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Careers During COVID-19: Traditional Tactics Prevail

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For the better part of five months, prospective job seekers have been navigating a labor market ravaged by a public health crisis. Even as professional associations embrace virtual offerings and employers build out their work-from-home strategies, many are finding hope in tried-and-true traditional methods - networking and career services.

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Alexa Brenner MPP '20

“I was super stressed, and a lot of my close friends were too,” said Alexa Brenner MPP ’20, when asked about her job prospects in April. Brenner graduated in the spring into a labor force that saw a 26.9% unemployment rate in April for 16 to 24 year olds, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Employers froze their hiring and businesses shuttered or moved online across the nation. 

But work still had to be done. Companies who left their physical offices in a flurry mid-March have grown accustomed to the necessary realities of working from home, and the resumption of economic activity in July saw the number of employed youth rise by 4.4 million, or 33.5%. Career advisers and professional organizations shifted their strategies to online offerings. The Association of Professional Schools of International Affairs (APSIA) held its annual career reception online for the first time in the event’s history, and had over 275 attendees. UMDPolicyJobs, an SPP-exclusive portal of policy-relevant internships, jobs and employer contacts, currently has over 500 opportunities, in addition to the University’s Careers4Terps offerings. 

“In the spring it was mostly damage control, there was a lot of uncertainty,” said Bryan Kempton, director of career services and alumni relations at the School. Now, in mid-August, there’s a better understanding of potential positions in the job market and how to find them. “Employers are ready for the fall.” 

With the help of Kempton, Brenner worked the SPP network. She completed four to five informational interviews a week through connections Kempton made with her on LinkedIn, joined 10 different virtual breakout rooms during APSIA’s Career Reception to meet with potential employers, and wrote hundreds of cover letters. 

“My philosophy was that now, my full-time job was finding a job, and I was going to take advantage of everything possible until something came my way,” said Brenner.

Eventually, one of those LinkedIn connections worked out -- Brenner will be joining an international development team as a research analyst.

“The pandemic has reinforced the importance of traditional networking,” said Kempton. “It might take place in a different manner, the communication might look different and it might feel different. But the basic tenets of networking - who you know, how you reach out to them, how you build your network - have stayed the same.”

Heading into the fall semester, students should look out for and take advantage of new virtual offerings created in response to the pandemic. Tools like LinkedIn and Zoom play a more critical role now that ever before, allowing students to make connections they otherwise wouldn’t have. 

The importance of persistence, human connection, and following up remains the foundation to success. Job seekers will benefit from growing and leveraging their existing networks as they search for new opportunities.

“I wouldn’t have this job if I never sent that email,” said Brenner. “I wouldn’t have this job if Bryan hadn’t originally connected me to the woman I ended up talking to. I’m really grateful for that.”

UMDPolicyJobs is an exclusive resource for SPP students, giving them access to hundreds of policy-relevant opportunities. Updated daily, it facilitates employer-student interaction and is a key starting point for any policy-related internship or job search. Contact Bryan Kempton at or Theo Caruthers at for more information about career services.

Visit the events calendar for upcoming virtual career services events

For Media Inquiries:
Megan Campbell
Senior Director of Strategic Communications
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