“In a world that feels so out of control, career development is something tangible students can work towards.”
On March 6th, 2020, the Cohen Career Center was buzzing with students making last-minute edits to their resumes and internship applications before setting off on a week of rest and relaxation. No one knew when we left that sunny Friday afternoon, the career center’s doors would remain closed well past the end of spring break. Now, as we approach the one year mark of the pandemic, the career center has pivoted to offering services in a completely virtual format. Before the pandemic, Zoom appointments were not common and usually reserved for alumni or students completing their semester in Washington DC. Now, every student I see is a Zoom expert, and I suppose I am as well. I suspected when we switched to a fully virtual format that students would seek out career services less. Thinking about your career during a pandemic seemed like too great of an ask. However, as the fall semester progressed, I have been proven incorrect. Students have been active, engaged, and eager to talk about their careers. Here are some lessons I have learned being a career advisor in the midst of COVID-19:
Students feel more comfortable in a virtual format. The generation currently in college grew up with iPhones, tablets, and Facetime. This is their wheelhouse. Students have expressed to me that they feel more comfortable having a significant conversation about their career now because they can wear leggings and be in their favorite comfy chair while they do it. We are both on the same level when we are each zooming from our homes.
Our services are now more flexible. Students who previously could not have found the time to drive to campus and spend an hour at the career center can now access our services more easily. If students wake up at 3 am thinking about their resumes, they can log onto TribeCareers and find a virtual clinic. This also allows for students who are remote, work full time, are parents, or prefer to get work done at night to take advantage of the same services we would traditionally only offer in the 8:00-5:00 timeline.
Students see working on their career as something to give them control. In a world that feels so out of control, career development is something tangible that students can work towards. There are an increasing number of online webinars, workshops, conferences, and other opportunities for students to explore career options and learn more about their industries.
There are still challenges. Big events career fairs are difficult to replicate in a virtual format, and I don’t get to offer a seat to my students, shake their hand, or give them a glass of water. However, not every change has been negative. There are new, virtual practices that have been advantageous to William & Mary students that can be carried on after the pandemic is long gone. For now, I can offer students a space to air grievances about their online classes, their internship getting canceled, and their siblings running into their rooms when they need to study. But after we commiserate on how challenging the year has been, I then get to be a part of the student’s journey to a better tomorrow.
Corinne Townley is a second-year master’s student in the Higher Education Administration program at the William & Mary School of Education. She earned a Bachelor of Science in Child Development and minored in Psychology and Leadership Studies at Appalachian State University. She intends to pursue a career in academic advising, career services, or other general student affairs role after graduation in May 2021.