Columbia’s head of MBA career services shares her advice for students worried about jobs — and highlights how the 2008 financial crisis created opportunities to transform industries

  • The coronavirus will have some impact on MBA recruiting for internships and full-time jobs, but it’s still too early to know exactly how the job market will shape up. 
  • Business Insider spoke to Regina Resnick, senior associate dean at Columbia Business School and senior managing director of the career management center, about how the school is counseling students. 
  • Resnick said that the career center has two pieces of advice for students dealing with the ambiguity: take control of what you can, and find a way to turn anxiety into action. 
  • The classes of 2009 and 2010 found opportunities within the disruption to create their own startups, including alum Jon Stein, CEO and founder of robo adviser Betterment.
  • “It’s not that hard to figure out the industries that will be challenged, but it’s not obvious what will happen in a challenged industry,” she said. 
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Graduation has already been canceled by the coronavirus, but Columbia’s MBA students have bigger things on their mind than a lack of pomp and circumstance.

The economy has already likely entered a recession, and they’re worried about the future of their jobs, or if they’re in their first year, their summer internships. 

“As much as I’d love to reassure the students that everything will be fine at the end of the day, that would be unfair,” Regina Resnick, senior associate dean at Columbia Business School and senior managing director of the career management center, told Business Insider.

Students, whether they have jobs and internships lined up or are still searching, have been put in limbo by the coronavirus. Will their offers be rescinded or postponed? Are firms still looking to hire?

Resnick and the career center staff have had to find ways to reassure students and encourage them to use that anxiety to their advantage.

Resnick said that it’s still too early to know what will happen for most students, even in industries like hotels and airlines that have been disproportionately hit by the coronavirus. 

“It’s not that hard to figure out the industries that will be challenged, but it’s not obvious what will happen in a challenged industry,” Resnick said, citing an example at another school where one airline rescinded an offer, and another continued to hire. 

Resnick students said that for Columbia students, so far only one smaller firm is not onboarding summer interns, instead fast tracking them for full-time positions; and another small consulting firm is delaying start dates. She attributes some of this to the skillset of MBAs, which can be valuable in times of disruption and lends itself to remote work. 

While most students with concrete plans haven’t seen anything change, and with most open positions remaining open, the ambiguity is challenging. Resnick said this is compounded by the expectations of high-achieving students who are used to being in control, but are now potentially looking at last-minute changes to their employment.

How to handle ambiguity on the eve of a recession

Resnick and the career center staff have two overlapping messages for students: control what you can, and find a way to turn anxiety into action. 

While this particular crisis, caused by an invisible virus, can make students feel totally totally out of control, Resnick and her staff emphasize the importance of taking back what control they can. 

Resnick gave the example of the class of 2009, who graduated in the midst of the worst recession since the Great Depression. She said that class was especially flexible, with some turning from investment banks to founding their own startups, or creating new roles at the organizations they were hired into, eventually transforming industries.

Two notable alumni from that graduating class include Jon Stein, the CEO and founder of roboadviser Betterment, and Daniel Webber, CEO and founder of international money-transfer comparison site FXCompared.

This flexibility, and ceding of some control, doesn’t mean that students should be inactive. Instead, they should take even more initiative where they can.

“How do you turn this anxiety into action and make sure that you’re as well-positioned as possible for market changes and market opportunities,” Resnick said. 

Resnick recommended some easy steps, such as sharpening a student’s “elevator pitch” or resume, and continuing to network with potential employers. Resnick cautioned that the current conditions make sensitivity even more important when networking. 

“The recruiters they’re speaking to, they’re dealing with their own personal anxieties,” Resnick said. If students understand that the feeling of uncertainty they feel is shared by the recruiters and the organizations that they’re reaching out to, they will have better success. 

There’s nothing wrong with feeling anxiety during times like this, Resnick said, in fact, “it would be weird and unusual if they didn’t feel anxiety.” 

“Any time you live in a time of tumult and change, it’s difficult to get your mind around,” Resnick said. The key is to use that anxiety.

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