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What I learned after graduating from college in the middle of a pandemic

Antonia DeBianchi
Twenty/20

Whether it was learning how to draft a cover letter or how to network efficiently, I learned a lot about job hunting in my Boston University journalism classes. What I didn't learn? How to find one during a pandemic.

In a recent survey of 132 organizations, Talent Board found that 74% of companies were scaling back employment to a certain capacity while 32% decided to completely freeze hiring. It didn't take long for me and my fellow graduates to realize this harsh reality.

Once I graduated from my living room in May, I reached out to my former supervisors to let them know I was available to offer freelance services. I was expecting a resounding, "We'd love to have you back to help!" Instead, many told me they didn't even have the resources to take on additional freelancers. The majority of recruiters I interviewed with recited a similar script: We're not hiring.

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Throughout college, I was hyper-motivated to secure an internship or job every summer. While I didn't think the post-grad job hunt would be easy, I knew I had the skills to be ready to apply once graduation came. A sparse job market changed that.

My immediate reaction was panic. How am I ever going to find a job in my field?! My Zoom happy hours with friends quickly turned into venting sessions that all boiled down to the same question: Are we ever going to enter the job market? Once June arrived, I knew these doom-and-gloom talks were getting me nowhere but a spiraling, negative mindset. Planning my own intervention of sorts, I sat myself down and thought about what I could do to be productive during this time of uncertainty.

I started slow; I didn't go in with a packed-to-the-brim Excel sheet of 100 jobs I planned on applying to in one week. Instead, I took to LinkedIn and reached out to my past contacts to make old and new connections incrementally. If someone I found on LinkedIn had my dream job, I'd shoot them a brief message expressing my interest in their field. From there, we'd have phone conversations full of meaningful advice that ultimately allowed me to expand my network. Did I get a full-time job from this? No. But it was a way for me to accomplish something productive that would help me when it came time to apply to certain positions.

While I initially (and still sometimes still do!) felt stressed about graduating into a thankless job market, I reflected on what I was thankful for amid the chaos of 2020. Before the pandemic hit, I thought I would be moving to New York City, not back home to South Florida, so I was able to spend these several months with my family. Since I'm a triplet, my sisters' college graduations and my own were originally scheduled for the same day. Listening to "Pomp and Circumstance" on our laptops away from our friends and universities wasn't the warm-and-fuzzy way we thought we'd be celebrating, but I was grateful we were able to share our virtual celebrations all together at home.

Whether it was binge-watching "Schitt's Creek" or baking countless sweet treats and posting the results on Instagram, staying home allowed me to recharge after four years of constant excitement and packed schedules. These simple distractions have helped me snap out of my worried job frenzy, providing a much-needed reprieve from my first half of quarantine.

And in this watershed moment, culminating hundreds of years of racial injustice and activism, continues to march on, I've realized how important it is to look outside of my own micro-concerns and educate myself.

As some job openings begin to trickle back into the market, I've found my take-it-slow approach starting to pay off as some of my networking calls have turned into freelance opportunities or even job interviews. Instead of clinging to my go-to method of jumping all in right away, I've learned to alleviate some of the pressure I put on myself. As I apply to more jobs each week, I've learned that facing rejection is hard, especially right now, but little wins have helped reassure me that eventually my endeavors will work out.

I've learned to strike a balance between motivating myself to sift through a few job postings on weekdays and recharging on the weekends. While I'm by no means grateful to graduate into this job market, I'm thankful that this time taught me how to relax, enjoy non-work related activities and not race to the finish line when it comes to the job hunt.

Antonia DeBianchi is a freelance writer. Her work has been published in Apartment Therapy, Boston Magazine and Haute Living. She focuses on lifestyle, entertainment and food writing.

The article "What I Learned From Graduating in the Middle of a Pandemic" originally published on TODAY.com.

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