Carnegie Mellon University
April 17, 2020

CMU Career Center Adapts to Help Students Facing Uncertain Summer

By Jason Maderer

Jason Maderer
  • Marketing & Communications
  • 412-268-1151

Around mid-March, the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) polled its members about their response to the coronavirus epidemic. Ninety percent of responding employers expected to maintain their internship programs without change. By the last week of March, that number dropped to 74 percent. At the start of April, results were even more dramatic: Only 35 percent reported moving forward with on-site internships as planned.

It's one of many reasons why Carnegie Mellon University's Career and Professional Development Center (CPDC) has altered its regular services to ensure students are best poised to land internships or post-graduation jobs in a COVID-19 world.

"The sooner graduates accept the new employment landscape, the better," said CPDC Director Kevin Monahan. "What worked for friends in summer 2019 may not work for new grads this summer. When students accept that reality, they can move forward in their planning and actions quicker than those who wish and hope for a return to former times."

Monahan and his team of 26 have already hosted several webinars for hundreds of students. One recent offering, on April 9, featured representatives from five companies that typically hire Carnegie Mellon graduates. The industry panelists shared insight into the current hiring and recruiting landscape and tips of how to manage stress while searching for opportunities.

The webinar was held shortly after CPDC staff polled nearly 200 of CMU's top employers about who was hiring, freezing processes or making changes this summer.

"One thing we are doing that many other universities are not is engaging with companies. We want to stay in touch during the pandemic and keep CMU on their radar," said Monahan. "They might not have opportunities for our students at this time, but we're hopeful that communicating with them will keep CMU top of mind when businesses get to back usual...or whatever usual looks like in the near future."

Staying in touch with employers has also helped Monahan's team address rumors CMU students have come across during these unpredictable times. For example, some Tartans heard that a particular top company had suspended all internships. The CPDC staff had already been in touch with the company about its plans and were quickly able to correct the speculation.

In addition, just as all CPDC coaching and advising sessions have gone virtual, students looking for traditional career guidance will notice that many of CPDC's current and upcoming tools and topics have been adjusted to be more relevant to the current environment. For instance, rather than holding tutorials about how to interview, Monahan's team is now holding sessions about interviewing virtually.

"Interviewing for a job or internship via Zoom or Skype isn't the same as meeting in person," Monahan said. "And once you get the opportunity, how do you network if you're not physically around your co-workers? We're trying to create programs that tell students what they need to do to become rock-star employees or interns. Many students aren't used to working in a corporate environment, let alone doing it remotely."

And for those who won't land an internship this summer? CPDC is pulling together a program with the help of CMU alumni, asking for volunteers and mentors to talk about their career fields and share best practices about their respective industries. The center is also hosting two online sessions per week focused on career development. They include how to build a resume, handle feedback and transition from student to employee.

"We want our students to build their skill sets and develop professionally this summer even in the absence of an internship," Monahan said. "We're exploring how we can make that happen, especially for first-years and sophomores. We want them to return to campus in the fall with a better sense of what they want to do in the summer of 2021."

The CPDC can be reached at 412-268-2064 or Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. - 5; p.m.