New graduates scramble to find work amid COVID-19's job drought

This graduation season is hard to recognize -- virtual goodbyes and nothing but crickets on campus. But even quieter than the college ghost towns is the barren field of opportunity. 

The "Pandemic Class" is diving into a job drought.

LinkedIn analysis revealed the hiring rate plummeted more than 20 percent in April from an already depressed level in March.

Georgia Tech graduate Sarajane Crawford locked in a job as a systems engineer last winter.

"That was like the one thing I knew was certain, and then it wasn't certain anymore," Crawford said.

A few weeks before graduation, she got word that her job no longer stands; the global communications company, OneWeb, went bankrupt.

And Crawford's not alone.

"I've noticed a lot of my LinkedIn feed was a lot of people losing their jobs, and a lot of people panicking," Crawford told FOX 5's Emilie Ikeda via Zoom. "I felt that panic right as I lost my job, I was like, I have to get a job, I need to act soon before the jobs start to run out."

Fortunately, Crawford has since landed another offer, though with a less ideal title. But a job's a job, and Crawford is ecstatic about the opportunity. Some of her friends had offers rescinded as recently as last week.

Research shows graduating during an economic downturn can carry long-term effects. A Stanford study concluded "Recession Graduates" often make lower earnings for 10 to 15 years.

Fears around success post-graduation exist among younger classes as well.

Internship opportunities are seemingly even more sparse. Haley Bartoletta's dream of interning at FOX 5 or other news outlets won't come to fruition this summer.

"I can understand why they can't accept interns, but at the same time it's vital for students to get this kind of experience because you're not going to get this in the classroom," Bartoletta said.

The student-athlete said her demanding practice schedule really only allows for internships during the summer season, and she was hoping to have multiple internships under her belt before jumping into the competitive field of broadcast journalism. 

"I'm hoping that doesn't affect my career path, and that doesn't delay my progress later on," Bartoletta added.

Universities are attempting to lend a helping hand, turning to technology to beat out the bleak job market.

SCAD Atlanta, for example, transitioned to a virtual career fair this Spring with 15 participating companies.

The schools boasts a 99 percent employment rate (within 10 months of graduation), according to Audra Pittman, SCAD Atlanta's vice president. Pittman said even amid the pandemic, the school is aiming for a similar success rate, acknowledging they will have to be more involved than ever in helping students "create" room for opportunity.

"Maybe there's an opportunity we've never seen before because we're so focused on face-to-face contact," Pittman said. "Think about ways that you can assist a company, that you can assist a brand, put your portfolio out there, make cold calls, reach out, and you just never know what could happen."

Pittman urged students to be vulnerable during their job search. If you lost a position as a result of the pandemic, don't be afraid to share your story on LinkedIn. Reach out to university alumni services to help with networking.

Above all, administrators encourage students to be flexible and creative.

Though, there are some bright spots among the grim job market. LinkedIn recorded a slight increase in the hiring rate in April for the high-tech hardware and networking industry; this includes wireless companies and makers of computer equipment.

It's also worth noting, public safety and education saw markedly milder declines in the hiring rate last month.