Deepanshu Utkarsh, a senior majoring in computer science at Tufts University, accepted a full-time, post-graduation job as a software engineer for TripAdvisor and signed a contract in November. But on March 27, he received a call from the recruiter who had hired him and learned that the job offer had been rescinded. Global travel had taken a nosedive due to COVID-19 and TripAdvisor was anticipating a decrease in revenue.
Now, Utkarsh is dealing with uncertainty and a sudden loss of stability. “I was settling into the fact that I would be here [in Boston] and making emotional investments to people and places here. And now I have to scramble and not even know where in the country I’m going to end up,” he told WGBH News.
TripAdvisor did not respond to a request for comment.
Utkarsh is just one of many graduating college seniors who have seen their employment plans suddenly shift due to the coronavirus. The virus has derailed plans for many in the class of 2020 by forcing the widespread cancellation of summer internships and, in some cases, job offers.
Boston University senior Shadae Leslie has also had her career plans upended by the recession. Leslie, a public relations major, had originally planned to spend the summer working as an independent contractor for a local real estate brokerage firm. But she learned in March that she had lost the opportunity due to declines in the real estate industry, sending her back into the job hunt.
“Now I’m actually applying a lot earlier than I expected to,” Leslie said. “That’s nerve-wracking because a lot of the positions that I would have been a great fit for [aren’t] open now.”
Though Leslie is most interested in financial technology and real estate, she has been applying widely due to the sudden lack of entry-level positions in her fields of interest.
LinkedIn, Twitter, and other social media sites are awash with posts from college students sharing stories about canceled internships and rescinded job offers.
According to an April poll of 234 employers by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, a professional association for college career services, 12 percent of the employers surveyed are revoking offers to interns and 2 percent are revoking offers to full-term recruits. Twenty-two percent of surveyed employers reported they are considering revoking offers. The companies that have cancelled internships span a myriad of industries and include NPR and Yelp, the crowd-sourced review site.
“I keep joking to my friends that I need to stop looking at LinkedIn because it's just become too sad with people who've had offers rescinded,” said Boston University senior Sarah Bickford.
Seniors who are currently job hunting — or who have been thrown back into the job search — face slimmer pickings. Candor, a company that helps workers negotiate salaries, has compiled a spreadsheet of more than 6,500 companies and their hiring status. Over 3,000 of those companies are listed as having hiring freezes or layoffs.
Additionally, both Harvard and MIT have announced university-wide hiring freezes, which may affect graduates who were hoping to work for the university. MIT spokeswoman Sarah McDonnell said in general, not a lot of graduating seniors immediately come back to work at the school, though a university survey of the class of 2018 showed numerous MIT departments and university-affiliated labs as employment destinations for MIT masters and PhD graduates. Harvard declined to comment on how the hiring freeze would affect graduating seniors.
Bickford, who is currently awaiting the final round of interviews for the AmeriCorps program College Advising Corps, said she is lucky that the position she is seeking is likely still available. Thus far, she has only faced slight delays in going through the interview rounds. But if she isn’t accepted, she will have few options available.
“I'm a little bit more nervous that if this doesn't work out, there will be a lot of applicants for the other jobs that I've been considering,” Bickford said.
Utkarsh faces an additional challenge as an international student from Delhi, India. He is in the U.S. on a student visa that only carries a three-year work authorization. Utkarsh was planning to enter this year’s work visa lottery, which requires sponsorship by an employer. However, because TripAdvisor suddenly rescinded his offer, he was unable to apply, and has now lost out on one of his three chances to receive a visa.
Utkarsh is concerned about being forced to return home, but remains optimistic that he will get a job. He says he feels fortunate to be in tech, an industry that is overall less affected by the coronavirus.
However, Utkarsh noted that there are fewer job listings and the competition for those jobs that are available is more intense.
Colleges are keenly aware of the troubles their newest graduates will face. Joseph Du Pont, the associate vice president of career services at Boston College, said he and his team have been putting “a little bit more emphasis” on seniors.
“We have a wide array of services for everyone, but seniors are the ones who are graduating in a particularly tough time and they've been hit by the impact of COVID-19 and also a recession,” Du Pont said. “Assuring them that we'll work with them well into the future has given them a little bit of a sense of comfort in that someone's watching out for them.”
The recession may have long lasting effects on new graduates. Studies have found that college students graduating into a recession suffer suppressed wages for years after they enter the workforce. Some may be forced to work jobs they are overqualified for or are outside of their field. Other studies have also shown negative health impacts and suggest that graduating into a recession may be associated with shorter life expectancy and reduced marriage rates.
Philip Oreopoulos, a professor of economics and public policy at the University of Toronto, coauthored one such study which found that the wage gap between those who graduate into a downturn and those who do not can persist for 10 years or more. Oreopoulos’s study examined Canadian business cycles in the 1980s and 1990s, but the magnitude of the current recession may lead to even more pronounced effects.
“This year's graduates face labor market conditions that are worse than those used to estimate past effects, and months of closed non-essential businesses will make finding any work challenging in the initial period — and that could prolong the recession further,” Oreopoulos said.
Still, experts say that college seniors can take certain steps in the interim to help their job search. They can learn new skills, take online courses, volunteer, and take on projects to build their portfolio.
“Anyone in the recruiting process is going to be asked the next five years, what did you do? How did you react to COVID-19 in terms of your career, education?” Du Pont said. “There might be this natural tendency to sort of wait this out and that's totally understandable. But there'll be another group of students who use this as an opportunity to pivot and to kind of grow in a different way.”
Angela Fu and Lena Novins-Montague are interns for the New England Center for Investigative Reporting at WGBH News.