Helping Arts and Sciences students find career success despite economic downturn

Thembi Dube

Thembekile Dube, an Ohio State Fund for Scholarships recipient, poses in graduation cap and stole on the Columbus campus.


Thembekile Dube graduated in May with a Bachelor of Science in biology, a minor in Spanish and a challenge of finding a job in the middle of a global pandemic.

“I was a little nervous,” she said. “I’m still currently looking for a job, which has been a little difficult.”

Dube is hoping to find a position with a nonprofit focused on community health in minority neighborhoods. However, she’s run into a frustrating trend, saying even when organizations have job openings posted on their websites or popular job boards, they’ve often turned out to be in a hiring freeze.

Throughout her time at Ohio State and now during her ongoing hunt, Dube has turned to the Center for Career and Professional Success (Career Success). The center has pivoted its services to meet the altered needs of students, providing virtual guidance, resources and networking opportunities to support young Arts and Sciences Buckeyes as they continue to take their first steps to building a career.

Brian Guerrero, senior director of Center Success, says he’s seen three significant changes in student and recent graduate employment as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In many cases, students who have secured offers are now being onboarded remotely — learning the ropes, meeting colleagues and becoming familiar with the culture from a distance.

But the two other situations are what Guerrero is most concerned about and where Career Success is focusing its efforts: students who are either still on the job hunt or who have received — and in some cases accepted — offers that have since been rescinded. According to Career Success, the 2020 graduating class saw an increase of about 13% in students still seeking an opportunity at graduation when compared to the average over the previous two years. 

“There are a significant number of our students that are still seeking,” Guerrero said. “It’s about half of the class of 2020.”

2020 Graduates

As 2020 graduates enter the job market, the Center for Career and Professional Success is providing the support students need to navigate challenging circumstances.

He said that in a recent survey, students across the country listed finding a good career as their highest priority only behind the wellbeing of their family and their own personal health.

“So it’s clear to me that this is a top priority and interest of our students and that we need to be there to help them with these challenges,” Guerrero said. “We wanted to show up with a deep sense of care.”

For Dube, that’s meant working with career coach Brandy Williams, who specializes in assisting students looking to go into nonprofits. Williams has helped Dube prepare her resume and cover letters and provided additional support.

Dube was first introduced to Career Success as a first-year student through her Program for Advancing Scholarship and Service (PASS) membership, but she really started utilizing the center during her senior year, when she co-founded the student organization Young Black Professionals and requested presentations on interviewing and resume-building.

“We got a lot of information from them, and they really showed us how to use Handshake (a career-networking platform for Ohio State students and recent graduates) and all of the resources on the website,” Dube said. “I’m still currently using them now.”

Dube poses under "Congrats" balloonsDube with a 2020 planner

Career Success has transitioned all of its services, including appointments, into virtual formats. Before the end of spring semester, it hosted three career fairs as part of a new Virtual Week. The center will launch a follow-up initiative later this month called Your Summer, Your Success, which will connect students and recent graduates with organizations, alumni and industry partners that are giving advice about career advancement, providing training or sharing job openings. Additionally, the center has launched a new podcast, Getting Ahead with Career Success, and is creating YouTube videos aligned with the current needs of students.

Many recent graduates are looking inward and asking how they should be spending this time, Guerrero said. He advised that though now may be a good moment to focus on additional skill development, it’s also important to remember the bigger picture and that this situation is not their fault.

“There are some things that their education has given them, like a growth mindset, like grit and resilience, that will help them get through this period,” Guerrero said. “These are things that are part and parcel of our liberal arts education that have really prepared them to navigate very gray waters.”

He said Arts and Sciences students are caring and keenly curious about the world, which enables them to be creative in how they’re thinking about their career paths while also remembering the humanistic emphasis of a liberal arts education.

Dube has embraced that attitude, first by shifting her desired career path after taking a class called “Race and Medicine” that highlighted the disparities in health care for different communities, and now, despite the frustrations, staying committed to her plan to move to West Covina, California, at the end of June. She hopes to go back to school at some point for her master’s in public health.

“I’m used to change and I like change, and I think that’s the aspect I’m most looking forward to,” Dube said, “just being in a different environment.”

5 Tips for Career and Professional Success from Brian Guerrero:

  1. Be introspective and reflective. What do you see as your impact in the world, and how does that align with your interest and values? Use that as your guiding compass.
  2. In May, over 200 new organizations were looking to hire, according to Handshake. There is opportunity out there; you just have to find it and take time to be very deliberate and thoughtful. When companies downsize, it’s often those who are seasoned professionals who are asked to leave the organization, and to fill that talent gap, most organizations look to college hires because not only are they nimble and flexible and eager and motivated, they also cost probably less.
  3. This is the time to be building your network informally without necessarily thinking that all of those relationships will lead to a job. Think about how you can build what I call your “board of directors” — people to whom you look for insight and advice. This is the time to be going on LinkedIn, see where our alumni are that you don’t know, and start to create spaces of conversations with them about their trajectory and how to set yourself up for success.
  4. Now is the time to be open, and so while we always wanted Path A, and Path A was always our main focus, now is the time to talk about possibilities, and this is where we think about transformational experiences. Now is the time to pivot. Is there Path B? Is there Path C? Let’s not isolate ourselves to one idea and hold that idea as if it’s the only truth that will be your success. Major doesn’t equal career, and sometimes when you are learning something new, you realize you can find fulfillment in something you never expected.
  5. Remember a time when you felt like you fell or failed? You leaned on people who at that point gave you additional support and resources, and that is exactly what Career Success does. I want students to remember they are not on the journey alone, and whatever kind of failure they’ve experienced in the past, they need to remember that they got up and moved forward. A career is about a lifetime of opportunity; it's not just limited to within the next six months.