Queen’s students find different career paths in face of pandemic uncertainty

Two students talk job search difficulties

A generation of students navigate uncertain job prospects.
This article discusses mental illness and may be triggering for some readers. The Canadian Mental Health Association Crisis Line can be reached at 1-800-875-6213.
Each election cycle, Canadian youth hear promises of gainful employment. but COVID-19 has caused a deep schism between those who are seeking employment and the available jobs on the market.
Despite rising employment rates in Canada following the pandemic, young people face the slowest rebound. 
For many graduating and current students at post-secondary institutions across the country, there has been an increase in anxiety surrounding the uncertain job market. 
“Everything went to hell with COVID, I couldn’t even find a remote job in my second year,” Taylor*, Comm ’22, said in an interview with The Journal.
As a first-year, Taylor couldn’t gain relevant work experience in the finance industry. No one was hiring first-year students. She had to rely on waitressing and working at bars. 
“The few interviews I did have, they loved my grades, but it was my experience which held me back. Firms really wanted paid internship experience and [extracurriculars] did not help in my experience.”
As a student who’s currently studying abroad, Taylor couldn’t rely on personal connections; she had to be creative in her job search. 
“Instead of just applying to job openings, I found companies that I would really love to work at, and I just sent in an email.”  
Individuals seeking a career in finance or banking understand the importance of networking and the value it can bring to the job search. COVID-19 has made creating new networks more difficult and less accessible for many.   
“I am much more personable in real life, and Zoom can impact that [...] I feel like it is really hard to do coffee chats with people, and because everyone is working from home it feels a little bit less formal and people are less likely to want to hop on a zoom call,” Taylor explained
Taylor noticed the job market has also seen a rise of unpaid internships.
“[Unpaid internships] can be quite exploitative,” Taylor said. 
According to Taylor, even paid internships can undercompensate their workers. Taylor said her current research position requires 35 hours of work per week. 
“I am only getting paid for 18 hours. But it is completely legal since they are a non-profit organization.” 
Some students feel Queen’s resources haven’t been helpful in the jobhunt.
“I don’t know if I wasn’t able to see it or access it, but a lot of the fourth-year emails I got weren’t really personalized or gave direct resources,” Emily Clare Elliot, ArtSci ‘21, told The Journal.
“I also did not know who to reach out to, and the thirty-minute academic advising sessions weren’t very helpful in my case since I was looking into journalism post-graduate programs.” 
Combined with jobs resources, mental health resources offered by Queen’s have disappointed some, especially during the pandemic. 
“The lack of control I experienced this year was debilitating,” Elliot said. “I lost three jobs in one day.” 
“I don’t want to hate on Student Wellness, but they weren’t there for me, so I had to go to the private system, causing me to gain some debt.”
Elliot recalled an experience where a Student Wellness Services counsellor didn’t feel comfortable supporting her.
However, she said the blame isn’t on the people working at SWS, but rather the system in which they work that does not allow for adequate support to be given to students.  
“One of the Student Wellness Services counselors said, ‘I can’t help you,’ so I had no choice but to go private. I was paying $140 per 45-minute therapy session, which is not tax deductible,” said Elliot.
Due to the pandemic, both Taylor and Elliot were prompted to consider graduate studies. Elliot chose to pursue a master’s degree in journalism from a leading institution. 
“COVID made me say, ‘let’s choose option number three and go straight into more education,’” Elliot explained. 
Like many students, Elliot has learned the importance of navigating uncertainties about the future with a backup plan. Elliot noted that it’s important for people to learn from past mistakes and be prepared for anything. 
*Name has been changed to protect the safety of the interviewee

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