Class of ’20 Grad Overcame Obstacles of Job Seeking in a Pandemic

While students learn many skills during their time at the Whitman School, some of the most important lessons revolve around agility, determination and resiliency—qualities particularly important to those entering the job market in the midst of a tumultuous employment environment.

This was especially true for members of Whitman’s Class of 2020. While many were successful in securing employment after graduation, others were met with disappointment, as opportunities were sparse or job offers made months earlier were suddenly rescinded due to the pandemic.

A double major in entrepreneurship and management, Cafui Awasu ’20 applied for an associate program at Ogilvy, a New York City-based advertising, marketing and public relations agency, in December 2019. After three rounds of interviews, she was one of only 10 selected out of 50 candidates for her “absolute dream job.” For a few months, the stress was off, and she continued with her senior year, even after the University pivoted to online learning in March 2020. Just after graduation, however, she and the other new hires at Ogilvy were notified that the program had to be cut due to COVID-19 and there were no promises of future employment.

“So, I’ve already graduated. It’s the heart of the pandemic. I don’t have a job anymore. Now what do I do?” she recalls thinking. “I had a ‘Wow! moment’ and cried for about five minutes. But 45 minutes later, I hopped right back on LinkedIn and started digging for new opportunities. I figured I could be sad but still apply for jobs at the same time.”

Part of her sudden job search included reaching out to Emily Shaughnessy, undergraduate career advisor at the Whitman Career Center. Awasu had utilized the resources at the Career Center many times as a student and knew Shaughnessy might be able to assist. Upon hearing of Awasu’s situation, Shaughnessy worked with her to quickly devise a new game plan, revise her resume and reach out to Syracuse University alumni who might be able to help.

“I had the pleasure of meeting Cafui in the summer of 2019 when she returned from a semester abroad in South America,” Shaughnessy says. “I knew from our first meeting that she was special and well on her way to having a successful career. Cafui is a natural leader and mentor. We worked together when she searched for internships and again during her senior year as she applied for job opportunities. I was glad to be able to support Cafui throughout her second round of job hunting under such unfortunate circumstances. Even though she had a huge setback due to COVID-19, she continued forward stronger than ever and came out on top.”

Within a couple of weeks, Awasu had a number of interviews on her calendar and was moving forward. Not long after, she received two job offers—at the same time, one of which was from Grey Group, an advertising and marketing organization that is a sister agency to Ogilvy.

“Now what do I do?” she thought. She reached out to Shaughnessy who helped her navigate through the details of both job offers and weigh her options. In the end, Awasu accepted the position at the Grey Group because she thought the opportunity would teach her skills that she wanted to learn about consumers and strategy. By July, she was working remotely for the agency from her Connecticut home.

An unexpected surprise came along with her new job, too. “There was a large Orange network within the company,” she explains. “The director of project management sent out an email welcoming me to the agency, and, within 15 minutes, I was getting other emails that said, ‘Hey, I heard you went to Syracuse’ or ‘Go Orange!’ That was such a warm welcome, and I’m grateful that I have so many people in the Syracuse University network who I can reach out to right at the agency.”

Today, she is a project manager working on the health and wellness side of the agency. Awasu looks forward to heading into the Grey Group’s New York City office soon and meeting her Syracuse University counterparts face-to-face. And, while her career path certainly got off to an unexpected start, she, like many other members of Whitman’s Class of 2020, used those qualities of agility, determination and resiliency—along with the resources of the Career Center and the Orange network—to make it happen.