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Q&A with Our Career Development Experts on Searching for Employment in Uncertain Times

April 13, 2020

Ilka Balk, John Beck and Zach Fuqua weigh in on what students can do right now to maximize their chance of securing employment.

As the United States continues to experience economic fallout from the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis, graduating seniors find themselves in flux. Not only have they had to finish their college courses away from familiar friends and trusted resources, but they also face tenuous circumstances in which to launch their careers. Students who happily accepted full-time engineering positions back in the fall semester could suddenly need a backup plan. Those who have yet to secure post-graduation employment—whether full-time or as a co-op or intern—face similar ambiguities.
We asked the staff of the UK College of Engineering’s Career Development Group to offer suggestions as to what students in each of the above scenarios should be doing right now and in the near future. Ilka Balk is director of the Career Development Group, John Beck is assistant director and Zach Fuqua is director of the Engineering Co-operative Education Program.
Help! The company I was set to work for has now informed me that I will not have a job after all. What do I do?
John Beck: Students simply can’t rule out anything currently. You need to reopen your search and consider being more flexible in terms of the roles, companies, industries or geographic areas you are willing to consider. Looking at new possibilities could lead to exciting new career opportunities, especially during an economic downturn. Working for a company that may not even match your initial industry preference could help you learn and develop new skills. Plus: you could be in a good position to advance your career when the economy rebounds. Also, don’t renege on an offer you’ve already accepted if you receive a better offer from another company, or “ghost” an interview with a potential employer. Follow professional etiquette—you don’t want to damage your reputation before your career even gets started.
I had not seriously begun my job search. What should I do at this point?
Zach Fuqua: The key thing now is to be as flexible as possible. Targeting a specific industry and region (such as "aerospace in Lexington") may not provide the widest range of options. With a growing number of companies placing a freeze on hiring or that have canceled their summer internship programs, the ability to look far and wide will be important. The key for people getting into the search now is to identify options and be willing to apply. We are here to help walk you through the process and to assist in that search! We are also conducting a Tele-Fair on April 23-24, so keep up with your e-mails to hear more soon. We can help you utilize online job search systems like Handshake, as well as LinkedIn, conduct practice interviews and review resumes and cover letters to get you ready for your virtual job search.
Will there still be co-op and internship opportunities?
Zach Fuqua: This is an interesting time for everyone, students who are searching and employers who aren’t sure what the future holds. The easy answer to this question is yes, maybe, we hope. Currently, we are communicating with companies to determine what their hiring status is for the summer and even the fall.  As we learn about those decisions, I will be working to get that information out to students as quickly as possible. We are also planning the Tele-Fair I mentioned for later this month that will give students and employers a chance to connect about potential opportunities (full time, internships and co-ops). While I don’t think anyone has a truly solid handle on what the immediate future holds, we are working hard to figure that out as best as possible, as are the companies. There are many resources online that are posting updated lists of companies that are hiring. Websites such as Candor.co and LinkedIn are regularly updating their sites with the most updated information they have. Stay in communication with me and know that I will do whatever I can to help you in this process.
Does the college still have services available to help me in my job/co-op search?
Ilka Balk: While we are not physically on campus, all our services remain the same. You can use Handshake (uky.joinhandshake.com) to make appointments with us, which will take place via Zoom. We also are continuing our planning for the fall events and fairs and are working hard to help employers post positions and recruit Wildcats. We also have a “drop-in” Zoom room every workday from 9:00 am to 4:30 pm ( https://uky.zoom.us/j/573478147 ). You can come by any time to talk to one of our team members and ask quick job search and negotiation questions. Our office phones forward to our homes, and we are constantly responding to e-mails.  We would also love to hear from you if you have accepted a co-op, internship or full-time job so we can celebrate you through our social media channels! If you are unsure about an offer you have accepted, please let us help you navigate the conversations with potential employers.
Is there anything else I should be doing right now (besides finishing classes in order to graduate!)?
Ilka Balk: Make sure to utilize all your networking opportunities, even if they are virtual these days. Check the events and fair section in Handshake (uky.joinhandshake.com) for employer webinars, virtual fairs and opportunities to interact. Now is also the time to make sure your resume, LinkedIn and Handshake profiles are in excellent shape. Utilize LinkedIn to connect with other students, alumni, faculty and follow companies that interest you.
If you have had interviews or contacts with employers in the past, make sure you stay in touch with those companies and their representatives. The current situation is very fluid, and while employers think they don’t have positions today, this may change next week. Being on their radar can help you be the first one they call.
Something else you could do is expand or build software skills. Have you thought about perfecting your web design skills, learning a programming language or getting more Excel training? You may also want to work on certifications, although those will likely cost money. Now is the time to improve these marketable skills. There are many—often free—online resources to help you with this.
Stay in touch with our office so we can know whether you need help, and make sure you complete the first destination survey the university will deploy to all graduating seniors on April 13 or shortly after. We use the survey results to follow up with students who are seeking a full-time position and will send you postings regularly if you indicate that you are seeking employment on that survey.