Toppel Career Center is helping students find positions amid pandemic

Graduating seniors and other students can land jobs and internships even amid the pandemic — if they keep an open mind, says the executive director of the Toppel Career Center.

“The worst thing students can do during this time is have a lot of criteria when looking for job,” Christian Garcia said. “When you do that, you see the positions just diminishing and diminishing,”

Garcia, also an associate dean, compares the current job market to the recession of 2009, especially for students.

“This is not the time to be picky,” he said.

But finding employment in a country coming out of a pandemic can be grueling, said Justin Arenas, a senior motion pictures production major.

“I was already stressed about this process even before the pandemic, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve spent having a crisis over whether I am going to have something lined up after graduation,” Arenas said.

Garcia offered advice for students looking to start the job search from scratch. Employers are indeed looking to hire, even though it may not seem so, he said.

“What we’ve heard more from employers is, ‘we’re doing a wait and see approach’ ” in terms their long term planning,” Garcia said. “The majority of the organizations that were able to pivot to a virtual environment were really able to honor the commitments they made to students with internships pre-COVID,” he said.

Toppel also had to transition to a fully virtual environment when COVID-19 first hit, Garcia said.

“We ramped up our marketing efforts to make sure we’re not just pushing it out to students but making sure faculty and staff across campus know we are available,” Garcia said.

Natalie Gee, a sophomore business tech major, reached out to Toppel to help her find a summer internship. She emailed her adviser to get a referral and set up a Zoom meeting with the center.

“I was so lost in the whole finding-an-internship process and needed to build my resume,” Gee said. “I got lots of insight with how I should present myself professionally and what changes I needed to make on my resume to then post on LinkedIn. They told me to add UM to my bio and make it clear in my description what kind of work I’m looking for so employers can find me when they search the site.”

Garcia said he’d like to see more students using Toppel because of its services to guide, teach and adjust to the new job market. Toppel recently introduced “The 8-Step Job Search Toolkit,” a workbook for students and recent alumni to be better organized, make connections and improve interview techniques.

“What I always tell students is, you have this great resource included in your tuition, and it’s important to start using us early on and not wait too long,” Garcia said.

But he also said students need to do a lot more self-promotion during the pandemic.

“Everybody in your life needs to know you’re looking for a job,” he said. “It’s about not being shy about telling others you are looking for a job. The more people that know, the better your chances.”

UM’s alumni network offers advantages as well for job-seeking Canes, Garcia added.

Arenas said his entertainment industry network tells him to be patient.

“Things are slowly opening up, but everyone and their mother are applying to jobs,” Arenas said. “So the competition is worse than ever before.”

“I’ve been told to keep applying, meet as many people as possible, and don’t take anything personally,” he said. “It’s going to take some time.”

Madison Bitting contributed to this report.

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