From full-time students to unemployed; college graduates struggle to jumpstart careers

Posted at 3:38 PM, Jul 17, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-17 21:38:26-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — McKenna Quigley Harrington had a seemingly promising start to an acting career in New York City. Then COVID-19 hit.

Before graduating from Fordham University with a theatre major about two months ago, the 21-year-old Nashville native signed with a manager to help with auditions, and was already in an off-Broadway show. The trajectory of her plans post-college quickly stalled when the pandemic shut down the economy and closed Broadway until at least early 2021.

The situation was worrisome, but Harrington remained hopeful. However, she would soon find out there were many other hopeful graduates as well.

"They're basically looking for any job. They're not specifically saying they can't get a find a job in let's say journalism, they can't get a job at the same restaurant," Harrington told NewsChannel 5.

Like other graduates left unable to find a job in their career choice, Harrington applied for any position she can find that was hiring. She knew very well majoring in theatre would require her to work service industry roles anyways, but the job market in the city was grim.

"I applied to a lot and didn't hear back from any. Every college graduate's worst nightmare is that they're going to graduate and for some reason, they're not going to be able to get a job," Harrington said. "That's kind of what happened."

With no sense of her parents continually helping pay her New York rent, Harrington left for Maryland to stay with family. There she found a job working at a restaurant three weeks ago but quit this week when she claimed there were not enough safety protocols in place. That leaves her unemployed again, waiting on unemployment benefits, and will move back in with her parents in Nashville within the next month.

Beka Crocket of Middle Tennessee State University's Career Development Center said graduates should use this time as an opportunity to refine skills and engage with others. While it may not be the most ideal situation, she advised pivoting job paths for now to gain skills.

"There are still opportunities and getting experience, whatever that might look like even though it's not the exact thing you want to do, it's still good experience that can lead to a future opportunity," Crocket said.

Her advice is to continue to network, whether that's with people from campus, guest lecturers, student organizations and even family members. The college career centers are also a good place to start. It is also a good idea to start doing more research and connect with industry professionals.

"Organizations tell me is that there may not be openings now, but when they do students they've been interacting with are going to be on their radar," Crocket added.

Crocket said she is seeing a little bit of an uptick in the number of jobs and internships being posted, so the market in some areas is hiring. Graduates should use this time to practice interviewing and polish resumes and cover letters.