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COVID-19’s Impact on the Hiring Process

In February, Brian Newton, Poole College of Management’s director of undergraduate programs, addressed a group of students and families at an admissions event sharing how this was one of the best job markets he had seen in his 30-year career.

Weeks later, COVID-19 hit the United States and changed life as we know it leaving students, and employers, scrambling to make adjustments to the recruiting process. 

While a few Poole students have faced rescinded summer internship opportunities or delayed start dates, many companies are doing their best to honor their commitments. Eaton Corporation, for example, delayed its summer internship start dates from May until the middle of June and shifted the positions to virtual assignments. 

“The health and safety of our intern hires was a top priority when reviewing how to move forward,” explains Nicole Furnia, Eaton’s North American University relations manager. “When we communicated these changes to our interns, we gave them the opportunity to renege their offer without penalty, or students graduating August 2021 or later could opt to defer their internship to the summer of 2021.”

Poole accounting major Luke Foster, who will intern with the accounting and finance department at Eaton this summer, was thankful for the opportunity. “I find it incredible to see how Eaton is able to adapt and conform such a large internship program into a fully remote assignment within such a short time period. I do not view the move to virtual assignments as negative, but I was definitely looking forward to being able to relocate to Asheville and interact face to face with all of the staff there,” he says. “However, I believe this will turn out to be an excellent time to sharpen my digital skills and become more efficient at working remotely.”

Furnia is thankful the company could continue to offer the internship program, even if it had to undergo some short-term changes. “The internship program has historically been a strong feeder to our full-time leadership development programs. It gives the student a chance to experience Eaton, while also providing Eaton a chance to determine if the intern is a potential fit for the business and culture, long-term. This unprecedented time does not change that. However, it has given our team the chance to be creative and really hone in on the value of an internship for both the company and the hires. We made a commitment to the students and the student made a commitment to us. We expect it will be a learning experience for us all,” Furnia says.

Many companies are undergoing similar adjustments.

“We have experienced some slowing in terms of offers coming in. We’d normally be further along at this point, but we’re not grossly behind in terms of our hiring percentage,” says Beverly Porter, Poole’s director of graduate programs. “Our students are still interviewing and receiving offers.”

The reason Poole is faring better than many other business schools, Porter believes, is because “our footprint is very diversified. We’re not simply a finance school or a consulting school. If we had a focus, I would say its supply chain management, which is extremely valuable with what’s currently happening in the marketplace.”

The Poole Career Center is not only working to support students by offering virtual drop-in meetings and one-on-one counseling but is also finding ways to support business partners in this uncertain time.

“I sent a video message to employers sharing best practices and urging them to refrain from radio silence with students who they’ve spent months cultivating relationships with,” Porter says. “Most of all, I’m reminding them that our students are solution-resources. Even if companies can’t make full-time hires, or are forced to suspend internship programs, our students are available for project-based help. If a business has to rescind a job offer, I want them to first reach out to us so we can think through other solutions to make it work for both the student and the employer.”

Newton says the most companies that are forced to rescind offers often have smaller operations, making it more difficult to pivot to a virtual environment. Industries such as travel, hospitality and retail are also feeling the effects of COVID on a deeper level. However, many companies in the healthcare, logistics, technology, supply chain and consulting industries are still actively hiring.

As for students who feel overwhelmed at the prospect of looking for jobs or internships, Newton offers some advice.

“Be patient, savvy and optimistic – there are opportunities out there. You just need to connect with the right person at the right time. Focus on networking and offer up your ability to help with project work,” he says. “And don’t forget about the non-profits. There are great opportunities to help organizations like the Food Bank or the Red Cross while also gaining valuable experience.”