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Belmont alumni discuss difficulties in the COVID-19 job market

Recent Belmont graduate Autumn Johnson did not imagine her post-graduate life would look anything like this.

Johnson expected employment — even if it wasn’t exactly her dream job — right away, she said. Instead, the former music business student found herself catapulted into a virus-riddled recession.

“I didn’t transition from being a student to being a full-time worker. I transitioned from being a student to being nothing. That kind of messes with your brain a little bit,” said Johnson.

“Suddenly, you have literally nothing.”

She’s not alone. Nearly 4 million people graduated from college this year, according to the National Center for Education. And each is entering a workforce with lofty unemployment rates alongside businesses completely shutting down due to COVID-19.

For Johnson, this reality meant losing three jobs.

During the school year, the Belmont alumni juggled two jobs on campus with part-time work as a server at Panera Bread. But as the virus spread to Nashville in March, suddenly her three sources of incomes disappeared completely.

“That was rough. I am lucky enough that my parents were able to help me out in the meantime. It all just happened so fast,” said Johnson.

Since then, Johnson has been scouring Linkedin and Indeed for jobs. She’s broadened her search from full-time positions in artist management, her preferred field, to anything available, including temporary work, she said.

In times of dismay, she turned to Belmont’s Career Services for advice and some encouragement.

Director of the Office of Career and Professional Development Mary Claire Dismukes encourages graduates to focus on the things in their control, she said.

“Now is a great time for job-seekers to research and build their strategy, to prepare their tools and boost their resume with specific additional skills or technical training that may be needed,” said Dismukes. “And focus on outreach to make sure they’re fully equipped when the job market does open.”

Having worked in the 2008 recession, Dismukes uses her knowledge from previous economic downturns to fuel her advice to alumni, she said.

“Even though a global pandemic is a different situation, it still requires that same need for candidates to develop their skills, their adaptability and their innovation.”

For graduates like Matthew Estevez, that means accepting jobs that aren’t necessarily in their chosen field of study.

Although the 2020 songwriting graduate has filled out around 100 applications, the lack of job vacancies in the music industry has led him to look elsewhere.

“It’s been difficult to learn that I need to get a side job that has nothing to do with music, since there’s no concerts, no touring,” said Estevez.

“Belmont didn’t really teach us about that: what to do before you make it or what to do to make ends meet before you make it.”

The fear of spreading COVID-19 made his job search even more difficult. With an immunocompromised mother, Estevez was limited to searching for jobs that allow remote options, he said.

So when a remote opportunity to transcribe audio for a tech company became available, he signed up. Although it’s not songwriting or performing, it’s a good way to get a paycheck from home, he said.

Taking a job unrelated to your career path of choice is exactly the right thing to do in this market, said Dismukes.

“While that might feel difficult, it is still something that will build their skills and help them in the long run,” she said.

Alumni Katie Bieri has felt the difficulty of transitioning to a comfortable job within her industry to picking up nannying gigs to make ends meet.

Bieri graduated with a degree in music business from Belmont in 2019 and quickly transitioned into a job with William Morris Endeavor, a prominent talent agency.

But Beiri fell victim to the slew of COVID-19 layoffs this June after working a year for the company.

“It definitely hurt. It was an emotional couple of days after it happened,” said Beiri. “But, realizing we are going through a pandemic and live music isn’t playing, so it’s not our fault.”

With this realization, Bieri decided to make the most of her unemployment by networking with music industry professionals and spending time with her family.

Johnson, too, is able to find a silver lining in her unemployment.

Although it is not at all what she imagined for herself, it’s a time to rest. Something she didn’t have before, she said.

Along with saving money and starting job applications early, Johnson advises students nearing graduation to try and remain positive about their prospects.

“Whatever time you have without a job, don’t waste all of it worrying. Take it in stride and take it as a gift to rest.”

This article written by Kendall Crawford.

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