College prepares students for many things, like how to write social media copy or create a successful marketing campaign.
What it doesn’t prepare them for is how to enter the workforce during a pandemic.
One year after lockdown, Gen Zers still face cancelled graduations, online school, a tough job market and a lack of networking opportunities. At the same time, and probably as a result, mental health crises are at an all-time high as people battle anxiety, depression and isolation fatigue.
I am one of the lucky ones.
I started my job as a reporter for Campaign and PRWeek US a few weeks after “graduation.” There was no ceremonial transition, or special celebrations or gifts. But it did not elude me that I am an anomaly as one of the few people — and Latina women — employed in my career of choice.
The week leading up to my start date, I prepared for my first full-time job thinking about what blouses I would wear with my sweatpants, the longing I felt to see my family and friends and the truth that I never got the chance at a proper college experience.
That same week I tested positive for COVID-19, even after wearing my mask, refraining from visitations and, frankly, never leaving the house.
I scrolled through TikTok and Twitter for hours in isolation as the rest of the world rang in the New Year, worried and afraid — of what my new job would entail, whether I’d be able to do it well, and of course, for my health.
And yet the feeling I could not shake was gratitude. Despite turmoil in the world around me, I have a sense of direction.
I am grateful that since starting my job, I have been asked “how do you feel about everything?” “Are you doing okay?” “How are you keeping up with the work?”
I am grateful to work from the safety and comfort of my home, saving me the anxiety of crowded commutes. I am grateful for the open-mindedness of those I talk to, that have compassion in their tone when I tell them “I’m new,” and to bear with me as I learn the ropes.
Most of all, I am grateful I’ve been given the platform to share this story.
It's difficult for those of us in our 20s to feel seen during this crisis. As the “healthier” and digital-native generation, people think we’ve adapted to work-school-life from home easily.
But millions of innovative and creative TikToks posted by Gen Zers over the past year hide what’s beneath the surface: a generation struggling to find meaning and purpose.
Figuring life after college is daunting without the added curveball of a pandemic. Gen Zers face imposter syndrome, unsure of their place in the workforce and struggling to find opportunities for growth.
At the same time, we’re recognizing that it’s important to take breaks and take care of our mental health. We may not be at the highest risk for COVID-19, but we’ve also lost loved ones and are grieving the loss of opportunities at the cornerstone of youth.
As I write this from my position of privilege, I worry about peers still looking for jobs, feeling the pressure and uncertainty I felt back in November.
Laura Guzman, a senior undergraduate student at Baruch College, recently joined Mediahub as a paid search and social intern through the 4A’s MAIP fellowship program. But her journey there was an emotional one, she said.
“Because of the pandemic, [companies] decided not to do their internship programs,” she said. “It was very discouraging because I was in my junior year, and this is the time you're supposed to have internships, and I didn’t know if companies were actually going to be forgiving like people said they would.”
The prospect of graduating college without prior workplace experience is a scary one especially when every job posting on LinkedIn asks for “3-5 years of experience.”
“I'm sure there are [candidates] that have more work experience than others. That's amazing. But I would love [companies] to take into account that there are people that were not able to get that experience, and that’s not their fault,” Guzman said.
Others that have already entered the workforce need patience, understanding and guidance from managers and executives.
For my part, I am comforted by the reminders that I should still take lunch breaks even while working from home, and the flexibility offered me when I want to talk over the phone instead of an email.
Your first job is a learning experience, and it’s much harder to learn without being physically present. Many things that may seem obvious aren’t.
Compassion is a virtue we’ve all learned the importance of over this past year, and I ask those reading this to extend it to your younger colleagues and prospective team members.
As for the Gen Zers putting themselves out there and worried about what the future holds for them, I see you and I’m proud.