By Andrea Klick, Student Reporter
In the first month of his final semester at the Price School, Nathan Kieu applied to more than 100 jobs in local government.
Kieu, a 2020 dual-degree graduate from the master of urban planning and master of public administration programs, always knew the job hunting process could be long; then the coronavirus pandemic hit. The following economic shut down dealt another blow and affected his search even more. Hiring managers reached out to Kieu to say they were interested in his resume, but the recruitment process would have to wait until they better understood the pandemic’s impact on their finances.
Even under normal circumstances, Kieu shared, “it’s nerve-racking for any graduate student at the end of your academic career, especially as an international student. It’s very nerve-racking.”
But there is hope. Kieu and many other Class of 2020 Price masters graduates seem to be finding their footing. As of August, 54% of this group reported having jobs in a USC Price career center survey. While these numbers are down from Class of 2019 data, which reported 69% job placement at the three-month post-graduation mark, the Price School’s career services office shares that the data isn’t dramatically different – especially during an economic downturn.
“At graduation, before graduation and up to three months after graduating, students across our four major disciplines of masters programs that we collect data for are landing employment at a pace that is very positive,” said Valerie Savior, the director of career services at Price. “Some of them got their jobs before the pandemic hit, but many of them secured employment at graduation.” For the Class of 2020 this meant they were signing-on to new roles in May at the height of the shutdown.
Navigating an Uncertain Career Landscape
As the job market changed, so did career services’ approach. Savior and her staff helped Price students and recent alumni deal with hiring freezes and perform their best, even though interviews and networking events moved online. The team doesn’t expect a return to normal any time soon. It’s likely that the impact of the pandemic on companies’ finances will likely be long term, Savior said. Various industries, especially within the private sector, are still freezing jobs and internships or rescinding offers.
To give current students a guiding light forward as they approach graduation, Savior and her team jumped on creating opportunities for students to network with alumni through virtual events. Students are also able to learn about positive job search strategies on Zoom to help them be productive, even if their chosen industry has paused hiring.
Career services staff are advising students to take this time to improve upon hard skills through online courses, search for jobs adjacent to the field they wanted to be in and reach out to or network with as many professionals as possible. Most importantly, Savior is encouraging students to resist the urge to stay isolated.
“It’s easy to go home, watch TV and de-stress when you’ve been on Zoom all day,” she said, “but my tip would be resist that impulse and get engaged, whether it’s clubs and organizations or career programming — all of it. I think that’s very important in the pandemic.”
Celebrating New Roles and Preparing for Future Success
Kieu put career services’ advice in action, continuing to apply to positions and getting himself on potential employers’ lists. His persistence paid off. In July, he started working as an economic development coordinator for Santa Cruz, helping small business owners navigate ever-changing state and county laws as the pandemic continues, and as wildfires devastate the area.
He and other 2020 graduates like Bhavika Anand, who completed her masters of healthcare administration degree, said USC Price’s career services helped them fine-tune their resume and job skills before and during the pandemic. Anand met with career services staff throughout her time at Price to revise her resume and practice interviewing skills. By March, she had several job interviews, but when pandemic-related shut downs occurred, she stopped hearing from potential employers.
Using the networking and professional development skills she learned from career services during her masters program, and equipped with new resources on navigating the online job search, Anand continued putting out applications. Now, she’s proud to share that in August, she started as a program manager with COPE Health Solutions, a health care consultation service in Los Angeles where she originally interviewed in March.
“As the site program manager, I am responsible for maintaining and enriching a pipeline of students each quarter, so we have a certain target that we need to meet each year to bring in revenue for our organization,” Anand said.
Now that the new school year has begun, Savior’s office is setting current students up for success. To start, they are hosting two virtual event series titled “Insight Series,” which brings in young professionals with two to five years of experience to discuss their career paths, and “Virtually Speaking,” which brings in employers from specific fields like health care and public policy to network and chat with students. Like any in-person school year, appointments for resume reviews and other career learning opportunities are available. The career center also introduced the Price Career Lounge this semester to allow students without appointments to ask questions in group sessions with advisors and peers.
Kieu encourages students to continue taking advantage of career center resources and events virtually and find ways to network with alumni or other potential employers even while most people are working remotely.
“People out there, especially from USC, they want to help you,” Kieu said. “The more you engage, the more you let people know they see you in conferences and webinars and you ask questions to stay engaged, they’re going to remember you.”