The playroom in Hannah Todd’s childhood home had long served as her refuge for painting and Barbie doll adventures. Costumes from her years as a competitive dancer fill the closet, and an aspirational vision board she made in high school hangs on the wall.
But last month, the room served as Todd’s office for her first day as a financial analyst at Medtronic, a Minnesota-based medical device company.
“When I came back, it was kind of untouched,” Todd, 21, said of the room in her family’s home in Corcoran, Minnesota, about 20 miles northwest of Minneapolis. “You walk in the room, and you’re filled with a little nostalgia of what life used to be like.”
As offices remain closed across the country, Todd, who earned a degree in finance from Arizona State University this spring, is joining many other recent graduates in beginning her career from her childhood home.
Nearly 4 million people were set to graduate from postsecondary institutions in the 2019-20 academic year, according to the Education Department. Some have had job offers rescinded because of the pandemic, while others face a discouraging job market that only months earlier had looked quite promising.
Job postings on job-listings site Indeed are down 25% this month from the same time last year, the company said. Employment opportunities listed on the platform were even fewer in May, when the difference compared with a year earlier was 39%.
But even before the pandemic hit, recent graduates often faced difficulty finding work — the youth unemployment rate, currently hovering around 25%, is historically double that of the nationwide rate.
The lucky ones
For those fortunate enough to be starting full-time jobs during quarantine, the moment is still bittersweet. The first job after college graduation often represents a new start — fresh faces and happy hours in an unfamiliar city, or timidly joining the office softball team to meet new colleagues.
Hannah Derleth, who graduated from Ball State University in Indiana and relocated in March to her parents’ home an hour’s drive away, was relieved to secure a position as a marketing coordinator for Piano in a Flash, a platform for online piano lessons, after her original postgraduate employment plans fell through.
But the lack of face-to-face contact with her new colleagues has been less than ideal, Derleth said — she met her supervisor’s supervisor for only “30 seconds” when she went into the office to pick up a work computer. She has been working from a desk that used to be the site of middle school study sessions.
The flow of information over video calls May 11, the day that Derleth started her new job, was “like drinking from a fire hose, like any normal first day,” she said. The screen sharing and video lag, coupled with the inability to meet her new colleagues, were grueling.
“It was one of the most difficult first days I’ve had,” said Derleth, who held various internships and part-time positions in college.
Katarina Delgado, a 22-year-old spring graduate from the University of Arizona’s business school, was set to move to Seattle last month for a position as a retail vendor manager at Amazon. Instead, she is splitting time between her father’s town house and her grandparents’ home, where her mother lives, in Las Vegas.
She interned at Amazon in Seattle last summer on the same team, which has made her transition into full-time work slightly easier.
But notifications from Snapchat and Instagram of archived moments from her time in Seattle last year are difficult to stomach. “Having to constantly reminisce” about her internship, and the experiences now put on hold because of the coronavirus, has been challenging, Delgado said.
“When am I going to have that life that I longed for and I worked so hard for?” she asked.
A change of scenery
New hires may have expected to start their careers in sleek offices — Amazon built giant tree-filled greenhouses for employees at its Seattle headquarters — or in fancy glass meeting rooms with sweeping views of the Chicago lakefront or the New York skyline.
Todd, who had planned to move to Minneapolis, will be taking conference calls from a more rural setting, next to a window that overlooks fields, with cows nearby.
“There are actually hay bales outside my window,” she said.
While she is disappointed to miss out on exploring Minneapolis’s museums and restaurants with friends, Todd said she was looking forward to breakfasts and midday dog walks with her father, who is also working from home.
Matthew Feldman, who graduated from Syracuse University in New York in December before interning at Edelman, the public relations firm, in the spring, started his full-time communications job with defense contractor Raytheon in June from the basement of his family’s home in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania — the house where the family has lived since Feldman, 23, was in kindergarten.
He logs on to work from a couch or a bar top. The weak signal from the basement, strained by an entire household working remotely, made Feldman fearful that his orientation calls during his first week would drop.
“We had four people doing different jobs all working on the same internet connection,” he said. “It was really a nightmare.”
Feldman’s father, an elementary school principal, and his mother, an elementary school teacher, had claimed the main floor of the home, where for the past few months his mother taught classes on Zoom. His younger brother, a rising junior at Georgia Tech, was also taking classes remotely.
“I would come downstairs to make coffee and there would be 15 kids on a Zoom call in one room, and my dad on a call in the other room,” Feldman said. But with the school year concluded, “we have a little more internet bandwidth,” he said.
At Delgado’s grandparents’ six-bedroom home, her grandmother cooks throughout the day, family members exclaim when they walk through the door, and Telemundo blares at a high volume for her grandparents, who are hard of hearing, Delgado said.
Despite the distractions, living with her grandparents has provided unique opportunities for bonding and discussion. Delgado said she had been speaking with them about the Black Lives Matter movement.
Having Delgado, a first-generation college graduate, working remotely in the next room has been special for her family as well.
“My grandma cries literally every other day because she’s so proud of me,” she said.
An expert’s advice? ‘Chill’
Jeffrey Arnett, a psychology professor at Clark University in Massachusetts and the executive director of the Society for the Study of Emerging Adulthood, said even though it might seem perilous for the newly employed to be living at home with their parents, postgraduate life is often “uniquely unstable” — even in nonpandemic circumstances.
“They have high expectations once they get degrees that life is going to open up for them,” Arnett said.
He has dedicated his career to studying what he calls “emerging adulthood,” a phase of life for 18- to 29-year-olds during which they frequently stay in school longer and get married later than previous generations did.
It’s understandable that the dissonance of entering the workforce from a childhood home can feel “like a step backward,” Arnett said, but he urges new hires not to put too much pressure on themselves. His advice to those stressed out by starting remotely? “Chill.”
“Things are chaotic right now, but it’s a chaotic time of life anyway,” he said.
While starting remotely may not affect recent graduates psychologically in the long term, it could have an effect on their careers if they don’t take steps to create personal connections, said Robert Hellmann, a career coach in New York.
Relationships are the key to success, Hellmann said, adding that people who build connections with their teams and with colleagues in other departments are better positioned for promotions — something that Delgado said she was worried about falling behind on.
Hellmann suggested that new hires reach out to people around their organizations for 15-minute chats to introduce themselves and build relationships that would usually occur organically in an in-person setting.
“Human connection, even virtually, makes a difference,” Hellmann said.
Where do they go from here?
Still-packed suitcases on the floor of Feldman’s childhood bedroom reveal thoughts “in the back of my head that I’ll be leaving home at some point” in the near future, he said. Though “maybe I’ll have to start putting clothes into my dresser,” he said.
The family has grown closer and found new joys during quarantine — they adopted a shiba inu puppy from a departing international student at nearby Penn State University, and they did a gourmet coffee tasting at home for Mother’s Day — but Feldman’s desires to be on his own again have prompted difficult conversations in the family about enjoying time with each other, yet yearning for independence and new experiences.
“You’re with people that love you, and a community you’re super familiar with,” he said of being at home.
But after attending college out of state, studying abroad in Spain and living in various cities around the country for internships, Feldman said, he longs for the personal growth that comes from living in an unfamiliar place. He has considered working remotely from Brooklyn for a few months.
“As amazing as it is to roll out of bed on a Sunday morning and have breakfast ready, there’s also something to be said for being a 23-year-old in a big city, getting your feet wet in the real world,” he said. “It’s not easy to live on your own as a 23-year-old, but it’s a rite of passage.”