Career Center assists students with internships, entering the job market in uncertain time

By TONY SJODIN

SARAH FAGAN

Middlebury students have seen their summer plans upended in recent weeks, as Covid-19 restrictions and the economic downturn impact internships and jobs. The Center for Careers and Internships (CCI) is working with students to create alternative summer plans, even while staff members shift to working remotely.

The center has continued regular advising appointments with staff through Zoom, and Peer Career Advisors host daily virtual “Quick Questions” to review resumes and provide internship search tips, as they typically do on campus. 

The CCI is also launching several new initiatives this spring to support students in career exploration and job searches.

“We’ve done some things that I think are particularly creative that, if things were normal, might have taken six months to a year to get off the ground,” said Ursula Olender, the CCI director of career advising and employer relations.

Seniors graduate into a difficult job market

Many seniors have had their job searches derailed as they head into an uncertain job market. While Middlebury reported a record high post-graduation employment rate last year, the class of 2020 faces an economy crippled by Covid-19 closures and the highest rate of US unemployment since the Great Depression. 

Rachel Veneziano ’20 had planned to stay in Vermont after graduation to do environmental service work in the state. Now, she is looking at moving to Boston, where she hopes there will be more job opportunities.

Even in the past few weeks, I’ve become increasingly flexible with the types of jobs I’m applying for as well,” Veneziano said. “As an Environmental Policy major, I was originally hoping to dive into that and find environmental work after graduation.” She has since accepted the possibility of not finding work in her field right away.

Veneziano said she has found the CCI’s online programming effective and helpful in recent weeks. She and 54 others have joined the center’s new Senior Career Action Groups, in which five to seven seniors on similar career paths meet virtually with an advisor to talk about their job searches, interview experiences and ideas.

“We’ve been having robust discussions regarding our thoughts and concerns on the post-graduation job search,” said Jack Carew ’20, who joined an action group led by Associate Director of Career Advising Tim Mosehauer, who focuses on consulting, government, law and public policy. “I’ve appreciated the opportunity to hear from my peers about the strategies they use when job searching and hearing Tim’s feedback as well,” Carew said.

Carew, along with another student, was planning a series of theater and dance workshops with high school students who are writing personal statements for college, sponsored by grants from the Kathryn W. Davis Foundation’s Projects for Peace program. He is waiting to hear if the grants have been postponed until next year or canceled. In the meantime, he has found an opportunity to intern remotely with the National Council for Science and the Environment this summer.

The CCI also hosted a panel titled, “Dear Class of 2020, We’ve Been There! Advice from Alumni of ’07–’09,” during which Midd alumni who graduated during the Great Recession shared their stories and suggestions about entering a difficult job market. 

“One of the things that we’re really working to counteract too is all the doom and gloom, and while we are certainly aware of all of the challenges…there are many organizations that indeed are still hiring and are very interested in our talented Middlebury pool of applicants,” said Peggy Burns, executive director of the CCI. 

“I think it’s super important to understand that your first job doesn’t define you, it doesn’t define the rest of your life,” Olender added. “You’ve got to get your foot in the door — and it doesn’t even have to be the right door, it can be any door — but get yourself out there.”

Summer internships change amid uncertainty

Many summer internships, jobs, research positions and opportunities abroad have been canceled or postponed, leaving a gap in many students’ summer plans. The CCI’s webpage now lists “Ideas for an Impactful Summer,” which lists several recommendations for students: asking an organization to continue an internship remotely, completing a micro-internship, volunteering, studying for graduate school exams, working on senior independent research and using various online learning tools. 

The center also plans to launch a new micro-internship program called MIDDGigs in the near future, connecting students with alumni for one- or two-week internships.

“This is a great way for a student whose internship may have fallen through to still be able to get some experience, do a concrete project, build some skills, network a bit and be able to get a recommendation down the road,” Burns said. “And, it’s a relatively low commitment on the part of an alum.”

The CCI is also still funding internships this summer, but they have only been authorized at this time to fund remote positions, according to a page on the website. They are also funding internships that are currently remote but that have the expectation of transitioning to in-person later in the summer — after June 15, students who have been granted this status will be able to apply to make their internships in-person, though the ability to do this will be based on CDC guidelines and local restrictions. 

The CCI is not funding any international internships unless students are conducting remote internships from their hometowns abroad. 

Many students have been able to adapt and create new summer plans. Gwen Davis ’22 was applying to consulting firms near Philadelphia when she got the news that Middlebury was sending students home. The internships she had applied to were canceled or unresponsive. Davis had worked with Mosehauer during the semester to create her initial summer plan, and spoke with him on Zoom after those positions disappeared.

“He sent me a whole list of resources, but reminded me that this will be a summer like no other for everyone, and that networking and our Middlebury community is one of our greatest resources,” Davis said.

She eventually found an internship with her father’s friend at a moving services company. “It certainly is not the industry I saw myself working in, but I know I have to be flexible at a time like this,” Davis said. “I now have the chance to be exposed to something totally new.”

Celeste Levy ’22 was planning to live on campus this summer as an intern with Oratory Now, working with language school programs and traveling to Burlington and Boston to coach clients. She is currently working to brainstorm how that experience will continue remotely.

“Coaching is so personal and physical, and doesn’t have the same effect over a screen. I think it will be less useful for our clients and less beneficial for me improving as a teacher. But, it will make us be creative and possibly expand our range of offerings,” Levy said.

The CCI is also partnering with Oratory Now to provide virtual interview workshops, where students record videos of themselves responding to interview prompts and send it to Oratory Now coaches for annotations. After receiving feedback, students reach out to a Midd2Midd alumni volunteer to ask for a practice interview. 

The center planned to partner with Oratory Now before the pandemic, but sped up the process as recruiting shifted online. The CCI anticipates that virtual recruiting will become the new norm for first-round interviews even after students return to campuses, because it is more cost-efficient for employers.

Employment at the college may also change this year. According to Middlebury’s decision-making calendar, researchers and workers can expect a decision on their summer positions by Friday, May 15. 

Francis Shiner ’23 intended to work as Music Professor Jeff Buettner’s summer choral assistant. In that capacity, Shiner would have worked to digitize Middlebury’s choral archive, plan for the choir’s 2021 Japan tour, organize volunteer opportunities for music students in town and learn about running a college choir.

“In case Midd doesn’t keep summer research positions, I’ve been figuring out other options, including a possible grant from the CCI,” Shiner said. “As of now, I don’t know what my summer will be like, and that terrifies me.”

Shiner applied for an art grant to fund a summer project preparing the choir for the impacts of Covid-19, including how to have rehearsals and concerts without large group meetings.

Although the CCI will continue providing advice and resources through the summer, staff members are also trying to allay students’ anxieties.

“We talk about how this will always be the summer that has an asterisk. If there’s a gap in your resume and it happens to be this summer, I’m sure that you will be forgiven. But employers will want to know, how did you use your time?” Oldender said. “And it doesn’t have to be an internship for it to be productive.”

Correction May 14, 2020: An earlier version of this story used the incorrect pronoun for Francis Shiner ’23. 

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