Students in front of Fisher Hall

Describing the past 18 months as anything but “unprecedented” is as easy as it is true. It’s certainly apt for the amount of devastation and disruption experienced throughout the past year and a half.

But the word, “unprecedented” isn’t necessarily a negative one; there’s hope in it. It’s how Jeff Rice describes the patience, tenacity and grit of those students looking for their first post-graduation job.

And it’s the word he uses to illustrate the many ways his Office of Career Management (OCM) team redoubled its efforts to help those students find employment and internships during one of the worst hiring periods in recent history.

Jeff Rice headshot
Jeff Rice

“I don’t know if there’s ever been as much uncertainty about so many things than throughout this past year and a half,” Rice said. “But in terms of career coaching and preparation, we’ve met these challenges with unprecedented service. And we’ve seen similar dedication from the students who, through no fault of their own, found themselves graduating into a tough job market.”

In a typical year, the OCM tracks employment and salary information reported by new Fisher alumni during the three-six months following their graduation. During that period, students have access to ongoing career support services offered by the OCM. But 2020-21 was anything but typical.

The number of job offers received by undergraduate students at Fisher decreased by 45% from March-August 2020 as compared to the same period from the previous year. It was the lowest percentage of job offers reported by students within three months of graduation since the financial crisis of 2007-2008.

Recognizing the dearth of jobs for new graduates, the OCM expanded its approach to how it would support students and measure their career search success during this new reality, Rice said. Instead of focusing on the industry-standard measurement window of three months post-graduation, the OCM would take a longer view. For those alumni graduating into one of the tightest job markets ever, and for the students whose graduation was on the horizon, Rice’s team would offer more support, connection and service than ever before.

Using information supplied by students via Handshake, OCM’s career services portal, the office reached out directly as a resource to those still seeking employment.

“We needed to take a proactive step on our part because we knew that the jobs just weren’t going to be there,” Rice said. “We would normally not do that because in a good economy, we’re at 95% to 100% three months after graduation,” Rice said.

What did this outreach look like? It certainly included job leads, continued resume and interview services and coaching, and tips for personal branding on professional platforms like LinkedIn. But it also included higher-level advice with a much broader view.

“By nature, if not by mission, this office needs to be economists as much as we are career coaches,” Rice said. “We need to know where the pockets of jobs and opportunities are and where they aren’t. This past year, which was lean for a number of industries, if a student was interested in retail, we advised them to reconsider or really think about taking a retail opportunity in this climate.”

“We’ve long believed that settling for a job is a decision that changes a career trajectory for five years. During tough job markets, if you’re able to hold out — and get continued support during that time — you’re more likely to make a decision that will result in a positive career trajectory.”

Patient, proactive and persistent

Jason Denrich
Jason Denrich (BSBA '21)

Jason Denrich is proof that unprecedented patience, hard work and willingness not to settle can pay off. After a junior year filled with personal tragedies, family loss and falling grades, Denrich (BSBA ’21) recommitted himself to excelling in the classroom and translating that success into a satisfying full-time job.

After an autumn semester in which he estimates he sat for over 50 interviews, he landed a post-graduate job offer with a finance company on Long Island during his winter break. Despite the promise of a full-time job, Denrich attended Fisher’s Spring Internship and Job Fair to explore other possibilities and reevaluate his situation.

“This is where OCM really was my best friend,” he said. “From Audrey Bledsoe’s class, I was able to talk with highly motivated, specialized workers who shared their experiences about standing out and getting hired during the pandemic.”

The extra work and patience eventually paid off with a full-time job with Oracle in its Business Development Consultant program in Boston. Denrich started in August.

“Having the OCM as a constant resource, learning to not be afraid to ask questions, even if it was through Zoom, was a huge step for me,” he said. “After a solid year and a half of changing my LinkedIn profile, working through Handshake, and making sure mentally I was sound, I was doing everything in my power to be successful.”

Denrich’s support network also included Josh Bernadel, his roommate at the time and a student who worked with the OCM as a career coach. Bernadel was a constant source of information and strategy, insights gleaned from his own experiences navigating the internship and job application processes, as well the experiences of those he counseled as a career coach.

Josh Bernadel
Josh Bernadel (BSBA '21)

“I’ve told every person that I’ve worked with that career development is not about where you’re going, or your GPA,” said Bernadel, who graduated in 2021 and turned an internship with Microsoft into a full-time position with the company as an operations business manager. “It’s about being coachable, personable and being able to explain yourself.”

With the logistics industry booming during the pandemic, Bernadel wasn’t too concerned with being able to find a job that fit his experiences and passions.

“But I met with a lot of students that had that desperation,” he said. “They wanted any job available, and it was for any number of reasons: they didn’t want to move back home, they had rent to pay or student loans. For others, they didn’t want to be embarrassed by not having a job.”

Graduate students, meanwhile, weren’t immune to the tight job market. Employment offers to Fisher’s Full-Time MBA students declined 47% from March to August 2020, compared to the previous year.

Qiyu Hu, a 2019 graduate of the Master in Business Logistics Engineering program, relied on the OCM, especially her career coach Steve Singer, Director of Career Management and Corporate Relations, to help her navigate a steady stream of unsuccessful interviews amid a stagnant market.

“Encouragement from my family and friends helped me, but more importantly, I kept communicating with professionals, alumni, my peer graduates and the Office of Career Management,” she said. “It helped me stay informed with the job market and trends and gave me feedback about my networking and interview experience from different voices.”

Qiyu Hu
Qiyu Hu (MBLE '19)

Hu eventually landed a position as a supply chain solution analyst with Niagara Bottling in May 2021 after having interviewed for and not been chosen for a completely different position at the company.

“I felt like the Office of Career Management, and Steve, were always with me during my search.” she said.

The next normal

Having weathered an 18-month employment drought, Rice and his team are optimistic that a corner has been turned. As of March 2021, 100% of Full-Time MBA graduate students from the Class of 2020 had reported receiving job offers, and 90% of undergraduates reported the same.

The hope among career service professionals is that the positive trend will continue for the recently graduated Class of 2021. If it doesn’t, or a new phase of the pandemic creates new challenges, the OCM has a strategy and protocols in place to help a new class of job seekers navigate uncertainty.

“We don’t see the steps we’ve taken to ensure we’re staying connected and engaged with our students as one-off measures,” Rice said. “They’ve certainly been necessitated by an extremely disruptive global pandemic, but the lessons we’ve learned and the new ways we’re providing services to our students aren’t going away. We’re confident that we can scale some of these new approaches to career management for lasting impact in the future, this next normal.”

This story was part of the Office of Career Management's 2020-21 Annual Report. 

View the entire report