Heather Morrison is graduating from Kennesaw State University this semester. She joined the university’s virtual career fair on Thursday, May 7, as part of her job search. CONTRIBUTED

Georgia college graduates encounter difficult job market

Charlie Burstiner is graduating this semester from the University of Georgia with a near perfect grade-point average and has diligently looked for work in Atlanta’s commercial real estate industry for months, but like many of this year’s college graduates, his job search has thus far been unsuccessful.

Students, recruiters and career advisers say the coronavirus pandemic has upended the job prospects for the class of 2020.

Employers are canceling internships and putting a freeze on jobs typically filled by college graduates as the economy has tumbled.

> RELATED: Georgia’s ballooning jobless claims outpace U.S. amid pandemic fallout

About 4 million students are expected to earn degrees this school year, many seeking full-time jobs for the first time. In some cases, graduates are competing with laid-off workers. Federal officials reported Friday that 20.5 million Americans lost jobs in April, the worst set of jobs numbers since it began tracking such data in 1948.

Overall job listings in metro Atlanta have plunged — they’re down 33% from the levels of a year ago. In Georgia, more than 1.6 million initial unemployment claims have been processed since the middle of March, representing more than 30% of the state’s workforce. Only Kentucky and Hawaii had a higher percentage of workers filing claims, experts say.

Umesh Ramakrishnan is a co-CEO of Kingsley Gate Partners, a global executive search firm. CONTRIBUTED
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

“It is probably the worst job market to graduate into in a generation,” Umesh Ramakrishnan, co-CEO of Kingsley Gate Partners, a Dallas-based global executive search firm, said in a telephone interview.

Burstiner, 22, who grew up in Marietta, said one employer told him they weren’t hiring shortly after most businesses closed or told employees to work from home in mid-March.

“It’s been very hard,” Burstiner said of the job search.

Ramakrishnan said the job market is tough right now in some prime Atlanta industries, such as commercial and residential real estate, because few people are buying homes and no one is looking for office space. Students, he said, should think before accepting a job right now if it will be in an industry that will be financially strong in a few years. He said the new graduates may have to consider the unthinkable — taking more online courses.

“You are playing a different game and there’s a new playbook,” he said.

Georgia colleges and universities are trying to help. Kennesaw State University held a virtual career fair Thursday. The Savannah College of Art & Design held one Friday. Spelman College is planning free summer programs to help graduating seniors improve their marketability.

Savannah College of Art & Design student Ann Fry uploaded this illustration she did to show to recruiters at the college’s virtual job fair on Friday, May 8. Colleges are doing virtual career fairs to help students find jobs since students and recruiters cannot come on campuses because of the coronavirus pandemic. CONTRIBUTED
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Only a few months ago, economists were marveling at the job market’s tilt in favor of job seekers — the unemployment rate falling to levels that shifted negotiating power toward the job candidate. February’s jobless rate in Georgia was a historically low 3.1%.

When the state’s April rate is announced in two weeks, the unemployment rate is expected to be four times that high — at least. May will likely be even higher.

That means that the news is bad in several ways if you are looking for work, especially if you are near the start of your working life.

For starters, graduates will be competing for a shrinking number of job openings, said Daniel Zhao, senior economist and data scientist at Glassdoor, which lists jobs online, carries reviews of companies and analyzes the labor market.

But what’s worse is that the timing of graduation matters for a lifetime, he said. “We know from research that people who enter the job market during a recession see a long-lasting impact on their jobs and career that lasts long after the recession is over.” Those impacts can include lower employment rates and lower earnings, research has shown.

Charlie Burstiner is graduating this semester from the University of Georgia with an undergraduate degree in real estate. Like many graduates, he’s having trouble finding a job in his career interest. Many employers have slowed hiring amid the coronavirus pandemic. CONTRIBUTED
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Yet the horizon is not entirely bleak.

Amazon, for instance, has been hiring tens of thousands of people to help respond to the surge in online orders, but much of that is relatively low-paid warehouse help. Glassdoor in April listed 1,717 consulting job openings, 1,140 accounting and legal jobs, 3,650 positions in information technology and more than 3,000 jobs in education, all in Atlanta.

Colgate-Palmolive was one of nearly 60 companies that participated in SCAD’s fair. Eduardo Jimenez, a member of Colgate-Palmolive’s toothbrush design team, represented the company. He said the company was looking for a junior industrial designer with up to three years of experience and an intern.

More than 80 SCAD students registered for the fair, posting their portfolios online for the employers. Jimenez said he wanted to talk to students with critical thinking skills who are passionate about their career goals.

“I want to know how a student thinks about a problem,” Jimenez said.

> The AJC’s complete coronanvirus coverage

Heather Morrison, 23, completed her BBA degree in management this month from Kennesaw State University. She joined the university’s virtual job fair Thursday, uploading her resume beforehand. Employers waited in chat rooms where they talked with students in groups, or one-on-one in private sessions. Morrison wondered about the possibility of finding a position because many management jobs require on-site work and, well, most offices are closed.

Morrison said one company scheduled a follow-up telephone call next week.

“I do feel like I have options,” she said after the fair.

Spelman College students talk to recruiters during a career fair shortly before the coronavirus pandemic. College officials say many companies are still interested in recruiting Spelman students despite the economic downturn created by the pandemic. CONTRIBUTED
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Harold Bell, Spelman’s director of career planning, disagrees with much of the “doom and gloom” talk about the current market for graduates. Spelman, often ranked as the nation’s top historically black college, traditionally draws recruiters from top companies such as JPMorgan Chase, IBM and Deloitte who have hired some students this semester and are discussing networking opportunities. The college has 135 virtual events scheduled between May and August, he said, mostly by employers.

“You have to have new talent coming in,” Bell explained.

Bell said some companies have withdrawn internships because they cannot be done virtually. At Spelman, advisers are encouraging students to consider volunteering or asking if a job can be done remotely, said Brandi Taylor, the college’s research and training manager.

Spelman is extending its virtual career services for graduates, which include resume reviews and job search strategies. UGA has scheduled several online workshops in June to help students network with graduates. Georgia State has scheduled a career fair next month for graduates. Advisers are encouraging students to keep applying for jobs.

Harold Bell is the director of Spelman College’s Career Planning Office. CONTRIBUTED
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

“You want to be in the (employer’s) queue,” Bell said.

Burstiner, the new UGA graduate, remains optimistic about his job search.

“There’s not a ton we can do,” he said. “Put your head down. Stay on the grind. Be positive.”

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