Persistence and a little bit of luck: Finding a job during the pandemic

For members of the Class of 2021, landing their first job has been a bit more challenging than during a regular year. Last year’s summer internships, which often lead to full-time offers, were either remote or revoked for many students. This year’s career fairs and in-person networking events were also moved online and companies were uncertain about hiring prospects.

Still, seniors are showing their resilience, graduating with exciting offers and embracing the next part of their journey.

Ethan Wu
Ethan Wu

Ethan Wu ’21 will start this summer as a markets reporting fellow with Business Insider in New York City, a job he was able to secure after a rigorous application process with the Dow Jones News Fund.

“This is exactly what I want to do so I’m excited about this work,” said Wu, who was an economics major and opinion page editor at the Cornell Daily Sun. Although he didn’t have a high school newspaper background, Wu discovered journalism at the Sun and saw how his skills aligned with reporting. “I’m good at synthesizing information, asking questions, absorbing things and putting them out in a digestible way.  I enjoy learning complicated information and explaining it to my friends.”

Wu experienced a common dilemma last summer — he had a spreadsheet of  30 internship possibilities lined up with links, deadlines and contact information. He’d done his research, written customized cover letters and received four interviews and two offers, including one at a great publication. He was all set, until the pandemic hit and that position was canceled. Fortunately, he was able to scramble and line up a great remote position with Adweek, with some of his expenses paid by a Summer Experience Grant from the College.

This spring, as he looked for full-time work, the hiring process seemed more stable. 

“I’ve been surprised by the amount of normalcy,” he said. “There are postings, you apply for them. It’s all done remotely, but it’s a smooth process.”

Elizabeth Bundschuh ’21 graduated early in December and has already started a post-graduate research position at Yale as she takes a gap year before medical school.

Because of her interests in global health, Bundschuh was planning to spend the summer of 2020 in Malawi with a program researching malnutrition, but the pandemic canceled those plans just as she was about to purchase her plane tickets (with help from a College Summer Experience Grant). Instead, she spent last summer studying for the MCATs and teaching kids in a virtual summer camp.

As her graduation approached, she scoured the weekly emails sent out by Cornell’s Career Services office for post-grad positions. Normally she would have looked for something international, but those opportunities were understandably absent. On top of that, while post-grad listings are numerous in the spring, they’re more sparse in the fall. So, she also had friends check job listing boards at other schools. She applied to a bunch of opportunities and then “it came down to a lot of waiting.”

“I went to the career center a lot to get help with my cover letters, “ she said. “It’s such a skill to write them.” She also did practice interviews, which helped her feel more confident in real ones.

At Yale, Bundschuh works in a molecular biology lab with a pulmonologist studying disease pathology in the lungs. It’s completely different than the work she did as an undergrad in the lab of Professor Natasza Kurpios at the Cornell College of Veterinary Medicine, but Bundschuh said her undergrad experience helped her learn about the lab equipment and protocols and the general mindset that “science is hard.”

“One of the most important things I learned is that science will be frustrating and you need to persevere,” she said. “I know that it’s OK not to know things. I know how to approach an environment where I don’t understand something, how to ask questions, review the literature and gain a better understanding.”

person debating
Tomas Greenberg, right, delivers a debate during a Spanish Debate Team meeting

Tomas Greenberg ’21 will start a position this summer with Fostering Change for Children in New York City as a Children's Corps Member, where he’ll work with young adults in the foster care system.

Considering a law career, Greenberg interned with an immigration attorney after his sophomore year, then returned to campus and discovered a strong interest in psychology, which he paired with his Spanish major.

Last summer, he interned at a Manhattan organization working with children who have autism and other diagnoses, which cemented his interest in a job helping others.

It’s more difficult finding companies hiring for these type of jobs at career fairs or in traditional job listings, so Greenberg turned to sites like Idealist and used personal connections in the city to find opportunities.

His language skills in Spanish definitely paid off. “The Cornell Spanish Debate Team was instrumental in improving my Spanish. I’m fluent now,” he said. “I hope that in my job I’ll be able to work with Spanish speaking clients.”

All of the grads said they would encourage other students to pursue what they are curious about while at Cornell, even if they are in areas they never thought about before. And when it comes time to apply for a job, cast a wide net.

“Have confidence that you are a good applicant and don’t take it personally if someone doesn’t pick you,” Bundschuh said. “Be patient and wait for an opportunity that’s good for you.”

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person in lab
Elizabeth Bundschuh