Understatement alert: It's not a great time to be graduating college and starting the hunt for a job.

Close to a tenth of New Jersey's population has filed for unemployment since mid-March, when the spread of the novel coronavirus started resulting in business closures and limitations throughout the Garden State. Across the country, internships and job offers have been rescinded.

But the pool of employment opportunities is not completely empty, career experts say. Today's options may not be as attractive as they were even two months ago, but that's no reason for potential job-seekers to just sit back and wait for the health crisis to subside.

"In the short run, it's going to be a difficult situation for college graduates coming into the labor market this year," said Carl Van Horn, director of the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University. "It's happening at, in some ways, the worst possible time for them."

He advises 2020 graduates to go about the job-hunt process the same way they intended to before COVID-19 was even a threat — but with a realistic view of their short-term and medium-term future. Getting the job you want or expect, or even in the field you prefer, is far from automatic.

"The positive news is that for a person with a college degree, an advanced degree, certainly in an in-demand occupation like healthcare — there are more job opportunities than there were before," Van Horn said.

Beyond that, many of the jobs that should come back quicker than others, he said, are those that can be performed remotely.

"College graduates have those skills. They grew up that way, and they're good at it," Van Horn said.

According to New Jersey's website devoted to COVID-19 resources, more than 800 employers throughout the state need thousands of workers for immediate hire.

In just one week at the end of March, the state received more than 155,000 new claims for unemployment insurance. Following Superstorm Sandy in 2012, the greatest number of new jobless claims in one week was 46,000, according to the New Jersey Department of Labor. The top weekly number at the height of the Great Recession was 25,385.

"This was a drastic shift," Bob Bullard, director of the Office of Career Advancement at Rowan University, said of COVID-19's impact on jobs in the state.

Bullard encourages graduates to be "resilient and persistent during this time" — it's difficult to hear "no" for an answer, but that will happen.

"The best part about looking for jobs is that you have to be good one time. You can technically go 1 for 50 and still have a job and a thriving career," Bullard said.

The job hunt will reward persistence, he said. In the meantime, networking with others in the fields one's hoping to pursue is still a possibility through social media and online events.

"Those relationships you build today may be able to connect you to your next opportunity," he said.

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Contact reporter Dino Flammia at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com.

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