 8.5, 9 million jobs were lost over the course of a 5-year period. Between February and April, the United States lost 21.5 million payroll jobs," says Gary Burtless, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. "And so now, people graduating this spring are going to face the worst job market in the entire post-depression history."

Since March, 38.6 million Americans have lost their jobs and in April, the national unemployment rate was 14.7%.  

CNBC Make It spoke with college graduates across the country who have had their full-time job offers rescinded because of the coronavirus to see how they are coping.

'I saw it coming'

John Novakovich will graduate from Northwestern University on June 19th with a degree in economics. He was set to start his first post-grad job as an operations associate for Uber later that month. 

"I got a job offer from Uber back in October 2019 and was super excited about it. It fit a whole lot of things I thought I was good at, and it was at a company that was so well known. I had this idea in my head of what my life was gonna look like after I graduate: living in the city with my friends and budgeting my finances," he says. 

Then, as the coronavirus pandemic impacted communities and companies across the country, Novakovich began preparing himself for the worst. 

"In the beginning of May 2020, a call I've been dreading for a while came, and they basically let me know that they had to rescind my job offer because of economic conditions related to coronavirus," he recalls. 

On May 6, Uber announced that the company would lay off 3,700 employees.

"While we believe Uber will recover when cities will start moving again, it is impossible to predict when that will happen. Earlier this week, we have therefore reduced our total headcount by approximately 3,000, which combined with previous reductions in Customer Support and Recruiting on May 6, represent a 25 percent reduction in the size of our global workforce. Unfortunately, we also had to rescind some job offers as part of this exercise," a representative for Uber tells CNBC Make It.

Nathalia Kasman recently graduated from the California College of the Arts with a degree in interactive design and was supposed to begin a job as a user experience designer for a unicorn start-up in June. 

"In school I worked really hard to maintain my grades and make sure I have work experience so that I can get a job after school, and so I felt like when I had that offer, I felt really happy," says Kasman, holding back tears. "Like my hard work finally paid off."

Like many of the graduates CNBC Make It spoke with, she asked not to reveal the name of the company "because I still think they're very lovely people — I would still want to go back and work for them."

Kasman says she was told via a LinkedIn message that her offer had been rescinded and that the company would be laying off some 200 employees. She got the news in mid-March, the same week as her birthday. 

"I saw it coming," she says, explaining that the news felt both like a "nightmare" and "a relief." 

Nathalia Kasman
Courtesy of Nathalia Kasman

Visa difficulties

For Kasman, who is originally from Indonesia, the news that her job offer had been rescinded also brought concerns about her visa status. As an international student studying in a STEM field, Kasman was planning to use the two years of Optional Practical Training, known as OPT, allocated by her F-1 visa.

Now, she needs to find a new job in her field of study within 90 days of when her job was set to begin in order to stay in the country. 

"If I have to leave, then I just have to leave knowing that I've tried my best," she says. 

Gauri Parkar, an international student from India on an F-1 visa, recently graduated from UC Berkeley with a master's in mechanical engineering. 

Parkar got a job offer from an oil company in Texas on the second of March, but by the 31st of the month she received an email saying her offer had been rescinded "because of the COVID situation."

"Being an international student, it's not just about finding a job. We also have to look into the visa timelines, the job market, the type of job we can work," she explains. "And not every company offers jobs to international students."

Now, instead of moving to Texas, Parkar is working with her professors to find research opportunities. 

Mayra Torres studying
Courtesy of Mayra Torres

Moving back home

With their offers revoked, many recent graduates have been forced to move home with their families — a trend that was also common among graduates following the Great Recession. 

Mayra Torres, who recently completed a degree in mechanical engineering at the University of Houston says that having her job offer revoked has forced her to delay her plans to live independently. 

"Although was it not unexpected, it was still very devastating," she says. "As a first-generation college student and having to work part-time throughout my whole college career, it was very hard for me to get internships. So as you can imagine, it was a little difficult for me to get a full-time job."

After getting a full-time offer with a local oil company, Torres says she had begun dreaming of the day she might own her own home. 

"Luckily, my family loves me and supports me, so I have a place to stay, but it gets to a point where it's like, 'O.K., but when am I going to get a job so I can start doing my plans and building towards my goals?'" she says. 

Instead of living with friends in Chicago, Novakovich is now staying with his parents as well.

"I just turned 22. Living with my parents was not my idea of what my life would look like," he says. "I feel very much vulnerable to economic conditions. I don't qualify for unemployment insurance. I was claimed as a dependent on last year's taxes, so I didn't get the $1,200. I think I slipped in the cracks of those government programs designed to help Americans right now."

Shock and anxiety

Many of the graduates CNBC Make It spoke with mentioned going into a state of shock — even if they had prepared themselves for having their offers revoked. 

Sarah Doncals recently graduated from Savannah College of Art and Design with a degree in user experience design and was excited to start working for Uber (where she had interned last summer) when her offer was rescinded. 

Sarah Doncals interning for Uber in 2019
Courtesy of Sarah Doncals

"I heard through the grapevine on the news that Uber was going to have layoffs, and having not started yet I was already a little nervous. I was like, 'there's a chance it'll get cut,' but I didn't really let myself believe that," she says. "When I got the email, my heart dropped and I was in disbelief. It took me a couple of days to really realize what had happened. I didn't tell anyone for a couple days. I kind of just kept it to myself."

She says feelings of heartbreak and optimism come in waves. 

"When I first got laid off, I didn't want to do anything. I didn't feel like applying anywhere. I just lost my dream job two weeks before I graduate, I don't feel like doing anything," says Doncals. "But now I feel these waves of empowerment and wanting to find a job." 

The recent grad says she has begun applying for jobs but notes that graduates like her are dealing with more than just bleak professional prospects. 

"Being a new grad is really hard right now because it's not just that we lost our jobs," explains Doncals. "We've lost in-person classes. We've lost seeing our friends, having an in-person graduation. Having a job made me feel some sort of comfort — that at the end of this, it will all be normal."

Will Ye recently graduated from Duke University with a degree in computer science. He describes the process of having his job offer with Thumbtack, a San Francisco-based start-up, rescinded weeks before graduation as "emotionally draining." 

He remembers shaking when he got the call and says he took a long nap afterward.

"When you work so hard to get a job offer and it all of a sudden gets taken away, it brings back all those memories and feelings of anxiety of going through job interviews, job hunting, receiving all those rejections," he describes. 

Darrin Gilkerson interning at SimpleBet in 2019
Courtesy of Darrin Gilkerson

Expanded job searches

Now, many of those who have had their job offers rescinded are restarting and broadening their job searches.

Darrin Gilkerson will graduate on May 28 from Harvard University with a degree in statistics. He was set to begin a job with an e-betting company called Simple Bet in New York City this summer but his offer was recently revoked.

"Losing your job a month before you graduate is obviously not what any senior wants to hear," he says. 

Gilkerson says he was excited to move to New York and work for Simple Bet because he had previously interned for the organization and had plans to live with two of his close friends. 

Now, Gilkerson has expanded his job search significantly and keeps his 118 active applications organized on a spreadsheet. He says he has heard back from around 20 companies and is interviewing with 12. 

Torres says she has applied to "100 or more" companies. "Not only am I competing with each person that's graduating this semester, but I'm also competing with other experienced individuals who have also lost their jobs," she says. 

Justin Crowe will soon graduate from Northeastern University with a degree in political science and communications and was supposed to work for a start-up in New York after commencement. 

"I've probably applied to 500 companies. I've written so many cover letters. I just spend so much time crafting these applications and sending them off and then getting no response," he says. "And I feel like I'm doing all the right things. I'm reaching out to the recruiters on LinkedIn. I'm messaging people. I'm trying to connect to people, but I'm not getting anything back." 

Novakovich says the recent economic downturn has forced him to consider an even wider range of opportunities than before. "Things have gotten a lot more desperate," he says, noting that he no longer has the same expectations about salary and benefits that he once had. 

Kasman says she has stopped counting how many applications she has sent out "because it got depressing." 

"I'm open to all and any kind of opportunities," she says. "It's survival mode."

Justin Crowe will soon graduate from Northeastern University with a degree in political science and communications. He was supposed to work for a start-up in New York after commencement.
Courtesy of Justin Crowe

Holding out hope

Despite all of this, the graduates CNBC Make It spoke with all held out hope that they would find a new position. 

After Ye learned his offer had been rescinded, he asked his professors for extensions on his final projects and dove headfirst into his job search — and came out with a new job. 

First, he wrote an impassioned LinkedIn post describing his employment situation which helped him connect with dozens of hiring managers. 

Next, he spent up to 14 hours per day preparing for technical software engineering interviews. He says his anger at the situation helped motivate him to put in long hours. 

Within two weeks of having his first offer rescinded, he landed a job as a software development engineer with Amazon in New York. He started the job remotely in early May.

His advice to others who had their offers rescinded is to reach out to friends and family for help and to keep their heads held high. 

"Make use of your network and also explain your situation, because your job offer was rescinded not due to your own skills, but due to a really unfortunate situation," he says. "You're still an amazing candidate and you just need to let other people know that."

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