The pandemic disrupted their freshman year. It may also have prepared the Class of 2023 for the job market. – Twin Cities

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Adonis Brooks is about to graduate from Muhlenberg College, and he has a job lined up. A dual-major in psychology and business, the Brooklyn, New York, native will be going home to New York City to work for a consulting firm.

“I have a job, I’ve accepted the offer, which is great,” said Brooks, who has secured a position with Huron Consulting Group’s office in Manhattan. “But while I was looking for the job, I was just super stressed with interviews and stuff like that. Overall, I can’t really complain about the job hunt, it was just a lot of work.”

For college seniors over the years, Brooks’ story is a familiar one. But for the Class of 2023 the road to graduation day and the beginning of a career was one that included some unusual obstacles.

Midway through the first year, in the spring of 2020, the COVID pandemic hit, forcing a mass exodus away from campuses to virtual classes back home, then back to campus again with almost a whole year of the college experience wiped away.

Then there’s the job market that’s in flux, with companies looking to fill positions open as a result of retiring baby boomers and others who took part in the so-called great resignation, where workers left positions for better opportunities in the wake of the pandemic.

It appears to be a hot market for soon-to-be graduates.

According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, employers plan to hire 14.7% more new college graduates from the Class of 2023 than they did from the Class of 2022, according to its Job Outlook 2023 report.

Gabrielle Demchak, a mathematics major at Moravian University, has been hired as an underwriter for Guardian Insurance and said companies have been on the hunt.

“It went very well for me,” said Demchak, who is from Bath. “I have a job I start in June. And in the process I felt like everybody was very eager to at least interview people and talk to people about their interest in jobs. So I don’t think I struggled to find opportunities.”

Brooks said finding his first job required some creativity.

“I’m usually the one who takes initiative first,” he said. “I started my job search way before most of my peers and I was honestly trying to figure out what I wanted to do in my career. I researched things you can do with a psychology degree, you can do with a business degree. And I ended up finding an intersection of the two called IO (industrial organization) psychology or business psychology. I’m trying to find my way there.”

Looking for a candidate

Overall, the National Association of Colleges and Employers shows that half of responding employers plan to increase hiring, while less than 6% expect to cut back.

In addition, nearly half of the employers who took part in the Job Outlook 2023 survey rated the job market for Class of 2023 college graduates as very good to excellent.

There are a variety of factors fueling this, including the low unemployment rate, which was just 3.5% in September and has hovered around there most of the year.

Cheryl McCue, director of employer engagement, and Lori Kennedy, senior director of career and professional development at Lehigh University, said in a joint email that the pandemic is still having an impact on the job market and internships. The switch to hybrid jobs has also been a factor.

“One change that has definitely taken place as a result of COVID is the blended approach to recruiting,” they said. “With employer partners accessing student talent in both virtual and in-person environments, students and employer partners alike have had to develop comfort and familiarity with virtual platforms and connections created to accommodate remote and hybrid working environments. For employer partners in close proximity to Lehigh, we continue to see a desire to be on campus to connect with students in person.”

Lehigh has a portfolio of employers, both locally and worldwide, and encourages students to use the university’s network of 85,000 alumni in job searches. There are two universitywide career expos each year along with other networking opportunities such as coffee chats and speaker panels.

Sean Schofield, executive director of Career Services at Muhlenberg, said the job market is “murky.”

“There’s a lot of challenges that the students are facing,” Schofield said. “I think there are a lot of challenges for employers to recruit these students. But really, the past year has shown a lot of growth. I think one of the challenges for students is they hear about things like the great resignation, and how much job movement there’s been. But for an entry level student coming out of college, the great resignation has opened a lot of gaps in the mid-level kind of careers or senior-level careers.

“But for those first out of college students, they’re not really seeing this wealth of opportunity that they expected. And I think the other challenge is that the career fields that they’re going into are being drastically changed moment by moment.”

The pandemic and its aftermath

For some, having their college careers disrupted by the pandemic turned into an opportunity to sharpen their skills in different ways.

Demchak said virtual classes helped her adapt to technology that companies now use for interviews and hybrid workplaces.

“I think it has allowed me to be more adaptive like in the workplace in general,” Demchak said, “like being able to be more flexible and learning a new technology that now is the norm. That was an advantage that I didn’t realize at the time.”

Muhlenberg’s Jialin Huang, a fourth-year student from Philadelphia, also changed her career trajectory during COVID after initially majoring in history with the plan of attending law school.

“You kind of have to be more flexible, and adaptable in terms of what opportunities are available,” she said.

Huang said her skills in research, analysis and writing go into such things as marketing and business. Taking remote classes allowed her to think things through and wonder how she could take advantage of the emerging digital landscape.

“With everything online, I decided to launch my own social media business that helps connect a lot of different cosmetic brands throughout the world with different Gen Z consumers,” she said. “And at that time, through COVID, and through the remote-like landscape, I really pivoted … into digital marketing, since I had the opportunity over the past two years to work with like different cosmetic brands and like Asia, Europe, in the United States.”

Other options

One student who changed majors, but isn’t going directly into the workforce, is Moravian’s Mikela Ortwein. She will attend James Madison University in Virginia next fall to work on a master’s degree in college student personnel administration.

“I thought I was going to be a teacher and in the fall I made a change to go the path that I want now, but that was definitely not always the plan,” said Ortwein, who is from Bethlehem.

Huang will be taking an international marketing internship with NARS Cosmetics, which she says “will help me get into that career field.”

“It really aligns with my marketing concentration a lot,” Huang said. “I fully see myself going down the marketing path, and especially something to do with international business.”


Schofield said there are great opportunities for graduates, but rapidly changing times can still bring anxiety.

“Right now, it’s exciting,” Schofield said. “I think, never before has there been so much change. And even the students that are leaving, I think that their anticipation is that they’re going to go out, and they’re going to be at their next destination. But there are going to be changes. I don’t think that any student right now is, or at least as many students right now are going out there saying I’m going to have a 40-year career in this. So that flexibility, I think, is great, because it doesn’t make students feel like they’re going to get locked in for the long term.”

To help alleviate that fear, Schofield and his staff at Muhlenberg’s Career Center guide students through all four years of their education, not just when graduation is looming. It’s important, he said, that all options are examined, even if a student applies for jobs in totally different fields.

“I think (the pandemic has) changed the way that we work with students,” he said. “It’s changed the way that we’re trying to get students engaged in this career conversation earlier. But most of all, it’s just important for us to help students understand that career is no longer a destiny.”

Kathleen Barr, director of career development at Moravian, said job hunters are looking for perks that may have been unthinkable only a few years ago.

“Nobody wanted a pandemic,” Barr said. “It was terrible, but I do appreciate some of the changes in work-life balance and flexibility with employers as far as hybrid or virtual as needed. I definitely see students taking note of that and if an employer does offer any kind of hybrid scheduling, or types of benefits like that, there are some things that I think will help our students as they’re looking for their next step. And we’re doing everything that we can to help prepare them for that, but encourage them to explore their future.”

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