The Graduate Diaries

TGD #4: I Lost My First Job Because of Coronavirus

My five-year plan certainly never included a global viral pandemic.

When I made the decision to graduate a semester early from college, I knew I was ready. I took my graduation pictures in front of my university’s chapel in November, smiling and tossing the tassel on my cap from side to side. Everything had fallen perfectly into place. 

Not only was I on the brink of completing my college career, but as I grinned and tilted my head for my photos, I had just gotten the call that for the next six months, I would be working for one of my favorite magazines in one of my favorite cities. 

The decision to take the internship position had been easy. Rather than going into a full-time job right away, I had time to ease myself – and my parents – into the idea of adulthood. This was my trial run in the real world, my head start in my career. 

In January, when my friends and classmates were returning to their dorm rooms, I was moving into a brand new apartment and learning a new commute, so busy I barely had time to miss college. Starting a new job, especially a first job, is overwhelming in the best and worst ways. 

By mid-March, I was beginning to settle into the role. I had patterns and routines and deadlines, knew where I was supposed to be and when, and finally began to shake off some of my newness. The spring calendar was packed with brand events, led by the release of the next issue. My main project was gearing up for an April start, and I was ready to run with it as an opportunity to prove myself. 

Then everything changed – for everyone. Events were being cancelled left and right. Rather than GIFs and silly distractions, our Slack channel was full of the latest CDC guidelines and links to articles about the spread of the novel coronavirus. The local school district cancelled classes, and in a matter of days, our CEO announced that we would be closing the office.

From the seasoned writers on the editorial team to the cheerful, fun-loving women I was surrounded by in the marketing department, we were suddenly scrambling to figure out how to work from home. As an intern, I spent huge chunks of my day mailing packages, running errands, and responding to “can you come here for a second?” calls from my managers. 

This was not a good sign. 

That Friday, I got the email I had been subconsciously preparing for.  I had already seen fellow journalism grads beginning to lament the loss of fellowships and summer opportunities. “End of Internship,” read the subject line. 

The rest of the email was polite and apologetic, explaining that the coronavirus had robbed us of the same “classroom experience” that other intern cohorts had received. It wouldn’t be fair to keep us on to intern-from-home indefinitely. 

There was a quick reminder about the lack of unemployment benefits available to us, and then a sign-off. That was that. I’d lost my first job.

When I made the decision to graduate a semester early from college, my friends asked if my internship was my dream job. I said yes. I was living in a city I loved, working for a publication I actually read, and adjusting to the “real world” in a way that felt manageable. 

Now I have an apartment lease that has to be paid, regardless of the fact that I’m quarantining with my parents, and more time on my hands than I know what to do with.

“Well, now you’re joining the ranks of unemployed college grads,” my dad joked when I broke the news. 

I’m absolutely grateful not to work an essential job right now. My heart goes out to every first responder and healthcare provider, every food service worker, and every one of the more than 6.6 million Americans who filed for unemployment last week – and that’s just the number for my own country.

But I’m still joining the ranks of “unemployed college grads,” which are about to swell as the class of 2020 enters the job market. In a recession, graduates accept jobs that pay 10% less on average, according to MarketWatch

That’s not to mention the fact that many of us, whether we’re waiting to graduate unceremoniously, working our first job from home, or scrolling LinkedIn when we know that hiring is the furthest thing from most employers’ minds, are living with our parents again.

My five-year plan certainly never included a global viral pandemic. I find myself asking “what’s next?” like Jed Bartlet on The West Wing, which I am binge-watching in my pajamas while social distancing. What’s next for me feels like a whole lot of uncertainty. 

There are a thousand ways to interpret the effects of this pandemic. For me, this is a lesson in flexibility, in networking, and in productivity or lack thereof. 

Like every other currently struggling graduate and graduate-to-be, I’m sure I’ll add these new skills to my resume – anything to explain away the strange uncertainty of these next few months.

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