Cal State Bakersfield senior business management major Ethan Borden pictured himself moving to Chicago after his May commencement ceremony to start his career in the human resources, logistics or travel industry.
Julian Adame, a senior communications major with a concentration in digital media, always knew Hollywood was calling his name, so he planned to head south and work in the glamorous entertainment world.
And Associated Students Inc. President Aaron Wan was gearing up to pursue his master's degree in hospitality at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas and work in the industry.
All of these dreams have been put on hold.
As if the job search process wasn't already difficult to navigate, soon-to-be college graduates, ready to start the next chapter of their lives, have been met with hiring freezes, rescinded offers and heartbreak in the midst of coronavirus.
"It couldn’t come at a worse time and most vulnerable point in my life," Borden said.
A NEW PATHWAY
The last few months of Wan's college career would have been filled with cross-country trips to conferences, and networking with others in hospitality and entertainment industries in Las Vegas.
In a few years, after graduating with his master's degree and working for casinos and hotels, he would have brought some of the entertainment industry back home. Seeing that the local population continues growing, Wan wanted to provide a top-notch, high-end experience in Bakersfield that would attract potential investors.
"The goals remain the same," he said, the pathway just looks a little different now.
Wan's now focusing on helping his family, which has seen its income reduced by 75 percent. Knowing the next few months might bring more financial hardship, he started looking for jobs locally. Some interviews have brought potential, but nothing has been finalized.
"It’s been really tough, really mentally and emotionally draining," he said. "You had your pathway set out throughout the course of your college career, and now this pandemic ravaged the pathways you laid out."
‘BACK AT SQUARE ONE’
Grace Davidson, a senior communications major with a concentration in public relations, felt confident in her job prospects a few months ago. With her graduation date set for December, Davidson was communicating with companies in Los Angeles and Arizona that seemed interested in bringing her on board.
Several of those companies have since had to lay off employees or establish hiring freezes.
"I feel like I’m back at square one now," Davidson said. Companies told her to reach back out "once everything settles."
With hopes of moving to the Midwest, Borden, the senior business management major, is now uncertain when that plan will come to fruition. Thankfully, he said his parents have been supportive since his return home to Lemoore, and will let him stay there as long as necessary.
Cognizant that many places are not currently hiring, he has shifted his focus toward finishing his final semester and waiting "until things get back to normal and hit the job search really hard then."
It's been frustrating for many students, including Dominick Zesati, a business major with a concentration in small business management, who has spent seven years pursuing his degree. He thought graduation would lead to a job and getting his adult life underway. Now, he's not sure when that will happen.
Zesati is trying to keep his spirits up, however, updating his LinkedIn profile and connecting with professors to see how he can stand out in the candidate pool.
"I have been unusually optimistic about it," he said regarding the next few months. "It’s challenged me to take on a new perspective."
WORKING IN A CRISIS
For students who've secured employment, there's still concern over how the virus will impact their careers.
Kayla Olivieri began the 2019-20 school year in the Kern High Teacher Residency program through CSUB, teaching English at Bakersfield High School.
When schools closed in March, however, she began navigating distance learning and connecting with her class virtually.
While it's been a challenge, it's also a blessing in disguise, she said. Olivieri recently was hired to be an English teacher next year at Highland High School, and feels ready.
"Learning the technology that teachers are using for distance learning, we’re much better prepared," she said. "As much as I don’t want it come to that ... we have been given so much support from teachers, and districts have helped us figure it out."
The oil industry also has experienced cutbacks, and the last two months as a lab technician for an oil service company have given Dakota Ballard, an engineering major, some insight into what's to come.
It's been "scary" seeing oil prices fall the last month, and Ballard doesn't expect things to "get back to normal" until after the pandemic. Overall, however, he feels confident his company will take care of him and his colleagues.
Times may be difficult, but students and professors still know not all is lost when it comes to employment.
The switch to distance learning has shown Kristina LaGue, chair of the CSUB Department of Teacher Education, that teachers are needed more than ever, especially those who can adapt quickly to new challenges.
"The flexibility that comes with needing to adjust in a distance learning environment is something we’re looking for," LaGue said about what will be required from future teachers. "We want someone with flexibility in the instruction they can provide and someone who feels like they can adapt (since) we don’t know what (format schools are) going to look like next year."
This roadblock also has given many a chance to get creative and find new employment avenues.
Since the traditional entertainment industry — studios, theaters, live tapings — has been shut down indefinitely, it might take time before Adame, the senior communications major, can start his career in that sense. However, he has thought of doing freelance work from home or working for virtual reality or streaming companies. Most people are spending countless hours watching shows and movies on Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime Video, he said, so it makes sense to get his foot in the door there.
It's also not a bad idea to connect with local small businesses, said Jeremy Woods, head of small business and entrepreneurship programs at CSUB. Ask what problems are they experiencing and think of creative solutions via telecommuting.
Another tip he offered is to build up one's LinkedIn profile as if it were a resume. He suggests students explain their volunteer work, hobbies and what projects they have done in class.