January 10, 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.
Pennsylvania State University - Altoona
Washington State University
Northern Michigan University
Johns Hopkins University
Monroe Community College
Department of Communication
Jason McKahan Ph.D.: The scary news is that, due to COVID-19, economic activity has collapsed and unemployment has soared. The economic downturn due to COVID-19 is going to put more graduates in competition for less jobs. Graduates will need to be flexible and imaginative in finding work. Some jobs may be temporary in nature but pay the bills, while other jobs might not be directly in field, but nonetheless achievable through minor training, and quite rewarding. I would project a boom in teleworking and virtual careers. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics suggest that transportation and warehousing (think Amazon), professional and business services, and health care will see the most growth as new pandemic era needs and technologies emerge.
Jason McKahan Ph.D.: Given the rapid concentration of media ownership and media technology convergence in the communication industries over the past three decades, I've been telling students to wear multiple hats for years. However, with the current occupational forecast market, I would definitely encourage students to expand their skillset. At the same time, I would not want them to accrue more educational debt in doing so. There are soft skills, which according to Linkedin, are in high demand and can always be learned and habituated at little to no expense, such as communication and leadership skills, media and technological literacy, critical thinking and problem-solving, customer service and marketing savvy. There are opportunities for professional development through online certifications and skill-specific classes offered by local educational institutions and free seminars from professional organizations and associations (I stay current by taking classes through Linkedin Learning). Graduates with financial hardships or who are carrying student debt between graduation and their first job should look into federal, state, and local coronavirus relief programs.
Jason McKahan Ph.D.: I encourage students to put themselves in the place of recruiters and employers. Graduates need to be punctual, organized, communicate effectively both verbally and in writing, and most importantly in my opinion, be polite and personable. I also encourage students to put organizational interests of the employer in the forefront (starting with the careful familiarization of every organization's mission, vision, and culture prior to application and interviewing). Be certain that your application and portfolio is flawless and targeted. Be a team player willing to "pay their dues" and maintain a sense of curiosity and willingness to grow, to learn. Good luck out there!
Derek Arnold: One thing I have seen over the past nine months is the realization of two things: first, that our students are really skilled and ready, even eager, to get out into the job market. Second, sadly, the short-term market is having a set of challenges that we see first hand through fewer jobs that are out there and less physical movement of people in general, which again creates fewer openings that normally are caused by those movements. Because of this, another trend we are seeing is the move to online employment. Our students are beginning with that experience already through the search for internships: we are finding previous positions for interns that were more or less consistently "on-site" are now being disrupted as those positions are not suited for work completed online from a distance.
So we have been working non-stop to help these organizations redesign these positions and find who would best fit those newly designed positions. We are then creating new assignments in our classes to help train students on the skills and tasks needed to qualify for these internships and jobs successfully. We think that in the end, this approach will help future employees be able to bring new skills to the table in their information managing skills and use of new software and applications to increase their versatility. One last trend we are thinking will help the idea of potential employees adapting their communication skills to be able to both better listen to (through reading emails and other correspondence, even through social media) as well as initiate conversations to make their points as clear as possible and to pay attention to the culture of an organization as well integrate simple logistical things like timing of messages and keeping them brief).
To some extent, deciding to take some time from their job searching and "waiting out" the worse of the pandemic for either health or other personal reasons might be a good choice for some people. I think the key is to work on developing some extra skills online during this time to keep yourself up on relevant news in fields you are interested in; do the same to perhaps train yourself in such things as software and applications such as social media used to network and communicate with other possible contact people, as well as their own targeted audiences.
Once you see what the environment is for future employment, determine how much you will "look around" before you attempt to enter the job market. There might be great opportunities that will present themself to you. Being open to these possibilities, even ahead of your initial "timeline," adds more control to your choices, not limit them. Finally, some extra skills that allow you to communicate with a more diverse group of potential customers might make the difference between you and other job applicants out there. Learning or brushing up on a foreign language (even something like sign language) can give you a crucial edge over someone else who is similar to you in other achievements.
One of the things I stress to my incoming first-year students is that you need to be less concerned about specialized skills right off the start that you might develop over four (or more) years (and many will wind up changing their choice of that major anyhow over their collegiate career) and worry more about strong "general" skills that will apply to multiple areas "out there." I tell them that some jobs available in four years haven't even been created yet. Application software developers, data miners, 3d printing engineers, AI specialists--all these positions were in their infancy only a few years ago. Some of the people in school right now will be among the first who might be hired to fill the new jobs created.
To some extent, the training for them is not complete either, so some basic skills can help you be in the right place at the right time. Skills like problem-solving, critical thinking, logic/argumentation, and strong speaking skills never go out of style and can turn out to be a key to success once you get dropped into a situation that wasn't exactly what you were expecting when you were looking for your first "real" job. Think about it: If you bought stock in a company that employed Zoom support technicians, plexiglass screen manufacturers, and installers, mask makers, or contact tracing application software designers, you are probably sitting in a good place right now. The key is to be prepared, ready, and willing to explore new opportunities as they arise; there's a lot you can learn on the fly, but having a well developed, sensible pattern to address general questions to solve problems (or even what questions you need to ask) can put you in advantageous positions. There is a crying need for this, especially in today's ever-changing world.
Stefanie Kempton: The most significant trend in the communications job market, given the pandemic, will be a push towards more independent work. Many journalists are now working remotely, conducting interviews via Zoom, limiting time in the newsroom, and even broadcasting live from their homes. Public relations and marketing professionals are also following suit. Recent and upcoming college graduates need to work independently, have good time management skills, and have a solid grasp of the current technologies being used.
Stefanie Kempton: Interactive platforms like Zoom, Skype, and Microsoft Teams have been critical for many workplaces during the pandemic, especially for those in communications. File sharing sites like Box and Google Drive are also significant. Specifically for the communications field, these sites allow large media files to be shared quickly and easily without losing quality. By using these technologies, many newsrooms, public relations firms, and other communications businesses can still put together quality, timely products, even if part of or all of their staff are working remotely. It's pretty incredible. Even after the pandemic, these technologies will continue to be essential and prevalent in the field.
Stefanie Kempton: I think there will be an increase in demand for graduates in communications in the next five years. The pandemic has clearly shown the critical importance of the communications field. Communication technologies, like Zoom, have become essential to conduct business and maintain social and personal lives. News outlets have also become even more critical. Television news viewership and newspaper readership reached new levels of audience engagement during the pandemic.
COVID-19 information is continuously changing and emerging, and it impacts everyone, regardless of demographic, so audiences flocked to news outlets. There has also been a resurgence of traditional television news consumption because more people are at home. Public relations and marketing became even more critical because businesses had to keep customers informed about the latest updates and do all they could to reassure customers that their business places were safe. I think the communications industry's recognized importance will remain even after the pandemic, and so the need for graduates will continue to increase.
Brett Atwood: During the pandemic, finding a job is going to be more challenging than usual for new college graduates. To get a headstart on their job search, students should be proactive in optimizing their resumes and online portfolios, before they even graduate.
Prospective job seekers should make sure that their resumes contain the same keywords used by employers when describing key qualifications. That's because many hiring managers use applicant tracking systems (ATS) software to better manage and filter through a high volume of job prospects and applications. This means that there may be keyword filters used as resumes are scanned to identify top candidates who make the cut for consideration.
When we talk to employers about the skills they value most, one of the key things we hear is that writing is still fundamentally important. We may be in an age where texting and short-form communication is the norm for many students, but many employers bemoan the lack of candidates who possess the ability to communicate clearly using complete sentences, proper grammar, and (when appropriate) AP style compliance.
Employers want to see evidence of strong content creation skills and strategic thinking. That's why students should also prepare an online portfolio to accompany their resume. This can be hosted on a third-party platform or website creation service (such as WordPress or Wix) or even nested within your LinkedIn presence using its "Featured" section that allows the addition of links, articles, and media to your profile. A prospective employer will feel much more comfortable hiring someone after they see writing samples and/or examples of their work. Students who lack strong professional experience can still build a portfolio using elements that were created as part of an internship or class assignment.
Brett Atwood: The pandemic has caused many students to consider whether it is a better move to sit out college for a year or two until things return to normal. Remote learning isn't for everyone. Students can still advance their education outside the classroom by gaining experience that will strengthen their resumes and impress potential employers. In the PR sector, there are several certification programs and workshops that students should consider, including free or low-cost online courses. For example, the Google Analytics Academy is a free way for students to train in the use of the key website and campaign measurement tools that are highly valued in the industry. Although it isn't free, Hootsuite Academy offers low-cost certification courses that help boost social media management and advertising skills. I'd also recommend that students consider their internship options during a gap year so that they gain more professional work experience. The bottom line is that a gap year can be an important way to beef up both your experience and skills while you wait to resume your college education.
Brett Atwood: I think practitioners will have more data tracking and campaign targeting tools and services to choose from in the next few years. These tools are already in wide use, but the landscape is getting increasingly complex due to the emergence of even more Big Data resources that allow for more granular and accurate segmentation and tracking. More privacy and consumer protection regulations will also add to the complexity as practitioners will need to manage and navigate through the differing data protection laws from individual U.S. states and global territories. Despite these challenges, practitioners will be expected to possess some intermediate-level data analysis skills, alongside their mastery of content creation and campaign planning.
Carolyn Lok: It depends on where and what you're applying for. In my experience, it's not about the kind of experience that makes you stand out. It's what you do with every experience or internship you've had. You get out what you put in. If there's a position you're looking to get hired for, look into what skills you need to get there and then seek out opportunities that allow you to grow and refine yourself as an applicant.
Carolyn Lok: Based on the role or industry you're aiming for, I would suggest conducting research on the kinds of skills you should have, so that you can continue to stimulate your learning. There are a lot of trade skill certifications out there that anyone can look up and learn more about. Some of the ones I'd recommend for someone looking to go into PR or social media are Hootsuite, Facebook Analytics, or Google Analytics. You can also go on a website like Skillshare to discover even more. PRSSA offers students who are within six months of graduation (before and after) the opportunity to earn their Certificate in Principles of Public Relations. It offers lessons around communications models, media relations, ethics, and more.
Carolyn Lok: Technology has undoubtedly grown more and more valuable over the last decade. Especially with the pandemic, many of us have had to adjust to platforms like Zoom, Slack, or Microsoft Teams. I imagine that even post-pandemic, more companies will continue to use telecommunication and utilize these tools to increase productivity. Another thing I believe will become more widely practiced and used will be artificial intelligence. With techs like Google Home and Amazon Alexa, AI will be a great tool for communication specialists to gain better insight into the wants and needs of their target audiences.
Northern Michigan University
Antony Aumann Ph.D.: As a philosophy professor, I don't usually read resumes. Moreover, unlike nursing, there is not a direct connection between my discipline and a specific profession. Students with philosophy majors and minors go on to succeed in a variety of fields and areas. I think this is one of the virtues of a philosophy degree. It teaches you to evaluate ideas carefully and communicate clearly about them, which are skills prized by many businesses.
Antony Aumann Ph.D.: There are many ways to fill a gap year, and the wisest approach is one that fits the unique circumstances of the student. If they hope to go on in philosophy, I will encourage them to continue reading philosophical texts so as to keep their minds in the game. Another way to stay sharp is to attend a philosophy conference. Many professional conferences are going online due to the pandemic, and their virtual nature is driving down the costs of attendance. For instance, the annual meeting of the American Society for Aesthetics in November is charging people only $10 to register. At this price point, it is reasonable to pop into a few sessions that strike one's fancy. This advice generalizes across disciplines. To remain current in your field, keep reading the relevant literature, and consider attending a professional conference. Make sure to ask your professors for advice about which texts and conferences are worth your while.
Antony Aumann Ph.D.: Social media is becoming an increasingly important part of academic life. Many well-known philosophy professors are active on Twitter and TikTok, where they share their views on everything from current affairs to classic philosophical problems. Another way to stay current in the field is to partake in the discussions initiated by these professors online.
Taylor Hahn Ph.D.: I don't want to endorse or focus on any specific company here. However, I think that Communication graduates will find that nearly every organization requires an extensive communication team. One of the significant benefits of a degree in Comm is adapting to an organization's communication needs. Graduates should consider focusing on organizations seeking to expand their communication efforts (either improving existing initiatives or reaching into new mediums) and that are able and willing to innovate (open to new ideas, willing to let employees build and develop communication initiatives). Many organizations are opposed to innovations in communication, either in form or content. This might be a warning sign for applicants.
Taylor Hahn Ph.D.: There will always be a demand for competent communication experts, and we expect this trend to continue into the next five years and beyond. In 2019 MarketWatch listed Communication within the top 10 most versatile majors available to undergraduates https://www.natcom.org/sites/default/files/publications/NCA_CBrief_Vol9_6.pdf Communication, ranking above Computer Science and Information Technology. This demonstrates that employers are aware of the need for communication experts. While everyone needs to keep up-to-date on new trends in comm (new forms of digital communication, for example), the degree's core components are nearly universally desired and needed across markets and organizations.
Taylor Hahn Ph.D.: One thing for applicants to consider is their interest in working on-site or remotely (digitally). Organizations were already beginning to move toward remote working for many communication needs, and the ongoing COVID pandemic has only exacerbated this trend. Graduates should consider their work style and use this insight to determine whether they work best in person or if online working is feasible. This requires a high degree of personal reflection, and there's no 'correct' answer here. So the first piece of advice I'd offer is to conduct an assessment of where and how you'd like to work and go from there. There is always a need for communication experts, so make sure to find the right fit for your needs.
Department of Communication
Dr. Ginger Blackstone Ph.D.: When it comes to gathering information, the old school values are still fundamental: Get to the facts, verify the things people say (anyone can say anything--find ways to prove/disprove statements), be curious about the world and the community around you, and don't be afraid to hold our leaders accountable. Our mission is to inform the audience and get to the truth--no matter what party or ideology. Once a journalist has that information, clear communication skills are a must. Can you write and speak clearly? These are the old school values that are still very important for the field. But looking at current audience trends, today's journalists must be flexible in terms of presentation and platforms. The best journalists are dependable writers both in print and digital media, able to speak clearly to accommodate podcasts and radio, and comfortable speaking in front of a camera for social media and broadcast outlets. Audiences are all over, and journalists need to be ready to connect to audiences where they are. If we want to inform the public, we need to make sure the message is getting to the public. And the news/information/media industries are always changing.
As far as being a good employee, it's relatively simple:
- Show up on time
- Dress like a responsible journalist
- Do the job you're paid to do
- Play nice with coworkers
- Be ethical
- Build trust with your supervisors
- Have ideas for what stories you want to pursue
If something about the workflow isn't functioning well, don't be shy about proposing a solution instead of complaining about it to others. These seem like little things, but you will be valued as an employee when you're reliable and responsible. And if you're in a dysfunctional news operation where these qualities are not respected, you'll want to find a place where they are. Also, if you leave a job, don't burn bridges. Everyone in this industry talks to everyone else.
Dr. Ginger Blackstone Ph.D.: Most journalists will begin in smaller towns: local newspapers, local TV stations. Bigger cities are going to want people with experience. Keep in mind, if you're a big city person who can't see living in a smaller community, this is just your first job. It doesn't have to be your forever job. Honestly, straight out of school, take whatever job you can to get your foot in the door and get to work polishing your skills. In this field, there's always more to learn. If you did an internship while working on your degree, follow up with that news operation. They may have job leads, and they can serve as a reference. In some cases, they may hire you!
Dr. Ginger Blackstone Ph.D.: It's hard to predict. Things move so fast in this field. Again, today's journalist needs to be flexible, especially when it comes to platforms and tools. Learn new devices that can make the job easier. Try new apps or software to streamline workflow. Also, when covering a story, it's not just about taking notes. Snap some photos to promote your information on social media. Record an interview you can use as a video or audio clip on the website with your article. And you don't need heavy or complicated equipment. Smartphones take some pretty good photos and videos. And the audio isn't half bad. That's probably an area where we'll see a fair amount of improvement in handheld devices in the next five years. And if you don't know how to use something new, don't be shy about trying it out. There are so many tutorials on YouTube.
One last thing: I think journalists must filter out haters and skeptics who point fingers and accuse us of reporting "fake news" anytime they hear something they don't like. The optimist in me chooses to believe that the audience will figure things out in time. Some people need their beliefs reinforced and refuse to accept anything else. But truth has a way of coming out eventually. We aren't usually the ones that handle placating audiences. Our job is to inform them: tell the truth to the best of our abilities as clearly and transparently as possible. I would like to believe that if we do our jobs and stay the course, we will win back the public's trust. We cannot control what another person feels or believes. We can control what we write and say. The truth has a way of coming to light in time. We want to be on the right side of history.
Monroe Community College
Rebecca Griffin: Yes, there has certainly been an impact on the entire hospitality and tourism industry, but the industry will recover with time. Many of our graduates are finding employment, and even during this time, we regularly have employers reaching out for experienced and qualified candidates. Many businesses are working on rebranding themselves during this time.
Rebecca Griffin: To any graduate beginning their career, I would recommend that they find a job that is right for them, and a mentor to assist in training and developing their career. I would recommend they are flexible and take advantage of professional development opportunities that arise. You can never stop learning. I would also recommend that these individuals stay current with industry trends and customer interests.
Rebecca Griffin: We have seen a rapid increase in online ordering, take-out options, and touchless delivery. With online ordering and restaurant self-service kiosks already trending, I foresee these systems continuing to advance and being incorporated into hospitality operations.