April 19, 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.
Wisconsin Business School
Claire Jablonsky: We have a lot of students wanting to head into the creative side of marketing and thus are getting certificates (minors) in digital studies and graphic design. They are working on getting experience with Adobe, Photoshop, Lightroom and other programs that will give them the skills to work in advertising. On the analytical side, they are getting certificates in Google Analytics.
William (Bill) Gentry Ph.D.: In my opinion, yes. The pandemic is a once-in-a-century occurrence, I don't see how something like that will not affect philosophy graduates, or all of us. But graduates during this time have shown resiliency and flexibility particularly in the past 12+ months, which are great skills to showcase for employers right now. For the world of work, some organizations will go back to the way it was a couple of years ago (fully in person in offices) and other organizations have seen that people can work from home (or anywhere) and will allow that fully or partially. Organizations may need to shift their mindset on how work gets done to match how graduates now and in the future want to work in order to attract the best talent. To be marketable, graduates should focus not just on their resiliency and flexibility, but also other essential life skills such as the ability to communicate well (in person, phone, video, email, messaging systems), to span boundaries (organizational functions, time zones, cultural), and their problem solving, teamwork, and collaborative skills to be seen as high potential employees for organizations who are working fully in person, fully remote, or a mix of the two.
William (Bill) Gentry Ph.D.: It depends on the organization. With more vaccines coming out and some clamoring to actually get out of their house and get back to being in an office, organizations will see that it is safer for people to come back to work, to fly to meetings, to be like it was a couple of years ago. In fact, some have already gone back to that. Other organizations have seen that people can indeed work from anywhere and production and work output still remain at a high level in quality or quantity, and they may allow virtual work in part or in full. Philosophy graduates need to be prepared for either of these. I and our office of Career and Professional Development encourage graduates to first think about what style they like best. In talking with graduates, I know some of them are burned out with video and miss being around people in person. For those graduates with that type of preference, we encourage them to be strategic and targeted in their approach to looking for jobs, ensuring that working in an office, around people, in person, should be a major priority when searching and applying for jobs. For other graduates who have enjoyed and become skilled at video meetings, like that type of interaction, and feel they want to work from home, they should make sure that any job they are applying to would allow the ability and flexibility to work from anywhere.
William (Bill) Gentry Ph.D.: Philosophy majors are employable in a variety of fields such as education, law, ethics, business, religious-affiliated areas, community services, government, and communications to name a few. A 538 article in 2015 showed that philosophy majors have the fourth-highest median earnings for those with only undergraduate degrees. The Winter 2020 National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) salary survey indicated philosophy majors have the highest mean and median salary across all humanities majors and is comparable to other majors as well. To increase their earning potential, we encourage our students to focus on life skills that can separate themselves from all the others who are applying to the job. How can you showcase pertinent life skills that philosophy majors are known for - such as resiliency, the flexibility and capacity for growth, analytical, organizational and research skills like idea generation, problem formulation and problem solving, persuasion, and communication skills - on your brand documents like your resume, cover letter, LinkedIn, or in interviews? Specifically, how can you display that you have learned and developed those skills inside and outside the classroom in strong bullet points on your resume or in your cover letter? How can you clearly articulate how you've displayed or enhanced those skills through your classwork, internships, jobs, volunteer work, or other experiences in answering interview questions like "Tell me about yourself" or "What are your strengths?" or "Tell me about a time you had to influence others?" A GPA will likely get your foot in the door, but the ability to demonstrate these important like skills on paper, online, and in person in networking and interviewing will show others that you will be successful not just on day one of the job, but be seen as a high potential in your fist year, five years, and beyond.
Loren Collins: Service sector, hospitality, and travel have been and will continue to be impacted negatively but we will see a huge boom in employment and growth coming at the end of the pandemic. People will trend back into higher education as we begin coming out of the pandemic and when more face-to-face opportunities are available at universities and community colleges. Typically in a recession this happens earlier, but the nature of the pandemic has probably delayed this effect.
As we exit the pandemic, I believe federal and state programs will focus on increasing the number of people entering all sorts of trades, leveraging the end of the pandemic and work programs to close an increasing gap in the number of people in the trades. Meaning a boom in logistics, management, and project management related jobs as well lots of focus on sustainability.
Loren Collins: According to NACE - the National Association of Colleges and Employers - the top ten skills employers want from college grads are: 1) Communication 2) Teamwork 3) Make Decisions and Solve Problems 4) Organize and Prioritize 5) Obtain and Process Information 6) Analyze Quantitative Data 7) Technical Skills related to the Position 8) Ability to Work with Computers 9) Creating Written Reports 10) Sell and Influence Others.
We share these and talk a lot with students about them. Including history students and helping them see where they've gotten these skills, like myself, through the major. Only one of the above is specific to any given job! The softer skills include showing up on time, interpersonal communication, and staying committed to a position for a reasonable amount of time!
Loren Collins: In my field - and probably in many fields - I think the big trend has been not as much focus on salary and more the cost of retirement programs and healthcare. Landing a job with good retirement and great healthcare is not always easy and for many worth a trade for a slightly lower salary.
William Hill: That's hard to say because different jobs will have different requirements both now and post-COVID. Some jobs, like sales,will probably revert to more in-person activities, while other may be able to remain mostly or partially remote. Yes, a typical day might mean working from home more often than in the past. Technology, especially AI, will become a large influence. I suspect more professional/office jobs will evolve in to a hybrid model, with some in-person activity blended with remote.
William Hill: Remote recruiting is here to stay. COVID showed employers that they don't need to come to campus, nor do they have to meet with students in person in order to hire them. It is a substantial time and money saver for businesses. Long after COVID is gone, employers will continue to use Zoom, WebEx and other remote platforms as part of their recruiting strategy. Even job fairs, long a staple of recruiting, are going remote.
William Hill: Problem solving skills are essential in the workplace for new grads, especially now. They will find it increasingly difficult to engage more experienced co-workers for helpful problem solving advice in a virtual workspace. You can't just stroll over to someone's office for a quick chat anymore. They will be more often "on their own" when it comes to analyzing a challenge and crafting a solution. Verbal and written communication skills remain important in a workspace dominated by Zoom and email.
Career and Professional Success
Julie Schrader: I think some trends we will see are more remote work components of internships or jobs given the pandemic. Some organizations will hope to return to fully in-person, but I think there will be more flexibility provided to employees to work remotely or partially remote. I also think some organizations may reduce their physical footprints and move from larger buildings to smaller spaces if they plan to have a mix of in-person and remote workforce, which can impact the culture. We have seen the impact the pandemic has had in some industries such as sports, events, hospitality, and others that rely on in-person functions and components, and I think we'll see fewer, more competitive opportunities in those areas for a while. Networking has always been important but I see a greater emphasis being put on networking and building connections during this time of limited in-person interactions and a more competitive job seeker environment. Finally, I think we have been pleased to see that many organizations have been hiring at the same or similar rate during the pandemic as they were prior to it.
Julie Schrader: It would depend on the industry, but I think the following can be impactful and attractive to future employers:
- Language(s): In a global market, speaking another language can provide great value to an organization
- Creative: More for marketing and advertising areas, having courses or certifications in creative and graphic design tools
- Project Management: Many roles across industry sectors involve some aspect of project management
- Design Thinking: Problem-solving and critical thinking skills are highly sought by recruiters
- Salesforce/CRMs: We are seeing more organizations list this as a preferred/desired certification or knowledge area
Julie Schrader: I don't define a job as "good" only if it matches a student's area of study. It is great if it does, but to me the definition of "good job" is that the individual is fulfilled and utilizing skills, strengths, and interests and the position matches their value set. A good job can be one that also provides some sense of financial stability. The hope is that during college, students are exploring and discovering various career paths and participating in experiential learning such as internships, co-ops, rotations, case studies, informational interviews, and more. As they learn more about potential career paths, they can start to narrow what they think they would enjoy. I believe that a good job out of college includes an opportunity to be mentored and supported, provides the opportunity for growth and training, and engages the individual's strengths and abilities to make a positive impact. I think of an example of a young graduate with a Finance degree who started in an entry-level finance role. He liked the position and the people, but wasn't sure he wanted to stay with the organization when he was offered a promotion to a sales role. He said he was working in finance because that was his degree and he thought that is what he should be doing. But he longed to be active and outdoors, and reminisced about his time studying abroad in Australia and surfing. He saw a surf camp manager position in the country of Norway and was deciding if he should apply. I encouraged him to go for it. He did. And he got it. He has since returned to the states and in a sales role now, but has no regrets. To me, that was a good job because he followed his heart.
Career Advisors of the CEAE : Fewer location-based positions due to the increased ability for remote and hybrid work environments.
Career Advisors of the CEAE : Applicants need to connect their skills and experience with what an employer is looking for. With that being said, flexibility, adaptability, and experience with various technology is increasingly important during a pandemic. Quantifiable achievements are always important as well as leadership, presentation/communication skills, and teamwork ability.
Career Advisors of the CEAE : Research what cities are ranked high for a strong and growing job market and don't limit yourself to a specific location. Be creative and don't rely on one or two sources in your search. Use the many online job search and research tools that are available. Networking is one of the most powerful tools to discover advertised - as well as unadvertised - opportunities. Use the capabilities of LinkedIn to connect with alumni and to develop and strengthen your brand! Don't dismiss social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok that are often used for entertainment and other purposes. You may find opportunities here as well.
Shelley Sadin: Communicating clearly, both orally and in writing.
It is identifying and analyzing legal and factual issues with an open, thoughtful, and creative mind.
Working collaboratively with clients, colleagues, opponents, and others involved in a case to solve problems.
Being meticulously ethical and professional in all interactions. This includes treating everyone involved in a matter with respect, recognizing, and honoring their different backgrounds and perspectives.
Being self-disciplined, motivated, resilient, courageous, kind, and flexible.
Shelley Sadin: We cannot predict this, given how rapidly technology is advancing. We can say that remote meetings have taken over. Zoom use has increased exponentially, and distant court proceedings in Connecticut are being held via Microsoft Teams. Graduates will generally need to adapt to new technologies as they are introduced to keep up with the people and businesses they hope to represent.
Shelley Sadin: We cannot predict whether the pandemic (financial disruption and other harmful effects) will endure.
But we can identify a couple of potential enduring upsides:
The pandemic has shown employers, including law firms, that lawyers can communicate and work remotely. This should open up many more remote job opportunities and increase students’ job searches' geographical scope.
The pandemic makes many students stop and think about what matters to them as they pursue their career paths. We always encourage students to be reflective and creative in their career pursuits. The uncertainty and changes in working conditions wrought by the pandemic have underscored the value to students of thinking intentionally about where they want to practice. What field of law -- or law-related field -- would be most rewarding for them?