Recent College Graduates Discuss Navigating the COVID-19 Job Market
by Making Waves Foundation
Our guest host Courtney Arguello, the lead career and alumni coach at Making Waves’ college success program (CAP), assembled a group of four alumni who graduated college in 2020 and were able to find full-time jobs despite COVID-19’s impact on the job market. As Courtney shared, “One of the things that really stuck out about this group is that you all have very different careers, and you’ve been able to navigate them in such different ways. Some of you had secured the job before graduating; for others it was an internship that led to a full-time job; and then for others, you were continuing to apply for multiple jobs until you landed the one that you got.”
Elena Anaya (Sacramento State ’20) works as an office assistant at Summit Public Schools. “As I approached graduation my biggest fear was not being able to find a job and not knowing exactly what I wanted to do. But I’ve always been a person that goes with the flow, and I knew that there had to be something out there for me.” Because of COVID-19, Elena moved home earlier than she had planned and was let go from her job because her employer closed down, which she saw as a plus: “I had all the time in the world to look and explore my options, which I took advantage of. I started applying to a variety of jobs that I thought seemed interesting and a good fit. Of course, I had thought about maybe being a teacher, and when I received this offer, I thought it was a great start to exploring my options in the education field.”
Jorge Avelar-Lopez (Stanford ’20) works as a software engineer in Microsoft’s Cloud Data division, a position that had been years in the making: “I obtained this job after interning at Microsoft during several summers throughout college, until I received a full-time offer last fall. So I was quite fortunate to secure a job almost a year in advance.”
Benjamin Raya (Sacramento State ’20) works as a victim advocate at Lao Family Community Development, providing resources to victims of domestic abuse and human trafficking. Before graduation, as he explained, “I had a general idea of what I wanted to do but no specific career choice. I love to work with people and understanding how people face challenges in life, so I decided to let those factors guide my job search. I looked at police officer roles, community services, parole officers, prison guards—I ended up applying to about 20 different positions with the hopes that they could help me gain experience in the things I enjoyed.”
Tamiko Huey (UC Santa Cruz ’20) works full-time as a COVID-19 Results Team lead for Marin County’s Department of Health & Human Services and part-time for Children’s First Medical Group, while also enrolled full-time in the Master of Public Health program at San Francisco State. She explained that her full-time job hadn’t originally been part of her plans: “I was initially hired by Marin County in June of this year as an MPH intern with the COVID-19 Emergency Response in the Isolation and Quarantine Unit, which gave me the opportunity to be at the front lines with COVID-positive patients from Marin County’s vulnerable populations. After 10 weeks, I was offered a full-time position overseeing a team of disaster service workers on the results team. I did not anticipate that I was going to be working full-time and going to graduate school!”
What advice do you have for college seniors thinking about graduating and entering the job market?
Tamiko: The biggest thing is to be kind to yourself, and I feel like that’s a cliché piece of advice, but unfortunately, it’s very true. As first-gen students we undergo this pressure, where it’s like, “I need to do well in school. I need to perform well so I can make my parents proud. They’ve worked so hard to get me where I am now, I can’t let them down. I can’t disappoint them.” And I think being kind to yourself really means understanding that that’s a lot of pressure, and that it’s okay that this is a learning experience—the learning curve is definitely real in college! And it’s important to take time for self-care.
Benjamin: I’ll just add that people sometimes don’t learn to accept the positive things that happen to them, because sometimes you get lost in all of the negativity. But when good things happen, take the “W” [win].
Elena: I think it’s important to accept changes and be patient because life will throw things at you that you don’t expect. There are changes that you have to learn to move forward with and learn from. I would say be patient, because I was super nervous about graduating and what I was going to do next, and in the end everything worked out.
Jorge: I would say to not be afraid to reach out to their friends or mentors, to connect, or vent, or whatever. I think that’s pretty useful, especially for one’s mental health given how we’re still in quarantine.
You all had a CAP coach while you were in college. Thinking back to that time, or since you’ve graduated, what kind of coaching, mentoring, or any kind of support did you find the most helpful?
Benjamin: One thing that really stuck with me was that my coach was pressing me, “Be organized. Be on top of your things, because if you’re very disorganized, it’s going to feel so hectic. It’s going to start to create weight on you, and you’re going to lose yourself in the problems, and that’s the worst spot you want to be in.” I feel like organization has elevated me to where I am now, because without that skill of understanding how to manage so many things, I would not be able to manage all of the stress that I have on my plate right now.
Elena: I was always really busy with school, work, and volunteering, so I had no time to really take time and think about everything I had to do. And every time I called my coach she kept me on top of it and told me, “What do you have to do? Set goals for yourself, and make sure you write it down.” Then, when we would talk again she would remind me of it, and that was really helpful. Even after I graduated and I told her about my job opportunity—because I sell myself short a lot of the time—she was there to remind me, “You did this. You earned it. You weren’t just lucky. It was because of what you did, and it’s an achievement.”
Tamiko: I think something that my college coaches had in common was this act of solidarity. They were really there with you. It wasn’t just your goals—they prioritized your mental health, your well-being, and what was going on with you. And in creating a really safe environment for you to voice whatever is going on—in your life, outside of academics. I think it was really important for me, because it really allowed me to do some critical self-reflection without judgment. And that helped me organize things in my mind, and helped me navigate—what’s the next move? What’s my next actionable item? And how do I get there?
Jorge: The best advice that my coach gave me, since I was doing okay working remotely after the whole COVID situation, was to make sure to stay connected with friends. He was the one who suggested reaching out to people that I hadn’t talked to and scheduling group calls. That has helped for me to stay a bit more sane, because after a while, even for someone introverted like myself, I do need connection. So that advice was the most helpful for me, during my last few months of college and even after, even now.
Looking back, is there any advice that you wished someone had told you when you were in college?
Tamiko: I wish someone had told me to take advantage of your student status and go out and connect with other people and other professionals, and let them know, “Hey, I’m an undergrad. I’m interested in what you’re doing. I would love to hear more. Would you mind connecting with me?” And I don’t mean, go look up an industry on LinkedIn and send every person a message, but find something that you have in common and build solidarity with them—whether you’re from the same area, or they’re an alum from your institution. Building meaningful relationships and meaningful networks and using your student status to leverage that—I wish someone had told me that.
Benjamin: I wish I had learned to take advantage of the opportunities I had as a student, because they’ll lead you to more and more opportunities.