February 2, 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.
Montana State University Billings
Dominican University of California
Dixie State University
Eastern Michigan University
University of the Incarnate Word
University of Michigan-Flint
College of Business & Public AdministrationWebsite
Alanah Mitchell Ph.D.: Information Systems (IS) is often identified as the highest paying major in a business school. While the impact of a global pandemic has certainly had an impact on students (both academically and professionally), IS majors continue to have a number of job opportunities during this time. IS majors understand both business and technology and are prepared to identify ways technology can be used to solve organizational problems. This background is particularly important as so many organizations are continuing their work through the use of technology both during and post-pandemic.
Alanah Mitchell Ph.D.: In some cases certifications and licenses can help with possible job prospects. In general, IS education is focused on current technology processes, skills, tools, and technologies that employers are interested in. Additionally, internships during school really help to provide practical experience and increase the chances of job offers.
Alanah Mitchell Ph.D.: Along with business and technical skills, IS majors do need to work in developing a broad set of soft, interpersonal skills. Specifically, collaboration and teamwork, critical thinking and problem solving, creativity, communication, negotiation and conflict management, and leadership as well as working under pressure often rank high in the list of soft skills necessary for success in IS. Increasingly, the development of soft skills is emphasized in academic programs as employers are looking for these skills in new graduates.
Montana State University Billings
Department of CommunicationWebsite
Samuel Isaac Boerboom Ph.D.: It's difficult to predict the enduing impact, but graduates will need to be savvier than ever about establishing and maintaining online communication skills, especially web conferencing and virtual communication. Graduates may be working remotely for an extended period of time even after the COVID-19 crisis is managed. Time management and self-motivation skills will be more important than before.
Samuel Isaac Boerboom Ph.D.: For communication professionals it will again be about effective presentation of one's skills in online platforms and spaces. Web marketing and persuasion skills are absolutely paramount right now.
Samuel Isaac Boerboom Ph.D.: Conflict management, the ability to work effectively and efficiently in groups, and active listening skills, especially as these pertain to engaging audiences in virtual settings.
School of Arts and Sciences
Dr. Alfred Muelle Ph.D.: The pandemic is the single greatest disruption of American life we could ever have imagined. I predict that more workplaces will allow for telecommuting from home, businesses will retain some of the services they set up to address the pandemic, and health will be our primary focus for the next decade as the long-term effects of COVID are realized. As someone who sees opportunity in obstacles, I want to think that a graduate with an entrepreneurial approach will be able to take advantage of many of these cultural shifts. The Biden Administration will likely address student debt, but there are still many financial issues surrounding housing that have to be sorted out. So the next five years will be much more addled than anything we have seen in recent memory, but the end of the decade should see a return to prosperity.
Dr. Alfred Muelle Ph.D.: Coming out of the worst days of the pandemic, I predict that soft skills will be much more important. I have needed to rely more on my own emotional intelligence in the last twelve months than I did in the five years prior to the pandemic. Graduates need to demonstrate emotional intelligence, be able to work well in teams, and be highly adaptable. Given where we are in society right now, graduates must have the ability to communicate clearly and to distinguish between fact and fiction in the world around them. I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge a strong need for professional ethics, regardless of the field that a graduate decides to pursue.
Dr. Alfred Muelle Ph.D.: As someone who reads resumes regularly, I don't spend much time on the resume. I expect a resume to convey to me basic information about degrees held. If the applicant played in a sport or held a leadership position in a club while attending college, I want to know that because it shows me that the applicant managed time reasonably well and led a group of people in some way. I will also look for information about what an applicant accomplished in a previous or current position. I don't want a listing of the job's responsibilities. I want to know what value the applicant brought to the workplace. For example, don't tell me that you oversaw training initiatives at your current employer. Tell me that you trained 85% of the staff to use the new software and that, as a result, quarterly productivity increased 115%. The first tells me nothing; the second tells me what value you brought to the workplace. So it is important to shift away from bland job descriptions to accomplishments.
For me, the cover letter is much more important than the resume. The cover letter is the place where applicants can show me that they have done their research on my organization. Over 99% of the people whom I interview know little to nothing about my organization or its mission and values even though all of that information is a click away. If an applicant did not even take the time to look up that information on the Internet, it sends a clear signal to me about the applicant's lack of priorities. Demonstrate you have done that research by referring to my organization's mission and values in your cover letter. The cover letter is also the place where applicants can tell me about the soft skills they developed. Concrete examples help me see those skills in action.
Dominican University of California
Communication and Media StudiesWebsite
Bradley Van Alstyne Ph.D.: Traditional Institutionalized (not just temporary) distance roles that were once thought of as onsite-only (human resources for example) will likely become distance-oriented whenever possible, the technologies we use for distance communication will probably become much more personalizable, training incorporating distance communication technologies will become a part of regular job trainings, distance communication skill sets could gradually augment or even replace some of the standards we taught for years.
Sort of Dale Carnegie meets Zoom or in other words the perfect presentation will no longer be as formal but should include personal, more human moments as we endeavor to make interpersonal connections online. Distance skill sets will gradually replace our old standards. For example eye contact during a formal presentation and eye contact via Zoom or other distance platforms is very different (from in-person group to camera).
Bradley Van Alstyne Ph.D.: I would recommend that graduates use that time to focus on creating a portfolio showing specific skills they think will put them ahead of other applicants. These can be universal (coding or graphic design for example) or specific to the type of job they want.
Bradley Van Alstyne Ph.D.: Stay current with distance communication platforms and become proficient at using them. For example, it would be wise to start developing interview skills using distance communication technologies and realize the differences between an onsite interview and a distance interview (eye contact and other interpersonal skills should translate from one-on-one to the camera).
Cameron Pace Ph.D.: Specific software the student knows, types of equipment they have used, areas of experience they have worked in or had special training. Details matter here. If they can recount successes, number of sales, clients, or products they have produced or served, that's very helpful. The more professional-type experiences, the better.
Dixie State University
Communication Studies Department
Dr. James Stein: I think we're going to see a lot of hybrid job offers, meaning that people will get the opportunity to work remotely a lot more. I think this for three reasons. First, the largest complaint of my generation (Millennials) is that we don't have enough work-life balance. The online atmosphere provides for that. Second, companies can save hundreds of thousands in office space rent by switching to a more hybrid format. Third, this trend has been steadily increasing, the pandemic just supercharged it.
I also believe that we're going to see a lot more engineering and management jobs open up. Automation is replacing manual labor and self-driving cars will eclipse the trucker industry. Folks on the job market are going to need to learn to better manage technology and human relationships.
Dr. James Stein: Well, first, if you have the means/finances to take a full year off, I commend you. My advice would be to immerse yourself in the use of technology and social media. Every company is always looking for good PR and a good "vibe." So, if you're taking a gap year, I would recommend using that time not to figure out what you want to do, but rather to hone the thing(s) that you're already good at and make them work for you.
Dr. James Stein: Take the job that best fits your career. I cannot tell you how many people (students, and personal friends alike) chose to turn down a career starter that pays $9 an hour in favor of a job that pays $11 and hour. As the old adage goes: penny smart, dollar foolish. You should always be asking yourself "how does this opportunity advance my larger goal?" Don't embark on an endeavor that doesn't help you, even if it does look shiny at first glance.
Melinda Booze: Undoubtedly, the pandemic will have an enduring impact in ways that we can't yet identify. One trend that seems counterintuitive but has been consistent both prior to and during the pandemic is graduates who start their professional lives as entrepreneurs. Even those who ultimately were hired by employers were persistent in creating their own content to showcase their work before employment was certain. -Melinda Booze, assistant professor of communication, Evangel University.
Melinda Booze: Today's communication graduates will need adaptive storytelling skills. In a communication environment that is noisy and insistent, the graduates that will stand out are those who can demonstrate to employers and clients that they can identify an audience's needs, wants and values and craft messages that connects with and engages that audience. This involves all the requisite hard and soft skills, such as technological proficiency, writing, speaking, a love of learning, flexibility, creativity and more. The skill that is perhaps less emphasized or practiced is careful listening. The outcome of careful listening is valid research that informs meaningful stories that communicate. -Melinda Booze, assistant professor of communication, Evangel University.
Eastern Michigan University
School of Communication, Media & Theatre ArtsWebsite
Dr. Jeannette Kindred Ph.D.: Networking! And by that I do not mean learn how to "schmooze" to get a job. Networking should be looked at as a lifelong mindset, and should be authentic. No matter where you are in your career, ask what can you do to enlarge your network and more importantly, how can you give to your network? The Forbes article "Lose the Schmooze: Seven Ways to Make Networking Genuine" offers some wonderful advice. I have my capstone students read it every semester.
Students can enhance their networks online (via LinkedIn for example) and also through joining professional organizations and attending networking and other in person events. In the pandemic, however, this may not be possible. Students can still maintain an online presence and join professional organizations connected to their majors, and start to build connections. These organizations may even be offering virtual events in 2021.
Dr. Jeannette Kindred Ph.D.: Seek out people in your field who you admire and start building professional relationships (this also builds your network). Ask questions and accept constructive feedback, to show that you are willing to learn and grow. Continually reflect on what you are doing and consider if the work is important and meaningful for you-if it's not, then why are you doing it? Finally, always find ways to give back to your community, through your voice or your actions. Especially in these difficult times in our country, we need people working together to better communities more than ever.
University of the Incarnate Word
Department of Communication ArtsWebsite
Michael Mercer: I think the job market might continue to be tough going into 2021. Until the vaccine is widespread many of the industries hard hit by Covid will have a slow recovery, and I would not be surprised if there is a tentative approach to hiring. However, many businesses have learned how productive employees can be when working remotely, and they have also discovered the cost savings when people work from home. I would predict that more jobs will be able to offer work-from-home options than before the pandemic.
Michael Mercer: A journalism graduate wanting to take a gap year should find opportunities to write mainly. If he or she can't land an occasional freelance opportunity during the gap year, at the least do a blog or write self-assigned pieces that meet publishing standards. Because journalism is so people-oriented, any job or opportunity during the gap year that exposes the graduate to people and telling their stories, even if it's marketing-, sales-oriented or PR-oriented, would be OK.
Michael Mercer: I hope the graduate has done at least one internship that's journalism-related or at least called on the graduate to show their journalism skills, especially writing. Not just any writing but writing aimed at conveying information in its simplest form. If the graduate has not done a previous internship, be prepared to do one, even as a freelance writer or unpaid volunteer to show how determined and skillful you are just to get your foot in the door.
University of Michigan-Flint
Department of Communication StudiesWebsite
Jeyoung (Jenny) Oh Ph.D.: The biggest trend we will see in the job market is definitely the surge in remote work. Companies have started to realize that remote work does not negatively influence the productivity of workers. As a matter of fact, some studies have indicated that employees tend to remain productive while doing remote work. With all these changes, many companies are now hiring those who can work remotely. In other words, the increasing demand for remote work provides new opportunities beyond the restrictions of physical location. If you have the skills and talent that a company needs, your location will no longer be a deciding factor.
Jeyoung (Jenny) Oh Ph.D.: Anyone with internet access can learn many different skills. Many resources are free. The skills you should learn highly depend on the specific field you'd like to work in. For example, if you are interested in market research, then I recommend you take a statistics or data analytics course on online course sites, such as Coursera or Udemy. If you are interested in graphic design, a photography or Illustrator course will be helpful. It is also important to stay updated in your field by following various online sources. For instance, if you are interested in advertising, keep up with publications such as Ad Age, and if you want to work in public relations, I recommend that you keep an eye on the websites of the Public Relations Society of America and the Institute for Public Relations for the latest news.
Graduates can also enhance their skill sets and put them into practice by engaging in different experiences, such as volunteering with organizations in their field. With the ongoing pandemic, many organizations are seeking virtual help from volunteers. For example, if you volunteer in a social media marketing project for a nonprofit organization, you get to create a social media campaign to increase awareness of the initiatives of the organization. This experience can hone your skills in creating and managing online content. To search for these kinds of opportunities, you can use sites such as VolunteerMatch or AllForGood. It would be a great chance for you to apply what you have learned in class to make society better in this novel pandemic. You can also engage in a remote internship for a similar experience.
Jeyoung (Jenny) Oh Ph.D.: If you work from home, it could be hard to separate your work time from your personal time. Make sure to take some time off to take care of yourself. It is important not only for your work performance but also for your well-being. Also, remember that there are many people who are there to support you, so do not hesitate to ask for help and ask questions. Be proactive and reach out to your colleagues. Set a virtual coffee time with your colleagues or manager to get to know them. If possible, join as many virtual workshops provided to you as you can. Those will help you understand the culture of your organization, and it will also be a great way to get to know your colleagues.
Communication Department & Learning Support SpecialistWebsite
Elizabeth B. Rogers: The drastic change in the workforce post-COVID-19 will bring both opportunities and challenges to those who are graduating from college and looking for careers. One significant opportunity for those seeking jobs in a coronavirus market is that the traditional office has completely transformed or changed virtually everywhere. The conventional cubicle or office has been replaced with remote positions that allow employees to work from home, or anywhere they have access to the technology they need to complete their job effectively.
Also, in college, students who are navigating the pandemic will have time to learn how the market is changing continually and will have the opportunity to make themselves more competitive given the current situation. However, there will be challenges for employers and employees (both potential and hired) as pandemic-focused organizations continue to navigate the ever-changing world. Employers must learn how to work with their employees, who will be juggling multiple roles not traditionally seen, long after vaccines are widely available.
Flexibility, innovation, and motivation will be critical for employers to learn. For graduates seeking a job, I challenge them to look at how the company they are applying for handled the pandemic. How a company dealt with the pandemic indicates how they will likely manage you once you are hired. One of the most considerable and lasting impacts of this pandemic on the workforce, I would say, is expectations. Employees and employers alike will need to examine what they want in a workforce and search for that in the job market.
Elizabeth B. Rogers: Adpatilbilty. It has become apparent now, maybe more than ever, that employees are expected to do their jobs well, no matter where they are completing their tasks. New job candidates will need to show with concrete evidence that they can adapt in situations that are new or uncommon. Many recent graduates can use their transition from traditional to remote learning as significant evidence of their ability to adapt. Many students thought they were going home for a few weeks in March and then spent the rest of the spring semester online. What changes did you make when the school went virtual that helped you succeed? How did you ensure you not only got your work done but also took care of yourself? What did you learn about yourself, your habits? Many students survived a tough transition, and that is something not only to applaud but use when you are selling yourself to potential employers in interviews. Employers want to know you will adapt, so be ready to tell them how you adapted during your experience with pandemic learning.
Teamwork. You must work as part of a team. However now, consider not only traditional teams but also virtual teams. I can tell you when my teaching and staff role got moved fully online last March, I relied on my team more than ever before. I work in a team environment every day, but when virtual was all we knew, teamwork became vital for not only my success but the success of my students, co-workers, and ultimately the institution. I know students hate group projects, but group projects are the closest things to the "real" workforce some students experience. Take group work seriously so you can learn how to excel in a group setting. How do you work in a team (both traditionally and virtually)? Are you reliable? Are you a leader or a follower (both are great)? Do you manage your time wisely so you can brainstorm, work, and revise? Being part of a team was always part of the workforce, so be ready to work in teams traditionally and virtually.
Technology skills. As I am sure many of you have seen, technology is becoming an extension of all work types now. It is not enough now to say you can work the Microsoft Office Suite and can type quickly. Companies need to know that you can manage technology in real ways, especially when you are not in the office. I would suggest students take an entry-level computer class at their organization as an elective, at the very least, to have some traditional training in all things tech. If your institution does not offer computer courses, I would suggest taking a free online course to earn a certificate of some kind. Students want to list real, tangible, and legitimate computer knowledge on their resumes to make them competitive.
Elizabeth B. Rogers: Any hands-on experience you have had in your field of study is what employers are looking for when looking at new graduates. Having a good GPA is always a plus, but the real experience is irreplaceable. Internships, jobs, summer programs, etc., are great ways to gain this experience while in school. I know that many internships/jobs wer cut short, changed, or never happened in the spring and summer of 2020; we can't change that. However, many companies are learning how to navigate the pandemic, so I would say put feelers out now for this upcoming spring and summer. Real job experience is a major thing a company looks for. If you also have experience working in the pandemic, that will make you stand out. Companies know that working in a pandemic is hard, and if you have already done it, that is something that companies want to know about. If you have not had a job/internship or your job/internship got interrupted, think of what you did that gave you experience. Were you in clubs? How did your leadership/membership in those clubs change? How did you continue to succeed in the new world? It does not always have to be real work experience, but think of ways to show you have experience in a dynamic group setting that looks like (or is) a "job" within itself.
When tailoring your resume to each job, look at your experience and the verbiage you use to describe it. You want to include bullet points in your experience section with action words from the job listing that honestly describe your professional experience. Give real, tangible, concise examples of what you did using vocabulary from the job listing. For instance, if the job posting says, "Seeking a dynamic, team-player, who is ready to work in a fast-paced environment," and let's say you were describing your internship with a local company: you could say, "Worked in a dynamic team-based environment to create social media content that called for user interaction to see how our customers were responding to the pandemic. Based on feedback from posts created, our branch offered curbside pickup with increased profit by 60% from the previous month." Be ready to show your employer in the interview how you did this, but this shows an employer you know what you are doing and can succeed even in new and challenging situations.