A dean at Barnard College shares 3 things college graduates should do on their job search in the pandemic recession

A dean at Barnard College shares 3 things college graduates should do on their job search in the pandemic recession
A-J Aronstein is the dean of Beyond Barnard, a careers and advising program at Barnard College.A-J Aronstein
  • A-J Aronstein is the dean of Beyond Barnard, a program that provides career and professional advising resources for students and alumnae of Barnard College.
  • As college seniors prepare to graduate into an economic recession brought on by the pandemic, Aronstein says they should rethink their approach to networking and job hunting.
  • Instead of searching for jobs solely online, ask your in-person connections if they know of anyone hiring. Begin casually networking with companies or professionals you admire to build a personal connection with them, instead of just asking for a job.

The Class of 2021 is now well into their final year of college and will soon face an uncertain and highly competitive labor market. While securing a coveted internship or early-career position is achievable, it requires balancing the challenges of a final year of school with a creative approach to finding opportunities and a strategic approach to networking.

Job hunting during a recession always provokes anxiety, and this recession — kicked off by a global pandemic — can seem especially complex and daunting. Eight months into COVID-19, the United States is experiencing rates of infection and hospitalization that exceed those at any previous point, with the fate of Federal economic aid still uncertain at best.

It's easy to feel like every part of life as we know it has changed since the pandemic began.

Still, some aspects of the complicated transition out of college life remain the same. Seniors are fully immersed in their classes, thinking deeply about issues relative to their fields of study, and a financial crisis should not derail them from pursuing their passions.

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The situation that young job seekers will face is manageable, if handled correctly. As the dean of a center that provides lifelong career services at a top liberal arts college, I've helped countless graduates navigate their way to employment. Here's what upcoming graduates should do to prepare.

1. Explore how your skills can apply to a wide range of jobs

Seniors should use this final year of college to explore how the skills they've acquired as part of their chosen major, minor, or elective coursework can be applied to a wide range of jobs. Your major does not need to dictate your career path, and taking too narrow of a focus can prevent students from recognizing and considering less obvious opportunities.


Highly specialized skills can be transferred across many fields, provided that you have the ability to translate your work into language that resonates in the workplace. In other words, employers may or may not care that you studied — for example — realist fiction or ancient Greek. But they will care that you committed yourself to work that was collaborative and challenging, and that required the development of project-based skills like data analysis, research, or creative thinking.

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2. Expand your job search beyond looking online

Few people realize that many job openings are advertised by word of mouth weeks before they are formally posted. A sizable number of positions are created for specific individuals, and plenty of jobs are never posted at all. Networking, within specific academic circles and more broadly, is critical for learning about such opportunities.

Seniors should take time early in the year to build a strong network by bolstering relationships, conducting research, and coauthoring publications with their professors and other faculty members. This not only deepens valuable connections but also strengthens a student's resume, CV, or graduate school application. A study published in the journal Nature Communications showed that "junior researchers who coauthor work with top scientists enjoy a persistent competitive advantage throughout the rest of their careers, compared to peers with similar early career profiles but without top coauthors."

3. Connect with potential employers first before asking for a job

Seniors should also begin casually networking with industry professionals, but with an important caveat: Connect on the basis of shared interests, not an urgency to lock down a job. Many organizations need additional support during this time, which creates an opportunity to establish an interest in the field and eagerness to contribute.


Even when companies are not actively posting jobs, students should consider reaching out to professionals who work at businesses that interest them to show enthusiasm for a project or initiative and propose a freelance arrangement or part-time work.

Reframe how you think about networking, and appreciate the many benefits of talking with people who share your interests. Networking is not contacting strangers and simply asking them for a position. Instead, it is the opportunity to build a community of support with individuals who are pursuing intellectual or professional work that aligns with your interests.

Read more: 3 recent grads making over $100,000 a year as freelancers share how they managed to build successful businesses right out of college

As seniors prepare for their final semester of college and envision how their careers might unfold in a post-coronavirus world, it's essential that they develop a thoughtful plan of action for the last few months of their lives as undergraduates. The transition from academia to the job market is an important and complicated one, and failing to connect how your skills acquired in college can lead to a wide range of career prospects is a real missed opportunity.

Taking time in the final year of college to reflect on and catalog achievements while building a strong network is the key to gainful employment and a meaningful career.


A-J Aronstein is dean of Beyond Barnard and senior advisor to the provost at Barnard College. In this capacity, he oversees advising and supportive resources for students and alumnae on career exploration, job and internship applications, fellowships, and graduate and professional school. He was previously the inaugural director of graduate and postdoctoral career development at the University of Chicago.