At the beginning of the year, it looked as though the graduating class of 2020 would be entering a strong job-seeker's market. But within a few months, the pandemic's upheaval of the economy reversed the country's record economic expansion and historically low unemployment.
Recent college graduates and entry-level workers are being hit especially hard: Companies are rescinding offers for jobs and internships as they navigate their recovery during the worsening recession.
According to the job site Glassdoor, postings in May 2020 calling for entry-level job seekers were down 68% compared to the year prior.
Of the openings that remain, recent grads seem to be applying for technology roles in droves. Glassdoor users age 26 or younger who hold a bachelor's degree are increasingly applying to titles such as software engineer, data analyst, data scientist and software developer. Business, finance and marketing roles are also among the top 10 most sought-after jobs among young applicants.
In the report, social media newcomer TikTok joins other giants, including Amazon, Microsoft, Goldman Sachs and Apple, as one of the most popular companies where new grads want to work.
Of course, these companies aren't popular with all recent grads, particularly those who are critical of corporate responses to the pandemic and social unrest in recent months.
Mariam H., 22, of Seattle, recently graduated from the University of Washington with a degree in cinema and media studies and a minor in gender studies. "I'm definitely not surprised those are the top jobs and industries," she tells CNBC Make It in response to the Glassdoor findings. "Multi-billion dollar companies like Amazon put in a lot of work to lure new grads with competitive salaries and relocation [packages] while neglecting the workers' rights of their minimum wage workers."
Instead of looking to large corporations for potential employment, Mariam has spent her time since graduation applying to local media jobs, as well as gathering materials to be considered for remote pop culture and media fellowships.
"At first, it seemed stressful trying to find a job in this pandemic," she says. "But I've kind of come to terms with the fact that the job market is difficult for everyone right now, and my post-grad life will probably be on hold for at least a few months."
Because of the ongoing health crisis, many new roles may allow candidates to work remotely either for the near-term or permanently. Amanda Stansell, senior economic researcher for Glassdoor, says that this could open up opportunities for new graduates who live outside of major cities, though it could also make the competition in a tough job market even stiffer.
She encourages job seekers to try to be as flexible as possible when it comes to their current employment prospects.
"While your dream job at your dream company may not be available right now, you can broaden your horizons and be more open to roles you might not have thought of before," Stansell says. Hiring in several areas has picked up as businesses shifted to the new realities of pandemic living, including a surge in demand for workers in transportation, delivery, warehousing and grocery retail.
"Look for jobs where you can get transferable experience for your next role," Stansell adds. "We're always seeing soft skills such as communication and organization in job listings, which are important for any role."
Robert Schafer, 22, of Wheeling, West Virginia, recently returned home from earning dual degrees in music and business from Capital University in Columbus, Ohio. In the spring, his post-graduation career plans involved taking a marketing internship with an entertainment production company in town, as well as touring with his band. As the pandemic closed businesses throughout the U.S., Schafer watched one by one as his plans, from the internship to a part-time job with a concert venue to a lead working for a local microbrewery, were "taken off the table."
"What's hard is that I did a lot of planning coming into [graduation] and, unfortunately, much of those aspects fell through," he says. He moved back in with family for the summer and eventually took up the food-service job he had through high school and during summers home from college.
"I'm searching for [full-time] work, but it's hard to get traction on resumes or applications," he says. "It's confusing to know where to start, really." He's searched for jobs through Handshake, a platform that connects recent grads with job opportunities through their campus network and has worked to keep up connections through his college career center, alumni association and contacts from previous music work. However, he says recent months of economic and social unrest have slowed those talks for the time being.
Pandemic or not, networking remains the best way to land a new role. Recent graduates can leverage local job boards, campus resources and their college alumni network to get a sense of opportunities. Experts agree that people will often try to help connections with leads during times of tough employment circumstances. Stansell adds that it's a good idea to be thoughtful and gracious when reaching out, given people may be fielding a lot of networking requests during this time.
Kourtney King, 22, of Decatur, Alabama, says a close network of mentors, including her parents, preacher, law school adviser and upperclassmen peers from the University of Alabama, have helped her with job leads and general encouragement during the exhausting application process.
"I have mentors who reach out with anything they think would be a good fit — even if it's not a fit [given my education] but just to get me on my feet with getting work experience," King says. "In this space right now, even words of encouragement and just having someone in your corner means the most."
King's degrees in criminal justice and African American studies, as well as her background as a photographer, give her a broad range of skills and qualifications, though she says many entry-level jobs still require years of experience she doesn't have. She currently works in sales and merchandising at a local Nike store and will head to Atlanta to study photography at the Savannah College of Art and Design in the fall, so looking for a job long-distance that will fit into her class schedule adds to the challenge.
The main issue remains that "right now nobody is hiring," King says. "I do a lot of things. Anything that fits the field or niche that I have, I'm willing to take."
As businesses reopen across the country, the job outlook for young workers may be on the upswing. Glassdoor notes that as of June 2020, entry-level job postings are down by 39% compared to the year prior.
"Things are slowly getting better," Stansell says, "but we still have a long way to go."
It remains to be seen what types of jobs will come back from the unprecedented economic shutdowns, and when. Recent grads have no choice but to think of how they can best position themselves for an uncertain future, but some are optimistic that they'll find something better suited to their goals despite the circumstances. Schafer continues to compose play with his band through video tools.
He says that, given his newfound time after graduating, he's shifted his focus from thinking how to build a financially-stable career in music and is instead just creating music he enjoys. While he continues to practice and play with his band through video streams, he's also spending more time developing solo projects as a trumpet and piano player. He plans to move back to Columbus this fall and at some point may eye a future in Los Angeles.
King, meanwhile, plans to combine her skills to one day work as a magazine photographer, open her own studio and potentially teach photography. "I'd also like to continue my activism and fix this system that has failed many," she adds.
Speaking to fellow recent grads, especially in arts in humanities, Mariam of Seattle says, "In recent years, I think people have had to build their own path and sort of create their jobs and opportunities, rather than simply apply to existing positions. This makes it hard to look at grads who came before you and try to emulate them because their path was so unconventional, but it's also exciting to know that opportunities for those in arts and humanities are much less limiting than people might think."