‘Do not give up hope’: South Mississippi 2020 college graduates finding jobs during pandemic

‘Do not give up hope’: South Mississippi 2020 college graduates finding jobs during pandemic
In Mississippi, not only were businesses and social gatherings affected negatively by the global pandemic, but also the Class of 2020 college graduates, who began the difficult transition from student life to adulthood. (Source: WKYT)

SOUTH MISSISSIPPI (WLOX) - Finding a job is the ultimate goal after graduating college, but when you’re doing it in a pandemic, it can either be the ultimate setback or breakthrough.

In Mississippi, not only were businesses and social gatherings affected negatively by the global pandemic, but also the Class of 2020 college graduates, who began the difficult transition from student life to adulthood.

When WLOX last spoke with D’Iberville native Mikayla McMillian, she was a recent graduate from the University of South Alabama who received a degree in exercise science. At the time, she was searching for a job, but since then she’s found a job that will help further her career.

“I’m actually a special education teacher assistant at a high school,” said McMillian. “With my degree, I can also become a teacher so I’ll be applying to get a certification in teaching and I’m leaning that certification toward health or P.E. That way I can still be in my field, and it’s also like a stepping stone to get me to where I want to be in the future.”

Before McMillian landed her education job in December, she said it was a bit of a struggle for her. Due to the pandemic, she lost her internship assisting patients in cardiac rehabilitation. To make ends meet, she started working retail jobs, but in the process, she said she didn’t feel like herself.

“Honestly, I spoke to an old friend of mine and I was telling him I felt out of touch,” said McMillian. “I told him that I felt like I was just ‘here.’ This was when I had the retail position, and I just didn’t feel like myself and I was like, I don’t know what it is, I would go throughout the days doing a bunch of reassurance and aspirations of the day and that pretty much got me through.”

For Long Beach native Caroline Bassett, who graduated from the University of Southern Mississippi, it was a breakthrough. She graduated with a nursing degree in May 2020 and now she’s working as a registered nurse at Ochsner Medical Center in New Orleans.

“In nursing school, they help you with your resume. I got hired in March, but nursing students have jobs before they graduate because there is a shortage,” said Bassett. “They need nurses at the bedside. A lot of older nurses, the baby boomers are leaving the bedside. So, it’s kind of like a cycle and a lot of nurses have left the bedside since COVID-19, so there’s an extreme shortage so finding a job was quite easy.”

Bassett believes that the reason why her fellow 2020 graduates might not be finding luck during this time is due to companies suffering financially.

“I really think it’s just that a lot of companies have suffered financially during the pandemic, especially smaller companies,” said Bassett. “I’m in debt, but I can’t imagine being in debt and then trying to find a job that I’m in debt for. A lot of companies want people with experience, but I feel like they have to start somewhere.”

The unemployment rate for college graduates with a bachelor’s degree between the ages of 20-24 peaked at 20.4% in June 2020. That’s the highest it’s been in the last 10 years, according to the Federal Reserve Economic Data.

You’ve heard a lot of stories about businesses and social gatherings being affected by the global pandemic, but what about the Class of 2020 college graduates who began the difficult transition from student life to adulthood?
You’ve heard a lot of stories about businesses and social gatherings being affected by the global pandemic, but what about the Class of 2020 college graduates who began the difficult transition from student life to adulthood? (Source: Federal Reserve Economic Data)

Someone who might agree with Bassett’s perspective is Shonice Montgomery. She’s the coordinator of Student and Young Alumni Programming for The University of Southern Mississippi. She believes that the recent setback for most graduates might be caused by businesses having to downsize.

“I think it’s because of the climate that we’re in,” said Montgomery. “Finding a good job right after college is always a difficult thing, but now not only are you competing with 2020 grads or upcoming 2021 grads, but also a lot of people who’ve had this career for years. And the companies now have had to downsize because of COVID-19 and the implications that it’s had on their businesses.”

However, she said there are steps you can take to ensure you’re ahead of the game in the job-search process.

“Some jobs want to hire alumni,” said Montgomery. “So I think that gives you an upper hand, so making sure you’re going on campus and having their career service advisors looking over your resume and making sure everything looks good. To look over your cover letter, get a second pair of eyes when you do go out and apply for these jobs so that all your stuff is strong and it stands out.”

Also, Montgomery elaborated on the dos and don’ts of virtual interviews.

“Even with it being online, be early because if you’re late, it’s worse if it’s a virtual meeting. Prepare 30 minutes before, make sure your internet is working, make sure you have great lighting,’ said Montgomery. “Dress appropriately, have on a nice top. Wipe your camera, make sure it’s clear and it’s not fuzzy. Have some water by you, sometimes you get so nervous you can talk fast that you start choking or something. But I think most importantly, it’s just having a well-lit, quiet place. Make sure if you have a roommate, let them know you’re having an interview.”

She also spoke on the dos and don’ts of mastering an eye-catching resume.

“Misspelled, incorrect grammar, not tapping in,” Montgomery also added. “I know a lot of people say at these companies they use a software to narrow down their applicant list. So making sure when they’re reading these job descriptions, that they’re tweaking each resume for the job that they’re applying for and that they’re using the keywords in the descriptions and applying them on their resume so that they can pop-up in that generated software, and not just hoping that this one generic resume will get any job, but just making sure to tailor your resume for each job.”

Not only that, but she believes it’s also very important for recent graduates to build relationships with the company they plan to work for.

“I think building those strong relationships plays a role. I feel like the more interactions you can have with a company, the better,” said Montgomery. “So if they do have more opportunities for you to do like a workshop, or maybe just a tour for the company. Anything you can do to set yourself apart and start to build those relationships, the better.”

Since finding success as a teacher assistant, McMillian wants to encourage others who might be going through the same situation.

“Do not give up hope,” said McMillian. “Keep trying and apply pressure, and that’s a big deal regardless, even if it’s at a job where you don’t want to be at. Just keep it until you really get something, and even then make sure you still have a Plan B just cause Plan A isn’t falling through. And of course, congratulate yourself on all your accomplishments.”

Watch “Mississippi Tested: The COVID Fight Now and in the Future” Thursday, March 11 at 6:30 p.m. on WLOX CBS.

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