September 9, 2021
Given the change of course that has happened in the world, we wanted to provide expert opinions on what aspiring graduates can do to start off their careers in an uncertain economic climate. We wanted to know what skills will be more important, where the economy is doing relatively well, and if there will be any lasting effects on the job market.
Companies are looking for candidates that can handle the new responsibilities of the job market. Recent graduates actually have an advantage because they are comfortable using newer technologies and have been communicating virtually their whole lives. They can take what they've learned and apply it immediately.
We spoke to professors and experts from several universities and companies to get their opinions on where the job market for recent graduates is heading, as well as how young graduates entering the industry can be adequately prepared. Here are their thoughts.
Missouri University of Science & Technology
California State University Channel Islands
Ohio University - Lancaster Campus
College of Charleston
University of Iowa
Dixie State University
University of Wisconsin Milwaukee
West Virginia State University
West Liberty University
Christi Patton Luks: I think that the pandemic has proven to everyone that online education can work. I think this will increase the number of undergraduates that want to take a course or two online while they are working on internship or co-op positions and professionals returning to school virtually for additional credentials and training. Some engineering jobs have been moved to work-from-home successfully, but many still need to be on site. Flexibility will continue, however.
Christi Patton Luks: I've always felt that the most important thing we teach our students is problem-solving skills. The students who can readily relate the theory to their practical experience to develop new solutions are the most valuable. Engineering students that are active on design teams or took advantage of internships and co-ops are in great position for this.
Christi Patton Luks: A good job out of college is one that can be adapted to the individual's skills and interests and encourages them to stretch. Frequently, students think they want to work in a particular type of job. Once they have it, they discover that it was not what they thought it would be. Many companies rotate new employees through a variety of positions. Those are great for helping people find their own hidden talents. I know that I have discovered abilities that I would not have even attempted when I was 20.
Amanda Carpenter: -Market competition- We are seeing an increase in the number of applicants per position, making entry-level employment opportunities extremely competitive. New graduates may be competing for positions with professionals who have significantly more work experience. This means, new graduates must stand out in the applicant pool distinguishing strengths and skills related to the position.
-Recruiting strategy- Employers are adjusting their recruiting strategies in response to the pandemic with more recruiters opting to source candidates virtually. In result, candidates need to polish interview skills in a virtual environment and be prepared to interview in 1:1 and group settings virtually. Employers want to see how candidates respond in these challenging situations. Demonstrating resiliency, adaptability, and the ability to pivot are key skills to demonstrate during these times.
-Remote work- a significant increase in remote work positions opening doors for candidates to consider applying for roles outside of their geographical areas to including international and across the United States.
Amanda Carpenter: A solid position for a new college graduate offers training, ongoing development, organizational values alignment, and opportunities for professional growth within an organization. Gaining work experience is key and even if a new graduate is not applying for their ideal position. Staying focused on maintaining employment during this time is essential given the competitive market. Working with a staffing agency is a great way for a new graduate to explore career pathways and gain relevant work experience in temporary roles. For those who have seen job offers rescinded, this is a time to establish a career plan and maintain a keen focus on short and long-term career goals. New graduates should establish a career plan with contingency plans and always have backup options.
Amanda Carpenter: -Data analytics skills are critical technical skills that stand out to employers in today's market. According to NACE (2018), the use of data analytics is projected to have the most significant impact on an organization's operational efficiency and revenue generation.
-Source (NACE): www.naceweb.org
Brandy Bailey: The coronavirus pandemic has changed the job market in many ways. For recent graduates, they should highlight the fact that they have persevered and graduated during this time. It has impacted how they live, work, and go to school for over a year now! Many jobs may be work-from-home or only require employees to go in to the workplace one or a few days a week. There is more flexibility with work schedules, and employers are putting the health and safety of employees first now more than ever before. Today's graduates may be more adaptable to change, appreciate work-life balance, and possess communication skills that allow them to utilize a variety of communication methods, not only in-person, but virtually as well.
Brandy Bailey: Take a look at the job description for which you are applying, what certifications/licenses/courses do they list? If you personally have any of them that are included in the job description, be sure to include them on your resume. Tailoring your resume, including your skills and experiences, to the job description will have the biggest impact on your job prospects. If you have taken a course that the employer deems as necessary to be able to perform the job, list it on your resume and talk about it during your interview. If you are not quite ready to graduate and apply for jobs, you may still have some time to squeeze in a course or experience that will meet the qualifications of a job that you are interested in applying for in the future. Do your research and tailor your resume and experiences to the job you are applying for to increase your job prospects.
Brandy Bailey: Soft skills may vary depending on the employer, industry, and personal opinions. My biggest ones are communication skills, adaptability, self-awareness, teamwork, problem-solving, intercultural competency, creativity or innovation, and time management.
Jacob Craig Ph.D.: Yes, without question. I graduated with my undergraduate degree in 2008 while the economy was in collapse, and those impacts are still reverberating.
There are some smart people thinking about this right now. Scott Galloway and Fareed Zakaria have both published compelling books about the effects of COVID on the economic trends-including the education industry. Both of those thinkers have influenced my own ideas.
What's clear is that COVID-19 really only accelerated trends that people have been discussing for some time. Education has been shifting online, movie theaters have been dying, brick and mortar retail has been on decline, and the print industry has been in distress for at least 10 years because of consolidation. Aside from the economic impacts of COVID-19 that have affected the job market, there are a few other impacts graduates should consider. But many of these are good news for graduates who can write and learn to write in new forms for new audiences.
What's key for graduates to know is that the job they want still exists. It's just not in the same industry and goes by a different name.
Jacob Craig Ph.D.: In school, students are often taught to work by themselves. In some cases, they are even penalized for working with others. In some rare cases, students are asked to do a little group work but only for a short amount of time, at the end of their learning in a class.
The first thing that graduates need to know is that the workplace is nearly opposite from school. Employees, especially professional, technical, and content writer jobs, are more often than not collaborative and teams-based. The added wrinkle is that office culture is unlikely to go back to pre-pandemic occupancy rates.
So graduates need to know is that odds are good that at least part of their job will be remote. And that might be the case for at least part of the time. Announcements from tech, finance, and insurance about their latest work-from-home policies keep making the news. So not only are the chances good that they'll be working in teams, their team members and co-workers won't be in the same room with them. They'll be working collaboratively through writing. This is good news for English graduates. Much of the writing someone in a professional, technical, or content writing job are products meant for public readership. Like press releases that are sent to news outlets. But all of that writing is built on a network of notes, memos, policies, and text threads meant for co-workers. Remote work just means that co-workers will be writing each other more and more often. English graduates who can make texts for public audiences and write effectively to co-workers are positioned to do well.
The second thing that students need to know is how to start and stop writing in the context of someone else's draft. They will rarely begin with a blank screen and end with a finished text.
The third thing is that it's likely small businesses will take some time to bounce back. In those workplace settings, it is likely that an employee will need to have a range of knowledge and skills because their job will combine parts multiple roles. So a copywriter in a small marketing firm might need to also know something about SEO and social analytics and visual design. In larger offices, however, jobs tend to be much more specialized and team-based. So graduates need to be comfortable working in teams where they have an assigned role, and they need to be able to receive work in-process, complete their assigned part, and hand that work off still in-process.
And finally, students need to learn how to learn new technologies. Learn just through documentation, without a human tutorial. Even if employees are exclusively using the Microsoft Suite, it will be used for writing, editing, project management. It will be used to collaborate and present. Depending on where a student studies and what classes they take, those digital pieces might not be a part of their coursework. So, at the very least, students need to know that the workforce will constantly ask them to learn new technologies and new uses for familiar technologies.
Jacob Craig Ph.D.: I believe strongly in dexterity and a language of expertise. That means that if a student can show they can adapt to new demands by learning a new way of working, learning about a new audience, learning how to address a new purpose, learning a new genre or style, and learning a new technology, that employee attractive. Especially at the entry-level, the ability to learn and adapt is valuable. Being able to talk about their experience using a persuasive vocabulary is often useful. For instance, if students can describe their approach to communication without using cliches (short and sweet, clear) and something along the lines of purpose, audience, situation, genre, medium--that's persuasive.
Brian Lai Ph.D.: I think the impact of the pandemic will be around for another year or so as in-person opportunities start to return. For graduates, the disruption in the economy and lack of in-person opportunities in traditional hiring areas (e.g. DC) has made it harder to find opportunities than before the pandemic.
Brian Lai Ph.D.: They need to be able to write well, specifically be able to clearly summarize and analyze ideas, policies, and arguments in a succinct manner. They will need at least a working understanding of data analysis techniques, if not some ability to analyze data. In the field of IR, the ability to network and work in a group environment will be important.
Brian Lai Ph.D.: Authentic experiences that mirror what they will be doing in a job. So internships in similar kinds of positions or experiential learning opportunities that mirror what positions require you to do.
Dixie State University
Dr. Mike Peterson Ph.D.: There will be a lot more jobs that have telecommute options or requirements. Perhaps the office will never fully go away, but the pandemic has shown employers just how effective and cost-saving it can be to have people work from home. It saves money on things like office space and travel reimbursements. We'll see an increase in purely work-from-home jobs, but the biggest change will be the morphing of jobs into hybrid telecommute positions, where employees will still need to physically be in the office at times, but a good chunk of their work will be completed at home.
Dr. Mike Peterson Ph.D.: Writing skills have always been valued by employers, but anything that shows an ability to write, produce, or communicate in digital spaces will stand out. While employers are becoming increasingly comfortable having employees work and collaborate digitally (from home or elsewhere), they may still be reluctant to train employees how to do that. They want to see evidence that applicants will know how to use technology and stay productive without extensive training and without a supervisor having to stand behind them. That isn't to say training won't take place, but employers want to use their valuable time and resources training employees on their own systems, policies, and procedures; they don't want to have to show new-hires how to use Zoom, how to format a memo, how to write an email, or how to co-edit a document using OneDrive.
Dr. Mike Peterson Ph.D.: The great thing about a degree in English is that graduates can find work anywhere: teaching, freelance writing, technical writing, content production, editing, reporting-you name it. There are ample jobs in small towns and large cities in all of these areas. English degrees are also highly valued in a variety of jobs-such as sales, public relations, marketing, and paralegal work-because employers know these applicants, from day one, will have strong skills in writing, communication, critical thinking, and creative thinking.
Dr. Robert Longwell-Grice EdD: Despite the pandemic, careers that have direct contact with people continue to be in high demand. these include careers in teaching and social work. they are considered depression-proof careers. given the increased diversity in the USA, adding a second language to any career will be amazingly useful. Two-year degrees will not be seen as useful. If people are seeking post-secondary credits they need to think about a specific trade certificate, or a four-year degree.
Dr. Robert Longwell-Grice EdD: Most colleges want to see a gap year that is connected to making the world a better place. An internship or a job with a non-profit can be life changing for ones personal development, and ones career. These can be local with an agency in ones community, or national with an agency like City Year or Americorps. Gap years should focus on 'soft skills' where possible so working with the public is ideal. Having said that, any job will give young people valuable experience. My gap year included driving a taxi in Dubuque, Iowa. Boy did I learn a lot about working with people!
Dr. Robert Longwell-Grice EdD: 1) Assume your first job won't be your last one. It is very common to change jobs/careers/employers; 2) Be a life-long learner. Earn additional credentials/degrees. Attend workshops in your field; 3) Educate yourself about issues of diversity. The world is a diverse place. Your ability to be comfortable with diverse populations will be welcomed by any employer.
West Virginia State University
Anne McConnell Ph.D.: While we all hope and expect life to get 'back to normal' at some point, we also live in a new reality now. Some of the adaptations we have made in order to work during the pandemic might indeed stick around. I think employers want to hire someone who can be flexible and productive in a variety of environments. Can you work at home and manage your schedule and workload if you're not 'coming to an office' every day? Are you an independent worker who can meet goals without a lot of hand-holding? Are your communication skills strong?
I don't have much to say about potential job trends, but I do think that employers understand that, no matter the job, they need people who have strong critical thinking and communication skills. English majors are prepared to do that, and I know of English graduates who have been hired in a variety of fields, specifically because they are strong writers and thinkers.
Anne McConnell Ph.D.: I would encourage someone taking a gap year to branch out, seeking work experiences and employment situations that expose them to new skills and allow them to interact with a diverse set of people. Sometimes we find ourselves in a bubble-communicating with the same people, who tend to share the same ideas-and a gap year provides the opportunity to extend beyond that. Employers value employees who have open, flexible minds, and seeking out experiences that demonstrate that openness can be helpful.
Anne McConnell Ph.D.: I would say it's important to be very attentive to the way you communicate with your employers, managers, and co-workers. Even sending an e-mail can be an opportunity to demonstrate your professionalism and communication skills. Some people think that no one knows how to write anymore, or how to communicate in a professional way. I don't think that's true. But we don't always think about how our writing can be a tool to communicate our competence and seriousness. If you know how to write and communicate professionally-which college grads do-then make sure to demonstrate that in the workplace.
Angela Robbins Ph.D.: That has yet to be seen, but WFH is here to stay in many sectors. This crisis has had many negative effects, both short term and long term, on workers. We are a women's college, so how this crisis has affected women in the workplace is particularly salient. For some, WFH has been an option and also a positive, because they have kept their jobs while practicing safety measures. But women with young children at home have been the most negatively affected as they try to balance work and family commitments, particularly when children can't be in school or day care. Some mothers have had to give up their jobs because of these conditions. More moms than dads have walked away from their jobs to care for their children, often because moms earn less and also because society expects women to put child care above career aspirations. So the normal mechanisms which, when in place, allow women to pursue the same career opportunities as men but, when missing, make it nearly impossible for women to pursue their career goals, threaten the gains women have made as professionals over the past couple of generations. That's another alarming aspect of this crisis.
Women in the service sector have been hit the hardest, perhaps keeping their jobs, but without the flexibility to work from home and stay safe and keep their families safe. This shines a spotlight on how many working women are in low-paying jobs and viewed as somehow dispensable and essential at the same time, which is not the focus of this feature but is a critical discussion about compensation and worker rights in America. It also impresses upon college women how a college education not only improves their future earnings potential-which is something we have traditionally emphasized-but also offers them a degree of job security. This crisis drives home the reality that, if it's at all possible to stay in college now, it will pay off in the long run. We are witnessing this in real time, so it's not just an idea about what might be. The evidence is in front of us. But for these future working moms to be able to keep their careers on track, we have to do a better job with child care, flexible work schedules, and pay equity, too. This is something that feminists have emphasized for generations.
Angela Robbins Ph.D.: History majors are in high demand in government, business, and non-profits because of the knowledge and skills they gain in the classroom. History majors, in particular, are especially good at contextualizing-that is, explaining how an event or discussion fits within the big picture. This includes how things that are going on today-such as the Capitol riot on January 6-connects to the Constitution, the balance of powers, the way democracy works, and related issues such as the implications of propaganda and misinformation. This goes well beyond merely expressing an opinion or debating two sides of an issue. Students of history do their research and practice skills of analysis, collecting and scrutinizing evidence rather than taking something at face value or only relying on a single source. We take sources apart to evaluate the credentials of their creators and search for bias. We examine sources from various creators so we take into account multiple experiences and points of view. Then we synthesize-or bring the sources together-in order to communicate what it all means. These skills are desired by employers and translate well into many careers and work environments. Seeking good evidence to answer questions and solve problems, whether that's in the classroom today or working with clients later, is a skill that employers highly value.
Students are practicing other skills that are necessary to success in the workplace, whether that will be in person or online. Time management, seeing a project through from start to finish, hosting and contributing to meetings, working on a team-whether it's two people or ten-and creating appropriate types of presentations to communicate ideas are all things our students can tell their employers they will come in with so they can hit the ground running. In addition, our majors develop self-awareness, empathy, and an appreciation of diverse opinions and approaches to problems through investigation of the life experiences of historical figures and their classroom discussions with classmates. Certainly, every employer wants you to learn the specifics within their sector, but these skills are fairly universal and will benefit majors as they move from the classroom to career.
Angela Robbins Ph.D.: History majors-and in fact, all students in the Humanities-practice skills in the classroom which have real-world, job performance implications, as laid out above. In my experience, students need to do a better job of communicating on their resumes what exactly those skills are so they do stand out. Job-seekers might list critical thinking skills, leadership skills, and the ability to work on a team on their resumes, for example, but for them to be able to point to specific examples from their classes and projects, and to be able to talk about those in interviews, is especially valuable. Internships also really stand out, because employers want to know that students have practiced these skills outside the classroom and have gained real-world experience, too.
West Liberty University
College of Liberal Arts
Dr. Darrin Cox: The need for adaptability. Companies are going to focus more on hiring people with a wide array of skills and abilities that provide them the kind of adaptability needed for the modern workspace. It's one of the reasons why I think humanities and social science degrees will be in more demand in the coming years. At their core, these degrees are about analyzing how we interact in the social world while providing specific training in critical thinking, reasoning, and writing. Basically, employers will be looking for those who are tech savvy, but less so in terms of how to operate specific applications or technology and more so in ways that they can be adapted to best suit the needs of the company.
Dr. Darrin Cox: Reading. Then read some more. Read a wide array of materials from multiple perspectives related to your fields of interest and on topics that impact your immediate world. Reading will increase your specific knowledge in these areas, introduce you to competing interpretations, and hopefully stimulate critical thinking as you reconcile new information and perspectives into your own conclusions. Oh, and then read some more. Did I mention you should read?
Dr. Darrin Cox: Be open to new opportunities and be patient. Degrees in the humanities and social sciences don't just open a single door to a specific job like some others might. They open a wider array of doors that may not be as clearly defined in a recruiter's job placement or headspace. Remember, STEM fields might experience more initial salary, but overall they experience slower salary growth and higher attrition rates than those in the humanities and social sciences. Indeed, people specializing in degrees that train "soft skills" (like history) actually end up earning more than all other degrees on average, due in part to being able to slide more deftly into other positions because their skill set hasn't become obsolete as technology changed.*
Guillaume de Syon Ph.D.: In the short term, yes, partly because the learning varied in coverage and sometimes quality. Compressed courses may have included the same objectives as regular, semester-long ones, but reading and writing had to be rescaled. Even courses running a regular semester were affected by distance learning.
Furthermore, internships and other campus jobs were frozen, thus affecting income, but also experience the graduates could share with potential employers. It is too soon to tell how much more of an impact the pandemic will have, but the fact that it will have affected at least two college years will prompt a reevaluation of the campus experience.
Guillaume de Syon Ph.D.: The same as the ones they needed before. Employers want a combination of experience as well as writing and reading capacities. There may even be a greater need for decent writing, as the shift to online has affected the workforce. On the positive side, successfully negotiating the pandemic conditions could be considered a sign of adaptability.
Guillaume de Syon Ph.D.: It all depends on the job one seeks, but longer service with one employer suggests stability. Adding an internship or two, even short ones (e.g. from summer) reveals openness of mind. This is important in the case of a humanities degree. Employers welcome these, but do want to see that the applicant has put their skills to work. Finally, stressing one's technical skills in various programs or generic software is good, even if acquired on the go (who knew of "Zoom" before the pandemic?). It also points to adaptability, especially when starting in an office at the entry level.