January 24, 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.
Murray State University
Department of Biological Sciences
Oliver Beckers: The pandemic has showed how important it is to have the capability to quickly develop, certify, and administer a vaccine for COVID-19 or any other potential pathogen. These steps require medical personnel on many levels, such as physician assistants, nurse practitioners, and medical doctors that will likely be in greater demand for some time. Beyond these areas, it will be important to develop tests for early detection of diseases, differentiation of strains, and to study the evolution of pathogens, which is true for COVID-19 as well as other new diseases. I expect that these endeavors would require the need of graduates from areas such as immunology, epidemiology, biotechnology, and molecular biology. In addition, medical equipment manufacturing, and quality control could be areas of increased growth.
More generally speaking, the pandemic has also shown how well remote meetings and teaching works. I expect that this communication technology (e.g., Zoom) will take a permanent position in many professional areas, including businesses and various types of schools and colleges. I think that development and improvement of these technologies will continue beyond the pandemic. Companies will need people with the skill sets to establish, manage, and implement these communication technologies. In addition, I expect more online teaching positions to become available.
Oliver Beckers: If a gap year is necessary, I would recommend the student to gain practical experience that will be of use for future professional goals. For example, students should look for internships (e.g., at a hospitals, universities, or companies) that provide them valuable experiences that are closely related to their future job. Generally speaking, companies see skills, such as effective communication (in oral and written form), critical thinking, decision making, being able to work in teams but also independently, time management, being proactive and self-motivated, and applying skills to real-world settings, as very important for future hires (source: Association of American Colleges and Universities, 2018). I would add that technical skills related to remote working will be of importance even past the pandemic. Depending on the future professional goal, I would recommend the student to use the gap year effectively to add and improve their skill sets based on this list. For example, working on a research project during a summer internship would help the student practicing teamwork, communication skills, and critical thinking to mention a few of the important skills. These internships are useful to build a C.V. that reflects the acquired skills and make the graduate more competitive on the job market.
Oliver Beckers: Some jobs require a graduate degree (e.g., M.S. or Ph.D.), while others do not, and the college graduate will need to make the decision whether it is worth pursuing such a degree or not. Even though a graduate degree might not be required to apply for the advertised position, it may facilitate promotion to other positions in the company or area of work, i.e., it will help in the long run. Note that it will be more difficult to work on a graduate degree after joining the workforce than doing it before.
I would also recommend the graduate to choose a position that truly excites them and motivates them to work. However, I think that being too selective about the position and waiting for the 'dream job' coming along is likely not a good approach either, because it limits the possibilities to get started in the chosen profession. Evaluating the position in the context of opportunities within the company such as opportunities for promotion, training and professional development should be part of the decision process. Understanding the true potential of the position in the context of the company might make the advertised position more exciting for professional long-term goals. I suggest applying to multiple positions that are within the comfort zone of the graduate in order to have more options from which to choose. The only job that you definitely will not get is the one for which you didn't apply.
Erin McKenney Ph.D.: I consider employment a lot in my course design, and try to integrate marketable skills and professional development opportunities in my classes - particularly to address leadership skill gaps noted by employers in a recent NACTA/APLU report that came out this summer.
North Carolina State University
Department of Applied Ecology
Rebecca Irwin Ph.D.: I will say though, in terms of stand-out factors on resumes, the following generally apply:
- Strong publication record (as evidenced by peer-reviewed publications)
- Strong communication skills (as evidenced by collaborations, communication workshops, and teaching workshops)
- Teaching experience (if going into academia, as evidenced by teaching and communication workshops, teaching certificates, and developing and teaching a course as instructor of record)
- Strong quantitative skills (as evidenced by publications, specific quantitative skills, and classes or workshops taken)
- Timely completion of graduate degree