November 16, 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.
William Paterson University of New Jersey
James Madison University
Western Washington University
University of Washington
California State University - Stanislaus
Duke Trinity College of Arts & Sciences
University of South Alabama
Loyola University Maryland
Campbell School of Business, Berry College
George Fox University
Bay Path University
University of La Verne
Western New Mexico University
Department of Accounting & Finance
Dr. Michael Tin Shan Suen: Students need to have both hard and soft skills. Some of the in-demand hard skills are data analytics, the ability to code, analytical thinking, and the ability to tackle unstructured problems. The essential soft skill includes creativity, self-motivation, work ethics, perseverance, and being patient with your career development.
Dr. Michael Tin Shan Suen: Based on conventional thinking, good places for finance graduates to find work are New York (including the tri-state area), Chicago, and San Francisco. However, big cities in Texas and Florida are showing a growth trend.
Dr. Michael Tin Shan Suen: The field of finance will continue to embrace the advancement and application of the latest technology. Mastering the technology to analyze huge amounts of data is essential. This will turn the data into your competitive advantage.
Dr. Francis Cai Ph.D.: I would advise students to learn and gain experience in as much as possible. It's not uncommon for people to switch jobs and responsibilities throughout their careers, and you never know what knowledge you learn can be applied later in life. It's almost impossible for the school to prepare you fully for the real world, so don't be afraid to ask questions. The whole world is different from your college life. Be willing to adjust to the new environment.
Dr. Francis Cai Ph.D.: Microsoft Excel will still be one of the vital tools for finance graduates. In the meantime, junior finance professionals should also pay attention to new technology to improve financial performance. Companies have increased their focus on big data, especially topics such as artificial intelligence and statistics. Learning programming languages such as R or Python, or similar programming language, will help office automation improve financial performance.
Dr. Francis Cai Ph.D.: The latest data from the website Payscale.com indicates that graduates with finance majors generally have a higher starting salary than the average college graduate salary. There are many career advancement opportunities in finance, either on Wall Street or within finance and treasury departments at corporates.
Dr. William Wood Ph.D.: The main two things are: (1) Be a great team member by working hard with your colleagues and being friendly to everybody, especially people who are not in a position to directly help you -- for example, a cleaning crew member. This will make you a better person and possibly also attract favorable notice from those who can now help you. And (2) Be obsessive about learning new skills. If you get an optional opportunity to learn some new software or train on a different system, treat it as mandatory.
Dr. William Wood Ph.D.: I believe open-source software, such as R and Python, will become even more important and prevalent. But beyond learning as much R and Python as they can get, I think economics graduates should be alert to what replaces R and Python -- because no technological system or feature lasts forever. The useful life of technical systems seems to be getting shorter.
Dr. William Wood Ph.D.: Starting salaries in economics are good -- better than for most college degrees -- and they get better as economics majors advance in their careers. Economics prepares people for leadership, and people with good leadership skills are often drawn to economics. Both effects operate to give us this observation that economics majors do well in their careers.
Hart Hodges: In the near term, graduates have to navigate a very different world when it comes to interviewing. You have to present yourself well via Zoom or MS Teams. And you have to get a feel for an organization, perhaps without seeing it or its people in person. But hopefully, those challenges start to fade this summer - so maybe not a trend. Looking longer-term, I think one trend we'll see changes in data analytics.
"Big data" was already a developing trend. I think now you have to add dealing with and including uncertainty. (People will want analysts to consider scenarios where low probability events - like a pandemic - emerge.) I think another trend is demonstrating the ability to self manage and to be versatile. Your employer may need you in the office some days and at home others; your supervisors may work remotely; you will have to be able to handle in-person or virtual meetings, etc.
Hart Hodges: I'm going to hedge a bit on this question and say it is partly a matter of identifying the technology that will become more important, but more than that is having the ability to use different technologies and to be a good consumer of data. The exact technology depends on the career path. Some may be part of new fintech, while others will include more machine learning and AI. I do think machine learning is changing the world of forecasting and analysis. But graduates need to understand layers.
They need to understand the strengths and weaknesses of different data sources and use technologies that let them combine data that are in different formats. For example, there are valuable economic data in GIS format that you may want to combine with data in a very different format. In the end, I think some coding skills (SQL, Python, etc.) are going to be useful - but coding skills alone do not make you a good consumer of data. Technologies that allow for scenario analysis and thinking about uncertainty in different ways will also be more common in the future.
Hart Hodges: I'm going to build off my last answer and say a slight increase. Economics is a social science but also relies on a solid analytical framework. Econ grads should be able to ask good questions and to work with that framework - regardless of the setting. And I think employers in different fields see value in that foundation. Students have to get away from looking for 'the right answers' and embrace economics as a way of thinking.
Employers want them for their thinking ability, not the answers they know or things they think are true. That is, students working at the intersection of social issues and analytics should be in demand. Companies like Amazon hire economists to work in data analytics because of the perspective they bring. Environmental economics, energy economics, etc. are all growing fields (think sustainability, ESG investing, and more). The demand for graduates should increase - IF departments like ours provide the right foundation.
Jarrad Harford Ph.D.: They should try to enhance the practical skills to complement the foundational knowledge they learned in college. So, this could include spreadsheet modeling, programming in R, expertise with Bloomberg terminals, etc. There are plenty of online courses that can help with these types of practical skills.
Jarrad Harford Ph.D.: Data analytics, Robo-advising, applications of AI in finance will continue to increase dramatically. Mobile peer-to-peer and consumer-direct-to-business platforms will grow and take market share from traditional payment intermediation.
Kim Tan Ph.D.: Membership in student clubs. Leadership position in a student organization. Recipient of scholarship. Some work experience or internship.
Kim Tan Ph.D.: Travel abroad. Study/work on some certification to learn new/related skills (MOOC). Volunteer work. Work to help support the family. Prepare for graduate school. Work at a lower-level job in an organization they are interested in.
Kim Tan Ph.D.: Data analytics - how to input data, run analysis (use different software), understand the output, and communicate with other users: health care and manufacturing areas.
Connel Fullenkamp Ph.D.: Quantitative skills, especially data-oriented skills, are becoming an absolute necessity. It's been said that data is the new oil, in terms of being a universal input into the business. But young graduates shouldn't forget communication skills either--if anything, good communication skills will become even more valuable as the work people do becomes more technical.
Connel Fullenkamp Ph.D.: Generally, cities with their clusters of companies and expertise have been the best places to find work. But students shouldn't overlook smaller cities that have good colleges and universities in them, because they also have similar clusters of knowledge and opportunity.
Connel Fullenkamp Ph.D.: Technology will be doing more and more of the routine analytical work in economics and business-related fields, which means that employees will have to keep pushing their analytical skills--especially quantitative analysis--to more advanced levels. People will also need to work and communicate across business lines more than ever, because companies will focus even harder on keeping staffing levels low. There will be better opportunities for people who can crunch numbers and explain their significance and understand where the new options are.
Dr. Reid Cummings: As computing systems continue to advance and evolve, and as artificial intelligence becomes more prevalent in data analytics, the ability to work with a variety of data manipulation, analysis, and presentation platforms will become increasingly important. Equally, a focus on improving critical thinking and communication skills, and the abilities to present outcomes, analysis, and ideas in a succinct, cogent, and logical fashion, will largely differentiate those who will succeed at a high level from everyone else.
Dr. Reid Cummings: The South and Southwest will continue to attract companies looking to follow workers out of states with high state and local taxes and increasingly restrictive regulatory environments.
Dr. Reid Cummings: The pandemic accelerated a shift, that was already underway, toward more automation and reliance on artificial intelligence generated solutions. Workers able to adapt their skills to these new realities will be the ones with the most opportunities.
Karyl Leggio Ph.D.: For the past several years, it is a given that graduates will have strong financial skills. In addition, new employees need to work effectively in teams, be strong critical thinkers, be self-directed, and be able to present their views in a persuasive and well-documented way.
Karyl Leggio Ph.D.: Many students think of finance and think of Wall Street. There certainly are opportunities in New York and Chicago, but I urge students to broaden their search. In finding your first career opportunity, treat it as if it is a three-credit course, and put that amount of time into job searching each week. I don't think of job hunting as where to search but of how to search. Develop a strong LinkedIn profile, and post articles to your page; look at firms in your area, consider firms in cities that are growing; access your alumni network; network with family and friends. Don't limit your search to a handful of firms. In this economy, you need to cast a broad net and be open to opportunities that present themselves. Apply broadly, and be open-minded.
Karyl Leggio Ph.D.: In the last two decades, technology has upended the finance field. If anything, the changes are just accelerating. Trading is mainly electronic, fintech is not just a trendy term, and new financial products are being created regularly. Finance is an ever-evolving field. Recent grads cannot be successful in finance if they believe their education concludes after completing the last final exam senior year. To be successful and keep up, much less get ahead, your learning is just beginning after graduation.
Mariam Khawar Ph.D.: An undergraduate degree in economics prepares students for careers in various areas, spanning the private and public sectors, such as banking, finance, industry, government, and public policy. Many jobs straight out of college will be geared toward entry-level positions. Students can still make themselves more marketable by acquiring highly sought after skills in quantitative analysis, such as econometrics. Most undergraduate programs in economics require a course in econometrics, so students should already have some skills. Still, if they don't, that should be something to consider acquiring. Taking advanced econometrics courses can also be helpful, as well as at least one course in programming. For careers that are not embedded in quantitative skills; critical thinking and effective communication (written and oral) are essential elements of success. Economic graduates are well poised to shine in those areas, due to the training they received during their studies. Students considering fields that emphasize those skills should highlight their achievements in those areas. As is true of any field, internships can provide valuable experience and exposure to the multiple pathways open to students after graduation and help them decide which ones they want to pursue. Lastly, any students whose career aspirations include working as a professional economist in international or government organizations, such as the International Monetary Fund or the Federal Reserve, should consider a post-graduate degree in economics.
Mariam Khawar Ph.D.: The field of data science and quantitative analysis is a growing area where economics students can gain a foothold. Thus, the ability to manipulate large data sets, using various software including Excel, Stata, and R, as well as programming languages, such as Java and Python, will be increasingly valuable in the coming years. Machine learning is a growing influencer on techniques in econometrics, in particular concerning large data sets.
Mariam Khawar Ph.D.: Yes, I think there will be a lasting impact, mainly because the pandemic has accelerated trends that were already beginning to emerge. Students will face a more competitive environment due to globalization and technology, both of which may work in tandem. For example, the rapid shift to remote work means that jobs can be more easily outsourced to individuals across the world, while technology is making it easier and more efficient to work remotely. This means that, in addition to the quantitative skills that economics graduates tend to have already, and what their global competitors can more easily acquire, students will need to gain an advantage in other areas, such as effective communication where there are fewer competitors globally who are proficient in English. Additionally, because economics is a liberal arts discipline, as opposed to a professional one, its graduates are more likely to be creative, critical thinkers, and problem-solvers. These are the types of skills that can give students an edge, even in an increasingly competitive job market. Hence, economics graduates should highlight and use these strengths to the best of their abilities, to mitigate the inevitable effect of the pandemic on the future.
Christopher Manner Ph.D.: For recent college graduates starting their career with a degree in Economics, there is good news and bad news. First, the bad news. Hiring has slowed or halted in almost every industry since February 2020. Openings for entry-level jobs and internships have declined sharply. This is a brutal year for young workers. Moreover, research has shown that graduating into a recession can have long-term implications - lower earnings than those graduating earlier or later, sustained higher rates of unemployment, and higher risk for health issues.
On the other hand, it is an excellent time to pursue an advanced degree. Universities are scrambling to recruit students. Many Master's degree programs are lowering their entry requirements. Even some highly selective schools are waiving the GRE/GMAT requirement due to COVID-19.
Brian Meehan: My advice would be to apply broadly for jobs and take advantage of the robust set of career opportunities a degree in economics provides. It also gives you a better gauge of the opportunity cost (next best alternative) of accepting a job. Try to determine what that best alternative is. Additional training can also be a good option. Those individuals interested in graduate schools, professional schools, law schools, MBAs, etc. should look into these opportunities. Improving your human capital stock (via training and education), while weathering a recession, and then capitalizing on a healthier job market at the end of this training, is a pretty good route (assuming the recession is short).
Brian Meehan: If I knew what technologies were going to arise in the next 3-5 years and play an essential part in any industry, I would invest in the companies/individuals producing those technologies. The best way to separate insight from the empty talk is to see if people have skin in the game when they make projections or give investing advice. Skin in the game generates more accountability and insight. So, my empty talk answer is tedious -- I think graduates should become equipped to deal with Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Hangout, and technologies like those, where remote communication and collaboration can occur.
Brian Meehan: I could see the switch to remote working and education having two very different impacts on graduates. First, I think the change to distant learning and employment might generate increased value for in-person collaboration and training. Employers and employees might desire and value face-to-face interaction more after the pandemic lifts. On the other hand, if remote learning and working are successful, it could have a long-term impact on how business is done, companies could become more spread out and communicate remotely from all over the globe. As an employee, you might be less likely to have to relocate to where your employer is. This could impact cities, transportation, climate change, etc. If a more significant percentage of the workforce doesn't live and commute to their place of employment, that could have a long-lasting impact. These two impacts I listed move in opposite directions and are going to be different for different industries. They might just offset in the aggregate.
George Fox University
Small Business Management
Nate Peach Ph.D.: Try to stay optimistic. You've invested your time, energy, and money on a precious degree. The pandemic has not changed the value of the skills you've acquired. What it has done is to make it challenging to find a job for the moment. Things are weird right now. Many companies are redesigning their hiring practices, which is bound to cause challenges for job seekers. The skills that you developed as an economist are precious to employers, be diligent in your job search, and you will be rewarded with a great career.
Nate Peach Ph.D.: I'm not sure about one specific technology, but I think some general skills will become more valuable. Specifically, being familiar with necessary coding, analyzing data, and making sense of economy broad trends will continue to be highly prized in the labor market. Economists are well-suited to help organizations attempting to get up to speed on their use of data.
Nate Peach Ph.D.: Unfortunately, one likely impact will be lower lifetime earnings. Entering the job market during a recession, typically depresses wages. But in terms of job opportunities, I think the pandemic may ultimately make economists even more valuable. Economists are trained to understand complexity, make sense of data, and analyze markets. The epidemic has highlighted just how relevant those skills are.
Bay Path University
Heather Antanavica: The best advice I can give any graduate beginning their career with a degree in psychology, is to do as much job shadowing as possible. There are so many career paths one can take with a degree in general psychology, and many positions tend to look a lot different "on paper" than they do in person. Know that there are career paths out there that are not in the mental health field, if you decide that is not your passion. Organizational psychology, human resources, forensics, and other social services jobs can be excellent options for graduates of a psychology program. Most importantly, get out there, network with some folks in areas that pique your interest, and ask them if you could shadow them for a workday. Bonus points if you can score an informational interview!
Heather Antanavica: If the global pandemic has taught us one thing, it's that telehealth is an incredibly valuable way to treat people with mental health conditions. Platforms like Zoom, Skype, and Microsoft Teams allow people, worldwide, to connect, increasing access to niche therapists that may not have been an option to some in a face-to-face format. Telehealth has its drawbacks, but like anything else, practice makes effectiveness, and telemedicine removes sociological and geographical barriers for many people who need help.
Heather Antanavica: The coronavirus will have a lasting impact on all of humanity, and everyone's jobs will be affected in one way or another. New graduates will have to navigate the working world in a very different way, for example; virtual interviewing, increased competition (many people will be re-entering the workforce after being laid-off during the spring of 2020), and being flexible with businesses that are adapting to a new way of operating. If you are not tech-savvy, work on that now. Companies will be looking for prospects with tech skills in industries where it wasn't much of a factor before the pandemic hit. Most importantly, develop a self-care routine that speaks to you. Meditation, yoga, exercise, grounding practices, and a healthy diet are great options for tending to your well-being so that you can get out there and start your new career with a healthy mind, body, and spirit!
Paul Abbondante: Commercial banking - Banks are hiring. The graduate should specialize in commercial lending, since this will lead to experience in corporate financial analysis. The graduate could be recruited by a company that is a client of the bank.
Corporate finance - This means working in the finance department in a company. The graduate would learn about short- and long-term financial management. This could lead to opportunities at other companies and commercial banks.
Investment banking - This is a challenging industry to enter. If the graduate has sales skills and wants to be a stockbroker, this would be a right choice.
Investment banks want experienced employees who can bring clients. New graduates would not be in a position to do this.
Paul Abbondante: Companies will be cautious about hiring new employees, especially when they have little to no experience. The reason is that companies spend time and money training new employees, and it will be challenging to do this remotely. Graduates will have to demonstrate that they can work without direct supervision.
Paul Abbondante: The information available to companies and individuals will continue to increase. The analysis of this data will become more critical. Employees will have to be very detailed oriented and understand the broader implications for the company. Knowledge about international business practices will also be required, along with global data analysis.
Computer skills, other than social media, will be essential. Graduates will have to show that they can find and analyze information to help the company.
Western New Mexico University
Miguel Vicens: The labor market environment these days is characterized by flexibility, credentials, and ethics. As a Finance major, your job is to help make sense of the critical financial situation in which we find ourselves these days. The Finance job market has changed since the great recession in 2008, to incorporate some of your other courses such as management. Most of the jobs you will find will have a management component, due to the importance of human interactions, strategic management perspectives, and overall long-term orientation.
Miguel Vicens: You might already be an expert in social media, but most importantly, you want to differentiate yourself from the mass movement of social media. Find your expertise, the tools you will use that are unique to your profession, and be the best you can in doing what you do. Technology in the financial sector is regulated and overseen by many institutions to safeguard the system's financial stability and secure the funds from your investors. That is your primary goal as a finance major; to be ethical, technologically savvy, and a professional in your field.
Miguel Vicens: The Coronavirus pandemic has changed our way of living, graduations, birthdays, traveling plans, and personal interactions. But it has also created opportunities for all business majors. The enduring impact of this pandemic is a refocus on America. Finance, economics, and management have never been so outstanding. The epidemic exposed the dangerous disadvantages of outsourcing the US pharmaceutical industry (and other industries). The pandemic has also shed light on the importance of logistics and supply chains. Our country's financial endurance is on a daily headline, and our fellow American citizens are looking to us, as business majors, to save our way of living and pave the way to a stable and economically sound future. This is the time for all business majors, Finance, Accounting, Management, Marketing, etc. to shine and rise to the challenge of rebuilding/restarting America.