Less experience, more creative thinking: Seniors navigate post-pandemic employment landscape

According to the Center for Professional Development, some employers have adapted their recruiting standards to recognize perseverance through challenging times.

by Taylor Haber | 3/3/22 5:05am

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by Michael Lin / The Dartmouth Senior Staff

Students in the Class of 2022 shared positive experiences in planning out the first stages of their professional lives after graduation.

According to the Center for Professional Development, however, the COVID-19 pandemic affected the current recruitment cycle — this year’s graduating students, compared to those of previous years, have less internship and pre-professional experiences. Accordingly, employers have shifted their focus to factors such as how students have overcome pandemic-related challenges and their ability to adapt pre-existing skills to the workplace, CPD director Monica Wilson said.

“Some students didn’t thrive –– at least initially, it was really hard,” Wilson said. “But how you picked yourself up from that, and what you did to re-energize and reinspire, and how you supported your teammates through all of that [is important]. I think employers recognize, now more than ever, the work environment is collaborative.”

CPD associate director Eric Eisendrath confirmed that employers have changed the ways in which they evaluate potential hires. Companies are eager to find applicants with a developed emotional intelligence, which, unlike intellectual intelligence, cannot be reduced to a GPA or major, he added.

“The role of adaptability and creative, outside-the-box thinking… I think has really served to benefit students at Dartmouth,” Eisendrath said. “I think [companies] are placing a higher premium on that.” 

The recruitment process itself faced changes as a result of the pandemic. While it is typical for a high number of seniors to finalize their post-graduation plans in the spring term, Wilson explained that the number of students who will finalize plans in the spring — rather than the fall or winter — is relatively high this year. 

This delay can, in part, be attributed to the fact that  most industries — excluding certain business and finance firms that hire college graduates relatively early — are just now beginning their own recruitment outreach, Eisendrath said. 

“Most companies don’t have that artificial, long runway,” Eisendrath said, referring to an earlier hiring time for business and finance firms. “The hiring cycle for more industries is significantly shorter than what students may assume, based on a small sector of industries that have a longer runway.”

Students who have already secured positions can make those still in the process feel that they are behind, a lingering effect of the COVID-19 pandemic for the Class of 2022, Eisendrath said.

“They feel like everybody else was moving ahead while they were stuck in [COVID-19],” Eisendrath said. “Except… it was a very even playing field, I think, as far as impact.” 

Certain students, such as Sarah Wen ’22, have secured post-graduate jobs through the more traditional recruitment pathways. Wen, who is set to start at Boston Consulting Group this fall, said that the College’s relaxed academic standards her sophomore year allowed her to focus more closely on recruitment. 

“Because we didn’t get a sophomore summer, and we were pass/fail our sophomore spring, I just had a lot more time on my hands to do recruiting,” Wen said. “And I feel like I wouldn’t have committed that much time to it if I [were] at school and doing all my extracurriculars. So, I spent my entire spring just networking and casing, and I think that really paid off.”

Wen credits Dartmouth Women in Business, a student-led club focused on pre-professional training, with informing her decision to pursue a career in consulting.

“I knew I wanted to do business — I just didn’t know what that meant,” Wen said. “So, I kind of learned the details of what Dartmouth grads do [from Women in Business], and that kind of pushed me in the consulting direction.”

In the current stage of the pandemic, some employers have tried to institute a return to an in-person work environment rather than a virtual one, Wilson said. Although the prospect of students beginning their careers online still looms, Wilson said she thinks “the pendulum’s swinging back to in-person.”

Jenique Richards ’22 said she has her first job lined up at Travelers, an insurance company, and is set to start a few weeks after her graduation in June. Richards said she had interned remotely at Travelers last summer and enjoyed the experience. She added that she accepted a return offer from the company this past fall. 

Richards, who has never worked from Travelers’ offices in Hartford, Connecticut, said she is hopeful that she will be able to experience the in-person space in a few months.

“I’m really looking forward to it because I don’t think you can get a really good sense of company culture on Zoom,” Richards said. “They can tell you all they want about how their company is, and what it’s like, but you don’t know until you’re standing there in that room.”

Wilson added that while students tend to apply to a wide range of professional fields, the Class of 2022 is “all over the map” in terms of where they wish to begin their careers. There has also been a noticeable increase in the past several years of seniors who wish to pursue a graduate degree, she added.

Jazmyne Ward ’22 said she applied to veterinarian school last year and has already been accepted to a veterinary program in Scotland. Ward, who is president of the Dartmouth Pre-Vet Society, said she believes the organization helped connect her with like-minded peers and current veterinarian school students.

“The Pre-Vet Society essentially helps people get through the entire track at Dartmouth,” Ward said. “The former president is a current vet student at [the University of Pennsylvania], and she was extremely helpful with me through the admissions process… I’ve tried to be doing the same [for other students].”

Eisendrath said that it is probable some students in the Class of 2022 have not begun their recruitment search. The way in which students begin their post-graduate experience can be impactful, but it does not have to shape the rest of their lives, he added.

“The role of your first job is very much a stepping stone to the future and an investment of where you want to be – not the end,” he said. “It’s the start.”

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