Taylor Schneider was loving everything about her yearlong marketing internship with a local business when the world was upended by COVID-19.
The UW-Eau Claire senior — an integrated strategic communication major with an emphasis in public relations and a graphic design minor — has been interning in the marketing department at the National Business Institute in Altoona since June.
“I have loved every minute of it,” says Schneider, a native of Durand who will graduate from UW-Eau Claire in May. “Every day is different, but I spent a majority of my time designing ads for social media, monitoring our Google AdWords account and assisting on integrated campaigns.”
When the pandemic disrupted normal business operations at NBI and most other workplaces, Schneider’s internship continued but in a whole new way.
Now she is working from home, collaborating with her colleagues and mentors via technologies like Microsoft Teams and Adobe Connect.
And, since NBI cannot currently host seminars across the country because of COVID-19, Schneider is helping the business meet a new need — a rapidly growing demand for webinars.
“I am now being trained on how to be a moderator for our national webinars,” says Schneider, who moved back to Durand to live with her family during Wisconsin’s Safer at Home order. “My schedule is a little crazy right now and there aren't any set hours I'm working. Once I can run the webinars on my own, I will have a set schedule of when I am moderating and when I am not.”
While it wasn’t easy to adjust to the virtual format and new duties, the unexpected changes to her internship are helping her develop new skills and gain even more confidence in her abilities, she says.
“This situation has really taught me how to be adaptable,” Schneider says. “I'm living at home for the first time in four years, working remotely and in a role I've never had before. The positive of this whole situation is that I am learning that everything doesn't always go the way you planned, and I've learned that I'm able to adapt.
“I'm blessed to have my background in graphic design, which helps me navigate new technology, and I've enjoyed learning how to use new programs.”
Schneider’s positive attitude during an obviously uncertain and stressful time for college seniors is typical of many of the Blugolds that she is connecting with this spring, says Staci Heidtke, associate director of Career Services at UW-Eau Claire.
“Many Blugolds who are in internships or looking for internships or jobs are nervous right now,” Heidtke says. “But instead of panicking, many are reaching out for advice, finding opportunities to use their skills in new ways and thinking about how they can use what they are learning from their experiences this semester to make themselves stand out even more when talking with potential employers.”
Finding an internship or a first job in the current climate will not be easy, but UW-Eau Claire’s spring 2020 graduates do have reason to be cautiously optimistic, Heidtke says.
“Blugolds have strong foundational skills and are resilient,” Heidtke says. “It might take longer but I believe it will eventually work out for them.”
The job market landscape looks different this spring, but much of the advice Heidtke is sharing with soon-to-be graduates is the same.
“I tell any new graduate to persist — don’t give up,” Heidtke says. “Make a plan for the job search and be open-minded about opportunities. What might not be your dream job could be a wonderful first job. Use your resources. Career Services, Handshake, LinkedIn and faculty are all good networking tools and useful ways to connect with employers and alumni who might be hiring.”
Heidtke also is encouraging new graduates to think outside the box when considering how their skill set might align with an industry that is hiring because of needs created by the pandemic.
“If you want to work in legal studies, apply for a job in telehealth,” she says. “Think about how to get started in an area that interests you, even if it’s in a way that might not be obvious.”
Employers routinely tell her that they look for new graduates who have strong communication skills, the ability to think creatively and to solve problems, and a willingness to learn new things, Heidtke says.
Blugolds are building all those skills as they navigate online learning, adjust to unexpected changes to their internships and manage the new realities that come with Safer at Home and other policies put in place to combat the coronavirus, Heidtke says.
“During a job search, Blugolds can emphasize their ability to adapt to quickly changing circumstances, which is so valuable in the work world,” Heidtke says. “Problem-solving and organizational skills are also relevant skills to today’s job search. Students are certainly using different technologies as online learners, and again, this is a valued career competency.”
Job searches and interviews now are being done virtually, but what employers expect of applicants has not really changed, Heidtke says.
“Whether we are in a pandemic or not, there are things that students need to do when applying or interviewing for any internship or a job,” Heidtke says. “The interview may be virtual, but the employers will be looking for the same kinds of things.”
Job applicants should tailor their resume and cover letters to each position they apply for and explain how their education, knowledge and skills match the employer’s needs.
Career Services has many resources available to students to use as they craft resumes and cover letters and prepare for virtual interviews, including virtual mock interview sessions with career counselors.
An estimated 15-20 percent of employers have rescinded job or internship offers because of COVID-19, Heidtke says.
Those numbers are concerning, but there is some encouraging news for Blugolds. In recent weeks, more than 3,000 jobs and internships have been posted to UW-Eau Claire’s Handshake, a software program that supports students, alumni and employers during job or internship searches.
Another positive for students is that even before the pandemic, a growing number of businesses and organizations were moving toward virtual internships, Heidtke says.
“Virtual internships already were a growing trend,” Heidtke says. “More places are seeing the value of offering them. Now, we are seeing some employers who had offered students internships are converting their in-person internships to remote internship assignments.”
With virtual internships, interns do their work remotely, communicating and collaborating with supervisors and colleagues using various video and other technologies.
That format can be helpful to students because it allows them to complete an internship while still taking classes so they stay on track to graduate, provides them with real-world experience and can save them money since they do not have to relocate.
To better support May 2020 graduates, Career Services has revamped some of its programming and introduced new resources, Heidtke says.
For example, a career counselor created a webinar series that focuses on topics that include: “The Job Search and COVID,” “The What and How of Virtual Internships,” “Navigating Interviews During COVID” and “Five Tips to Build Your Network Without Leaving Your Couch.”
“The webinars are chock full of good information, and we leave time for student questions at the end,” Heidtke says, noting that the number of Blugolds participating continues to grow each week.
In addition to spring graduates, Career Services also has programming in place for UW-Eau Claire alumni whose jobs may have been impacted by the pandemic, Heidtke says.
This spring, Career Services partnered with the UW-Eau Claire Alumni Association to remind graduates that the university offers alumni lifelong career counseling services and resources.
Already, more than two dozen alumni have responded by creating profiles in Handshake, using UW-Eau Claire’s jobs and internships portal and accessing job-search resources.
“We are here to help Blugolds in any way we can, regardless of where they are in their careers,” Heidtke says. “We want our students and our alumni to know that we are here and ready to help.”
While Schneider is optimistic about her future career, she says it is reassuring to know that UW-Eau Claire has resources in place to support her as she looks for her first job.
“The biggest challenge that I'm facing right now is the unknown,” Schneider says. “Two months ago I was confident in where I was going to go after graduation, and now, I no longer have that security.
“Trying to enter a job market after graduation is going to be harder than anyone in the class of 2020 could have ever expected.”
For now, she is applying for jobs and considering potential next steps as she waits to see how the job market might evolve in the coming weeks and months.
“A lot is still up in the air for me,” Schneider says. “However, the one thing I do know is that I have found the right field for me. I hope to combine my love of design and communication into my dream job.”
Photo caption: Senior Taylor Schneider's internship moved from in-person to virtual because of the pandemic.