December 23, 2020
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.
University of Rhode Island
California State University - Sacramento
Virginia Wesleyan University
Southern Oregon University
University of Minnesota, Morris
University of Nevada, Las Vegas
Nicholls State University
The University of Arizona
The University of Arizona
Sean Edmund Rogers Ph.D.: -Slowed, but recovering, hiring of full-time employees and interns. The pandemic caused many employers to put the brakes on hiring as demand for their products and services dried up. Some employers are beginning to rebound and the economy will eventually return to pre-pandemic levels, but for now opportunities are pretty tight.
-Telework and workplace flexibility. The pandemic has forced many firms to try out telework, including some that were previously opposed to it. To the surprise of many employers, remote work can work just fine if done right. "Done right" means things like ensuring that employees have access to the technology and resources needed to perform their work well (and not completely expecting them to foot the bill for it), or taking into account the need for flexible schedules, for example.
-Similar to telework and considering continued travel restrictions, firms that previously relied on employees from different areas being colocated to get work done, or on their professional being able to meet with clients face-to-face, will need to get creative about how to foster teamwork or deliver the same high-quality services from a distance. Lots of training and organizational support will be required to avoid dips in employee performance and customer satisfaction.
-More and more interviews, even down to final-round interviews, are being conducted virtually. While this is most likely temporary, new entrants to the job market now and in the upcoming months will need to become comfortable with vying for jobs in nontraditional ways. Everyone will need to become quite comfortable with advanced technology use.
-Firms may find it harder to woo professionals during the pandemic. Many individuals are opting to stay put for the time being rather than explore new job opportunities. Given societal and economic uncertainties, some people would rather play it safe until we know more about the public health situation. I don't think firms will necessarily be hurting for talent, especially considering that there are industries facing job losses. But people may not be as mobile as usual for the time being.
Sean Edmund Rogers Ph.D.: The same ones that have always stood out - a solid record of performance and achievement, strong job knowledge and skills, relevant experience, reliability and dependability, a commitment to professional development such as via industry certifications, and so on. If there was one thing to add given the ever-increasing competition for jobs, it is that job seekers who have verifiable and demonstrable abilities that suggest they can hit the ground running and quickly create value for an organization may have a leg up. This is more than someone just being a self-starter. I'm talking about having a specific expertise like data analytics and visualization skills using Tableau. Just as firms seek to create and sustain competitive advantage, job seekers should be looking for ways they can hone their skills and expand their value-add for employers.
Laurence Malone Ph.D.: Yes, but the pandemic will present distinctive opportunities from its challenges. Think of how in-person networking was compromised during the pandemic. Students often leave cultivating long-term personal relationships with career counselors, classmates, alumni, mentors, and faculty until their senior year. There are opportunities to deepen those relationships, now and in the future, virtually. Ask about connecting with alumni in the Economics department. Attend the first in-person alumni event that that you can, even if you secure a great position after graduation. Use your new understandings and capacities for living and learning online to reach out and deepen those relationships. Organize an online event where faculty, classmates, and alumni discuss trends and future developments in the economy. Why not create an event with the theme, "Will there be an enduring impact of the coronavirus pandemic on economics graduates?"
Laurence Malone Ph.D.: Economics graduates have a full range of adaptable skills, and that makes them fantastic hires in for-profit and not-for-profit organizations. The strongest graduates have the ability to read and interpret arguments, information, numbers, and data. They also have a knack for creating and offering engaging presentations, with competence, poise and professionalism. The Economics major tends to produce articulate and well-spoken leaders who are strong writers, especially when it comes to making forceful and concise arguments. If you measure up, you will be able to produce a two-page memo when someone says, "Here's our problem, I want a written recommendation tomorrow that highlights the scope of the issue and our options for a solution."
How do you get there, before graduation? By taking philosophy and literature courses that challenge you to think, speak and write and any course that requires public speaking and creating and presenting material to the class. You'll need to be comfortable with numbers and how they communicate information by taking statistics and courses that improve your skills in Excel. Be sure to take the Econometrics course if it's offered in your major program. The classes that sharpen these skills are the ones most students run away from. But you are an Economics major, and that means you should take at least one every semester.
Finally, a post-pandemic revolution in workplace organization is coming. Be ready to port all of these skills over to a virtual work environment. Know how to share screens, and how to serve as a meeting host or co-host. Think of yourself as teaching a virtual class by observing how your instructor is navigating that teaching and learning environment. What works well, what doesn't, and what are some good ways to foster more interaction and engagement among the participants who are on the screen?
Laurence Malone Ph.D.: Most experiences that are listed on the resumes of graduating seniors have become as homogenous as milk. Leadership roles as club officers, student athletes, and residence life assistants may sound impressive to you, but they are now the essential DNA of every graduate. For employers, these experiences are the minimal expectation of all applicants. So now that you're at the door, how do you get inside? With unique and unusual community engagement roles, volunteer service, and part-time work experiences.
The one-word answer to what really stands out is something that's QUIRKY.
For a graduate in Economics, this might be something you built, or extra training that you accomplished on your own. Quirky could also mean a challenge that you overcame. Did you complete a 500-mile hike? Did you volunteer for a disaster relief effort? Did you play a role as an essential worker during the pandemic? Are you an EMT? Have you served as a mentor to others, despite being relatively young? These quirky attributes can be hard to communicate on a traditional resume, but do what you do best - conduct some research on how to pull it off.
A good place to start is to ask how you overcame the impact of the pandemic and whether you offered help to others to do so. One of my recent graduates exemplifies the past, present and future of getting your first position after college, and what that job might look like. His resume showed a decent GPA and a solid list of those homogenous accomplishments mentioned above. But what really stood out was that he completed 30 hours of online training and volunteered for a crisis hotline. That won him four rounds of online interviews and a terrific position with a leading financial firm. And six months after the first interview, he still hadn't met with a single employee of the firm, in person.
David M. Lang: The pandemic has shown that flexible companies adapt to new methodologies and technologies. They can sustain marketplace fluctuations that will have the best chance of surviving this crisis. Smart hiring managers will undoubtedly be looking for employees that have these characteristics as well. Applicants who can demonstrate flexibility and the ability to learn new technology quickly and have an easy-going demeanor will be in the highest demand.
David M. Lang: The job market will reward people that require as little supervision and training as possible. Our pandemic times and likely, our post-pandemic times will involve a fair amount of remote working. As such, employers will want to make sure that the individuals they hire are self-motivated, quick learners who can hit the ground running without a lot of hand-holding. If taking a year off, I would make sure that job applicants devote some time to learning about the industry standards in which they plan to work. Does the industry use a particular software? Start learning about how to use that. Does the occupation use specific data or require coding? Devote some time to learning the basics of that as well. As always, don't forget the soft skills of communication (orally and written) and interpersonal relationships.
David M. Lang: I feel I hit this pretty well in the first two questions. Beyond that, I would say, be patient. Things may be rough for a while. Understand that your first job is almost certainly not your last job. Do not be afraid to take something in your field that is less than perfect for getting some experience and then to look for something better down the road. Also, do not be afraid to reject a bad offer. And last but not least, take no job without negotiating!
Jessica Harrington: Realistically, new graduates should expect some impact. New graduates, depending on their field, may struggle to find full-time employment directly after graduation, which could affect lifetime earnings and, as a result, major financial decisions.
Jessica Harrington: Competitive new graduates will need a variety of soft skills, some of which they have likely already developed, such as adaptability and advanced written and oral communication skills. Strong technical skills and certifications will benefit new graduates as they often enter a virtual work setting.
Jessica Harrington: Relevant work experience is always best. New graduates should keep in mind that an internship is a form of relevant work experience and should be placed toward the top of their resume. I also encourage new graduates to place their education at or near the beginning of their resumes. A college degree has helped prepare a new graduate for their field and should be highlighted.
Southern Oregon University
Economics Affiliated Faculty, Healthcare Administration Affiliated Faculty, Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies Program
Jacqueline Strenio Ph.D.: It's hard to predict the full effect of the novel coronavirus pandemic on graduates as it is, indeed, novel. It has drastically changed not only the overall macroeconomy but also the landscape of work itself by necessitating the rapid transition to remote work and accelerating disruptions in major industries. However, in terms of the recessionary effects of the coronavirus pandemic on graduates, we can look to past recessions to make predictions about potential enduring impacts.
Previous research on the effects of graduating into a recession finds that it is associated with initially lower earnings and more job switching, effects that can linger for years. It has even been linked to poorer health in middle age. A lot of these impacts are the result of the fact that fewer jobs are available overall, reducing the quality of the initial employment offer or the match between employee and employer.
These effects may be amplified for women and BIPOC graduates who already face labor market discrimination. On the demand side, this means it is imperative for employers to evaluate their hiring criteria, making sure they are not disproportionately disadvantaging these populations. On the supply-side, I would encourage graduates to be open to a variety of different jobs that may be different than those they initially imagined. Continuing to look for new and better matches as the economy improves will also help combat these initial earnings losses.
However, there is good news for college graduates: recent research has found that these impacts are less severe for those with college degrees when compared to those with high school degrees. So, for those students that are close to graduating, I would strongly encourage them to complete their degrees despite the challenges of remote learning.
Jacqueline Strenio Ph.D.: If the pandemic has taught us anything, it's the importance of data literacy and the social sciences. Employers will be looking for evidence of these skills on resumes and expect them of new hires.
Data literacy refers to the ability to interpret data and understand its limitations, but also the ability to clearly communicate with data. This doesn't just mean having the technical skills to manage and analyze data, but also the ability to convey insights from such analyses. Employers will be looking for workers that can describe the results and implications of those analyses, which necessitates strong written and oral communication skills.
The pandemic has also highlighted the importance of the social sciences. Although a vaccine didn't emerge from the social sciences, insights from such disciplines are critical in constructing vaccine rollouts and other socially-acceptable policies that account for human behavior. The social sciences, including economics, will also be necessary in helping to rebuild our communities in more sustainable and inclusive ways in the post-pandemic world. Young graduates entering the workforce that understand human nature and can critically evaluate policies and procedures from a social scientific perspective will be invaluable to employers for their ability to think technically, but also creatively, and account for social norms and human behavior. More generally, creative and innovative thinking and the ability to be flexible are imperative. These things are a core part of any liberal arts curriculum. Graduates should emphasize these liberal arts skills in addition to technical career training.
Bart Finzel Ph.D.: The labor market will continue to be weak until the third quarter of 2021. The weakness will be particularly acute in personal services and, increasingly, public sector employment. Since many 2020 graduates remain underemployed, the graduating classes this spring will be competing with them and find their job search challenging. It is also likely that entry-level salaries will be markedly lower than in prior years.
Longer-term, the pandemic is accelerating the use of automation in some manufacturing, warehouses, and retail. This should allow wages to rise in these sectors even though employment may not. The 40% or so of jobs that have been done remotely during the pandemic will likely continue to have greater flexibility in hours. However, I don't share the view that most of these jobs will remain fully remote. The challenges of onboarding new people, establishing group norms, and the need for new employees to have a peer group will, I think, lead many of these jobs to be "on-site" for a significant fraction of time, perhaps two of every five workdays.
For the households that have maintained employment and income throughout the pandemic, savings rates have risen. As vaccination rates increase later in 2021, these saved dollars will be spent and lead to a burst of economic activity and more significant employment opportunities across the board. It would be an excellent year for May graduates to consider an unpaid internship or other skills-building training in the summer. I believe job prospects will be much more significant in September.
Bart Finzel Ph.D.: In this environment, it is essential for social scientists applying for jobs to have demonstrated their ability to work with little supervision and direction. Stress any independent projects and initiatives undertaken during the pandemic.
Social scientists also must demonstrate they can collaborate remotely and can facilitate online group communication.
Social scientists should also stress their affinity/skills in data management and data in decision making.
Bart Finzel Ph.D.: I believe that geography will be less critical to the job search than it has been historically. That said, I think we will return to the pre-COVID trend of jobs being more plentiful in small (250-000-1,000,000) cities and those places around the country with great amenities--music, mountains, lakes.
Stephen Miller Ph.D.: Those graduates who successfully secure a position this year will have learned to be resilient. This will pay dividends on the job in the present and the future. Assuming that the vaccines work, the economy should be back to normal in 2022. The economy should resume its growth from before the COVID-19 recession.
Stephen Miller Ph.D.: All the coping skills in the job search and any skills related to communicating remotely and online will pay good dividends to the graduates.
Stephen Miller Ph.D.: All the standard stuff is still important, along with skills related to communicating remotely and online. Work experience where the graduate exercised decision-making authority. That is, the graduate can think outside the box.
Raymond Peters: Healthcare related jobs are in reasonably high demand right now, and we are not only talking direct caregivers. We are seeing good interest in healthcare-related accounting and financial analyst positions. With increased hiring, HR-related places are also remaining steady. Also, with COVID-related government economic incentives and tax considerations, accounting positions stay in high demand. Lastly, STEM-related opportunities remain strong, and that trend will continue.
Raymond Peters: We repeatedly hear from employers that "essential/soft" skills remain high on their recruiting wish list. As someone who has hired professionals for over 40 years, you generally assume that if an applicant has experience at a reputable institution, they should have the technical qualifications for the role. What you are looking for is credential separation. What makes them stand out? Have they been in parts to practice his/her communication skills? Similarly, with conflict resolution and problem-solving skills. Internships and applied work experience are always beneficial. Lastly, the customer service experience is desirable.
Raymond Peters: There are opportunities across the U.S., depending on geographic need. I tell my students that you may need to look elsewhere if there are no jobs in your backyard. Where are the technology hubs? Medical centers? Supply chain and distribution? Manufacturing? You have to go to where the jobs are - they are not coming to you. When considering job opportunities, I counsel my students that there are three fundamental roles in business...you have to make something or provide a service; you need to sell it; and finely, you need to account for it. Try to locate a position in one of those areas. Lastly, I have a divergent opinion concerning working from home trend. While it seems to be in vogue today, I do not believe it will last.
John Drabicki Ph.D.: Do not allow anyone to outwork you; do not be a free-rider, help others/do more than your "fair share"; treat everyone with respect and dignity; keep your eyes and ears open, observe and listen to everything; be honest, dependable, positive, and honorable in everything that you do.
Price Fishback Ph.D.: Gain a great deal of oral and written presentation skills, training in statistics, and experience with computers.
Price Fishback Ph.D.: In economics, training in statistical and machine learning methods.
Price Fishback Ph.D.: The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that economics majors are among the highest-paid undergraduate majors immediately after graduation and later in life. Prospects are good.
Ann M. Ebberts: There are over 92,600 government entities across the United States - all of which spend taxpayer dollars and need financial staff/managers/leaders to ensure funds are allocated (and managed) to support the priorities of the government entity. In support of these government entities, there are an estimated 24M employees (as of 2018) supporting federal (civilian and military), state and local governments, and tribal entities.
With respect to the Federal government, there are an estimated 2.2 million civilians and 1.4 million in the military. Fifteen percent of the federal government works in the Washington Metropolitan area, and the others are spread across the U.S., with Washington D.C., California, Maryland, Texas, and Virginia having the highest concentration of federal workers. The balance of the federal workforce is working in the other 46 states and U.S. territories.
Interested newcomers to the government can find opportunities across the country.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics -see
"Demand for efficient use of public funds at the state and local levels will lead to continued demand for budget analysts. Although many states are facing budget shortfalls, the employment of these workers should remain steady. Because budget analysts are responsible for managing the allocation of resources, the need for these workers remains even during times of tight budgets."
Ann M. Ebberts: Technology will continue to impact this and every financial field. Today, technology is enabling staff to work from their homes and still have the capability to access information systems managed by their employer. Remote or distance learning capabilities will enable new employees to continue to gain knowledge and learn new skills.
Data analysis and visualization capabilities will enable the financial workforce to continue to evolve in how it analyzes and presents information for senior level decision-makers. The capabilities of 'data lakes' to make available vast amounts of data that can be compared, analyzed, and evaluated -- enabling financial management and budget analysts to provide a more comprehensive picture as to the status of funds, project status, and project impact. With this information, they can better identify what projects are performing as planned (or not) and where money should be reallocated (or not) to achieve the goals of the organization or service unit.