October 12, 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.
University of Richmond
University of South Carolina - Columbia
California State University - Dominguez Hills
The Pennsylvania State University
Texas A&M International University
Pacific Lutheran University
Fort Hays State University
University of Utah
Chicago Zoological Society
Human Resource Management Department
Daniel Goldberg: a) Understanding the legal aspects of Human Resources as well as the nuances of the organization you work for or to which you are applying.
b) Knowing how to lead and work productively within the culture, vision, and mission of organizations.
Daniel Goldberg: The ability to communicate effectively, openly, empathically, and directly (without ambiguity) while making sure members within the organization understand their roles.
Daniel Goldberg: Having an in-depth knowledge of how the most important areas of production operate.
Daniel Goldberg: If you can show that you have mastered the above skills, you should be in a good position to get a well-paying position.
University of Richmond
John Barr: Skills such as an ability to conduct workplace investigations, develop a diverse workforce, and an ability to help a company meet its various goals while complying with its legal obligations are vital aspects of any resume.
John Barr: The ability to get along with people. HR managers frequently must resolve workplace conflicts, investigate incidents of harassment or discrimination, or deal with employees who are in danger of losing their job. A critical soft skill is managing these issues when emotions may be running high while focusing on protecting the company's interests and advancing its various goals.
John Barr: The most important hard/technical skills are experience and training in such areas as workplace investigations, overseeing various employee programs and documentation related to leaving, handbooks, job descriptions, wages, benefits, hiring, and terminations, developing a diverse workforce, and training in the future of the workforce.
John Barr: Companies are focused on their bottom line. If you can help the company improve its performance by hiring and retaining quality candidates while demonstrating an ability to save it money by dealing with workplace conflicts and legal requirements before these explode into litigation, you should be well placed to earn a high level of compensation.
University of South Carolina - Columbia
Anthony Nyberg: The most important skill for HR managers as they enter the workforce is professionalism (and everything that goes into this, including being on time, doing what one says they will do, etc.)
This shows up on resumes by having held responsible positions for an appropriate period, leading to positive recommendations from prior employers, teachers, leaders, etc. The item that stands out most on a resume is a strong HR internship.
Anthony Nyberg: In general, the "soft" skills are actually the hardest, and the most important of these skills involves strong communication and an ability to work in teams - most jobs and all companies require people to work together, and this is a very challenging skill, but imperative in the modern workforce.
Anthony Nyberg: HR, like many work environments, is driven by using data to address challenges. This requires a strong analytical foundation.
Anthony Nyberg: The skills that lead, in the short term, to the highest earnings involve analytical skills. The skills that lead to the highest earnings over time include professionalism and strong interpersonal skills. If you can master both, you have created the foundation for a very strong career in HR.
Thomas Norman: Remote interviews will become the norm.
Flexible work arrangements will expand and many jobs will become 100% remote forever. Managers will need to learn how to keep remote employees motivated.
Resilience (aka anti-fragility) will compete with the focus on optimal efficiency.
Employers will focus like never before on diversity and inclusion at all levels up to the C-Suite and Board of Directors.
Employers will increase the amount data collection on employees and their work.
More full-time jobs will be replaced by freelancers, temporary and other contingent workers. A 2020 Gartner survey of 800 HR professionals found that 32% of organizations were planning to replace full-time position with contingent workers to reduce costs.
Thomas Norman: LinkedIn finds the following five skills are most demanded by employers of recent graduates: customer service, leadership, communication, problem-solving and project management.
These skills can be developed via retail and hospitality jobs once those sectors rebound.
A graduate might try to find a job in these sectors in a foreign country. Travel and improving verbal fluency in a new language would be a great use of a gap year. Employers are increasingly interested in certificate and micro-credentials so graduates might explore sites like EdX and Coursera to earn credentials to fill out their resume or learn about block chain, crypto currency, AI or Augmented Reality. A gap year is also a great time to start a company on a shoe string budget which would develop all five of the key skills.
Thomas Norman: Your career should be viewed as a marathon and not a sprint. It is as OK to experiment with starter jobs as it is to start college without declaring a major. The goal is make work fit your goals and dreams and review your progress annually. Learn which types of companies fit you along with which types of jobs and occupations feel good. Internship, Job Shadowing and Informational Interviews are tools to get a feel for a job and an employer. My students work on an Odyssey Plan where they map out three very different career paths thinking through the resources, experience and education they will need over the next five years to reach a specific job. Then they rate each path in terms of how they compare in terms of earnings, happiness, coherence and their confidence they can achieve the goal. The next step is jump out of the nest and try one, reflect on the fit and try something new if things are not meeting your goals.
Denise Potosky Ph.D.: In order to effectively staff positions that are essential to the business, HR managers will need to pay close attention to the dramatic shifts and increased volatility we've seen in the job market over the past two years. During and immediately following the 2008 recession, the labor market was "loose," meaning that there were fewer job openings than there were people who could fill those positions. In the years prior to the pandemic, the labor market was relatively "tight" for many skilled positions in that there were more job openings than qualified job applicants. Many organizations focused on their internal labor markets to develop talent from within as a way to ensure staffing key roles. The pandemic has abruptly altered both internal and external labor markets, and the path forward is not always clear. Individuals who are seeking careers in HRM will need to bring a strong understanding of labor economics and staffing strategies in order to estimate and moderate fluctuating talent needs. Some creativity and fresh ideas for recruiting and developing employees who may need to step into new ways of working or step up to new roles would also help.
Denise Potosky Ph.D.: The landscape for human resource management has been changing rapidly, and there are some specific things someone who is interested in working as an HR manager could focus on during a gap year. Anyone who plans to apply for an HR role should prepare to answer the question, "What actions would you recommend to foster diversity and inclusion in this organization?" In order to answer this question, it is important to keep track of the changes to the legal framework for HRM, to develop assessment and data analysis skills that will enable HR managers to monitor and demonstrate progress toward diversity goals, and to participate in activities that enable HR job candidates to show that they can listen to different perspectives but also lead with character and empathy.
In addition, future HR managers could use a gap year to explore the various ways to design work arrangements and address the needs of a post-pandemic workforce. PPEs, social distancing requirements, and remote work arrangements are likely to continue for some time to come, and HR managers will need to balance policies and protocols with empathy and flexibility. For example, every college student experienced the lockdowns, safety restrictions, social distancing requirements, and shifts to online learning from a student's perspective, and they might not have had the opportunity to consider the university's or the faculty and staff's perspective. As we move out of the pandemic, organizations will likely try to optimize their new workflows and prepare to address the next big threat. A gap year could be used to review what worked and what didn't, where improvements are still needed, and how to integrate different vantage points during a change experience.
Denise Potosky Ph.D.: Prepare to lead. An article in HR Executive (Brooks, 2020: hrexecutive) observed that the COVID-19 crisis served as a "massive catalyst" for transforming the HR function in organizations. HR managers have had to figure out how to protect essential workers and shift to remote work where possible, develop protocols for infected and/or distressed employees and their loved ones, deal with layoffs, closures, and rapidly changing laws, and encourage everyone to pull together to fulfill the demands of the business while supporting employee well-being and culture of the organization. This is an exciting time to begin a career in HRM, and it is an exceptionally demanding field of work. Seek opportunities to lead change, champion new initiatives, and help others manage conflict and stress. If you want to be hired into HRM, you need to be able to show that you can take responsibility for implementing and revising solutions that others have supported and appreciated.
Kristi Yowell: I think it goes without saying that the pandemic has forced employers to make overnight changes with regard to how business is conducted, including but not limited to where and how work is done. With much of the country working remotely during this time, it's a change we can expect to see continue post-pandemic. Employers have found that productivity has remained high, and in many cases, increased. Employers are discussing where they can continue to utilize remote workforces to reduce overhead costs as well as offer more flexibility to their workforce moving forward.
Continuing with the theme of flexibility, age-old policies and practices requiring employees to separate work and personal, such as managing parental responsibilities during working hours, have been challenged. Over the past 10 months, we've found that it's necessary for employees to simultaneously juggle these responsibilities - with access to childcare and in-person K-12 school schedule disruptions - and that, while exhausting, they are able to balance without the oversight of rigid policies. We've also all seen high unemployment rates and hiring freezes during the pandemic.
With news of the vaccine becoming available and additional guidance being released and clarified from the CDC, we can expect to see job restoration and new positions posted again as we head toward spring.
Kristi Yowell: If we're discussing a gap year between high school and college, obtaining work experience can be very beneficial to understanding concepts and having additional context during college. Similarly, volunteering can be equally beneficial. Young adults can use this time to experience various professions as well as industries to begin understanding how they are the same and different, and where their professional interests may align.
A gap year (or several) between undergraduate and graduate studies can also be beneficial. Similar to the above, having an opportunity to join the workforce and have working experience to apply to graduate studies can help apply learning in a more practical sense.
Gap years or breaks in service can happen several times in a career - post-studies, between studies, parental obligations, and so on. Being and remaining engaged during that time is imperative - reading, learning, participating in learning and development events, volunteering, conducting information interviews, etc. These are all positive and proactive activities to engage in during these times.
Kristi Yowell: Be open and flexible! Hardly ever do I encounter a seasoned professional whose career has gone exactly as they expected. Rather, some of the most exciting and lucrative opportunities are unplanned. Unplanned does not mean unprepared. It's important to know your strengths, continue to learn - formally and informally, network, and be professionally engaged in professional associations, workplace committees and task forces, and so forth. It's through these engagements that we expand and grow and position ourselves for some of the "unplanned." When able, say "yes" to opportunities to engage, join, and collaborate.
Dr. John Kilburn Ph.D.: The use of technology and social media will continue to play an increasingly important role in getting all types of business done. Zoom meetings and multimedia interaction will be with us for many years.
Dr. John Kilburn Ph.D.: Communication skills have always been essential, but now people must be able to communicate by utilizing multiple forms of media. Also, in a networked society, speed is ever more important. A good employee must be able to think and address any issue rapidly. If the employee doesn't know the answer, they need to know how to find the answer or find the person that will take action to address any issues that arise.
Additionally, there are numerous opportunities for people who can manage and analyze data.
Dr. John Kilburn Ph.D.: In a wired society, there is a bit more flexibility in seeking early career professional employment. However, the trends seem to indicate that jobs are gravitating toward urban environments.
Laura McCloud Ph.D.: I expect that we will see all fields supporting health professions grow. Many of our sociology majors, as an example, are thinking of ways they can apply their skills in public health or medical administration. I also think we're seeing a very meaningful shift between specialized service jobs and non-specialized service jobs. This divide has been growing for decades, but the pandemic really highlights how service work is splitting between good and bad jobs. "Good" service jobs, like mine as a professor, can be done in different settings and situations and give me the resources and physical safety I need to carry on comfortably during this pandemic. Many of my students, on the other hand, work in "bad" service jobs while in college, like in retail and food service, which can't be done safely during the pandemic and do not provide them with the pay and benefits they need to be safe.
Laura McCloud Ph.D.: I think the pandemic will prioritize people's ability to work independently and to collaborate virtually. I don't fully believe we'll see the end of offices that some people are speculating, but we will see an increase in virtual work for many professions. Students who can communicate effectively in-person and online will be at an advantage when trying to get a job. I think experience with collaborative software will also benefit them. While they are missing out on some of the advantages of face-to-face learning, online learning gives students many opportunities for building digital communication skills.
Laura McCloud Ph.D.: If anything, experiencing the pandemic has shown me just how valuable the skill of understanding social behavior is. All industries would benefit from employing social scientists. That said, many of our graduates work in social services, and many social services will continue to see cuts post-pandemic, making it more difficult to find a position similar to what they were envisioning pre-pandemic. Geographically, it is very difficult for young adults to find a good location to start a career. Most areas with robust job markets have very high housing costs, and most areas with affordable housing have weaker professional job markets. I also see more of my students prioritizing being physically close to their friends and family after graduation, which may mean fewer will move far away for job opportunities than had pre-pandemic.
Business Administration Department
Dr. Vinh Nguyen Ph.D.: The job market does not look good right now with many people being laid off and unemployed. However, in a few more months from now when most people get the vaccine for Covid-19, the job market will become not only normal but also will grow quickly. There will be an abundance of opportunities for both organizations and prospective employees to meet and match. Thus, there is great hope for the job market across all industries that will begin soon in the year 2021.
Dr. Vinh Nguyen Ph.D.: The most important skills for new graduates, particularly for HRM majors, are adaptability and problem solving. The ability to continuously learn and change is critical during this crisis and with on-going technological advancements. A willingness to face any problems and to find creative solutions is also highly desirable in this changing world. Thus, people who are highly aware and possess a growth mindset will stand out in the labor market.
Dr. Vinh Nguyen Ph.D.: HRM graduates can find jobs in a variety of organizations - small and large, for-profit or non-profit - and for the government. Of course, big cities will offer many more opportunities for new graduates than in smaller cities. However, big cities come with much higher competition for candidates to find jobs. Thus, there will be good opportunities across the U.S., especially when Covid-19 is gone!
Ryan Ceresola: For students, with more job interviews taking place online, we will see an increasing need for job seekers to understand how to symbolically convey their interest and their desire for certain employees. We all know to dress up for a job interview, but now folks will need to dress up their backgrounds, make their screen names respectable, and learn the niceties that go along with interviews conducted online.
Beyond the presentation of self, as more work will move online, employers will look for those who show facility with technology and who can teach themselves new software systems. In the interview process, recent graduates will need to speak to their ability to work on projects without direct supervision, as many tasks will need to be accomplished away from in-person work.
Ryan Ceresola: I always recommend to my students year-long service opportunities, especially because I have so many students interested in working in the criminal justice system, social services, or human resources. I am most familiar with the AmeriCorps program, having served two years thereafter my undergraduate education, but others include Peace Corps, Teach for America, and certain religiously affiliated service projects. These low-pay, high-reward opportunities are great ways to learn about our society's needs and to find out more about yourself and what you are particularly passionate about. They also serve as in-roads for many interested candidates to continue work for their particular organization after the year of service.
Ryan Ceresola: In the workplace, your value has never been about what grade you've received in a particular class. It is about your ability to think critically and in a nuanced way about projects and the needs of a certain employer. The best thing you can do to prepare yourself to conduct such work is to learn about your role from others in similar fields. Read through online forums, watch YouTube videos, and check out blogs of practitioners early on in your career. Even better - connect to individuals you know who are on similar career paths about what they've done and how they've been successful. By senior year of college, you should have the ability to search for information on your own, parse through it, and be able to interpret and learn from it on your own. Use those skills!
Fort Hays State University
Department of Sociology
Gary Brinker Ph.D.: The apparent increase in demand for health commodities and services. More restaurants will add take out and delivery. Computer communication skills (conferencing software, cloud management, multi-tasking of software) Many companies will transition to permanent at-home workers.
Gary Brinker Ph.D.: Target a niche in healthcare, computer communication, or logistics and become fluent in the industry terms and operation methods. Be open to a new area you never considered before. Try to foresee the future.
Gary Brinker Ph.D.: Be patient and know that, once the pandemic ends, the coming wave of retiring baby boomers (including yours truly) will create lots of high paying jobs with promising futures. Unfortunately, your taxes will be increased. Only have one kid!
Sarah Kovalesky: I wish there was a folder I could pull out for students when they start the job search that had a list of places and jobs that are available to them. However, that is just not the reality of the world of work. I encourage students as they start their job search to do an inve,ntory and take a look at themselves and who they are as an individual. One part of this inventory can be taking a look at one's values what individual values can inform them of the companies that are the best fit for them, whether that may be location, finances/wealth, growth, etc.
Sarah Kovalesky: There are a lot of things that someone with a sociology degree could do when it comes to working. I think there is always going to be a demand for graduates. The specifics of the demand are really going to be dependent on what exactly one wants to do and how they have prepared themselves to get there. There are some great resources like O*Net and the Occupational Outlook Handbook that can provide trends and information based on specific occupations.
Sarah Kovalesky: Location is a very personal factor in the job search. In my experience coaching with students, the biggest consideration in a location often has to do with expenses and cost of living when it comes to location. After that, family and proximity to things that are important to them are additional factors.
Chicago Zoological Society
Sandi Dornhecker: While the impact of the pandemic on workers and the labor market has been unprecedented in recent decades, there are specific industry segments that have been hit harder than others. Foodservice, retail, hospitality, to name a few, have experienced furloughs, layoffs, and position eliminations. Given the unexpected length of the pandemic, the impact on businesses and workers will continue. There have been a few large organizations that have only recently implemented layoffs. There are other segments, such as healthcare, warehouse, and distribution, that have seen a surge in hiring needs. Also, the transition to remote work by many businesses is a trend that will likely continue beyond COVID, as organizations have had to quickly respond to the changing situation, and many have seen the benefits of doing so with recent surveys showing remote work has resulted in increased employee engagement and job satisfaction. There has also been an increase in the use of technology and technology solutions to better equip employees to work remotely, productively, and collaboratively and to keep workers connected.
Sandi Dornhecker: Using technology in a work setting (such as Zoom or Microsoft Teams) and a focus on soft skills such as collaboration and flexibility (being willing to learn and contribute any way you can) will become increasingly important.
Sandi Dornhecker: To always remain positive. The job market has been flooded with unemployed workers, so the competition may be much steeper than usual, although I've read some articles that say this may not be the case as the number of quality applicants in the workforce remains the same. If you haven't found a position in your desired career yet, take positions and work when and where you can. Give it your all while you are working, strive to excel in your performance, no matter what your job is, and be a dedicated worker while you are there. If one is looking for employment, take your time to review the job(s) and requirements of the positions you are applying for to make sure you meet the minimum qualifications and/or are able to speak to how your skills are transferable; don't just take a shotgun approach. Write a customized cover letter for each position you apply for that reflects how your knowledge, background, and skills apply to the position and why you are interested. Answer all on-line application questions honestly and thoroughly. Write a thank-you note, if you are granted an interview. When you start a new job, be a sponge. Learn as much as you can and be willing to go the extra mile. This is a unique year to start one's career, and a graduate can learn unique lessons in both positive and challenging experiences.
Department of Business
Karen Sharp-Price: During the pandemic, many issues have come to light for companies and for Human Resource (HR) departments. I believe that the biggest trends going forward for Human Resources will be a focus on; onboarding, company culture, and professional development training.
Over the past several years, HR professionals have been working on taking new hire paperwork digitally, but with the pandemic, those that hadn't completed that task were abruptly forced to do so. New hire paperwork is just one piece of onboarding. But now more than ever, making sure that new employees feel a sense of belonging to the overall company community while being remote has become a bigger challenge. Human Resource professionals are tasked with creating a system where new employees will feel engaged and included, not only within the department but the company as a whole. It's not an easy task but one that has serious ramifications that could result in high turnover if new employees don't feel a sense of connection from the very beginning.
Company culture has become one of the first things you will hear people talk about when discussing different companies. The company's identity is firmly identified by the type of culture it has created. It is one of the most important things that the Human Resources profession will need to keep its pulse on now and in the coming years because people want to identify with a company that has similar behaviors and beliefs. If you are known for having a bad company culture, job seekers steer clear of working for you.
Training has become an important piece of attracting and retaining employees. If a company doesn't have some type of program to keep employees engaged and allow for professional growth, Human Resource professionals are finding it increasingly difficult to keep employees for extended periods of time. Job seekers have become very targeted in not only applying for positions but in researching companies that they feel offer what is most important to them. Professional development training is on the top of the list for job seekers when scoping out future employers.
Karen Sharp-Price: Technology changes and develops so quickly that looking 5 years into the future is too far off to predict what type of technology HR will be using. But within the next three years, there will be growth within the virtual reality space that even more Human Resource professionals will be able to use for training. There are companies using a new form of virtual reality called "extended reality," where virtual and real-life come together in the technology space. Human Resource training takes on a whole new life for companies in the virtual training realm. This is definitely an area of Human Resources that is exciting and quickly developing. The benefits seem to be that employees love the interactive and engaging qualities of this virtual training. Gone are the days of watching old customer service or sales training videos and not being able to relate to what is currently happening in their industry. Virtual reality is just starting to take hold, and the development of what it can provide for training employees is still in its infancy and very exciting.
Just over the past year, video conferencing and video chat has become mainstream for most companies. Learning how to maneuver and use the many different forms of video conferencing has become an everyday occurrence now for companies. Companies that said they could never go fully remote have done so and found not only that it can be done but done well with all this technology. But in the near future, you will see many new features added to all of these mediums to enhance the experience for employees and companies to communicate with co-workers, near and far. This technology has been around for a long time but is not used to its fullest extent. Due to the pandemic, it is heavily used, and I don't see us reverting back to our old ways but only improving upon how to better utilize technology in our businesses going forward.
Karen Sharp-Price: Human Resources is one of the specializations within the business that is ever-changing and developing. There are so many different areas within Human Resources that graduates can pursue. Some of the more traditional aspects are; compensation, benefits, recruitment, employee engagement, and training.
Some believe that Human Resources is slowly being replaced by technology. My personal opinion is that technology has definitely created new ways to be more effective and efficient within Human Resources, but I think technology has its place and its limitations. While technology will not completely replace the HR professional, I do believe that HR specializations are becoming more updated by using technology. The most obvious example is HR Technology with regard to training, communication, and onboarding.