September 29, 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 Wisconsin - Eau Claire
University of Minnesota Crookston
Penn State Behrend
University of Kansas
Franklin and Marshall College
Old Dominion University
University of Colorado Colorado Springs
New York Institute of Technology
Indiana Wesleyan University
University of Wisconsin - Eau Claire
Management + Marketing Department
Dr. Longzhu Dong Ph.D.: The world of international business has changed a great deal in the past few years. Due to increased globalization, massive technological advances in online coordination, and the Covid pandemic, the need to develop project managers who can lead fully functioning global virtual teams (GVTs) has never been greater. Indeed, studies show that virtual teams are becoming the norm, and more and more multinational companies rely on GVTs to deal with their day-to-day challenges.
However, leading and working in GVTs poses unique challenges that traditional leadership approaches do not seem suited to tackling well. Such challenges include cross-cultural misunderstandings, lack of trust and spontaneity, poor communication, hard to focus and hold teammates accountable, all of which may result in low productivity. Therefore, to thrive in the international business world today, a manager may need an entirely different set of skills.
Perhaps the most important soft skill is cultural intelligence (CQ). CQ refers to the ability to relate and work effectively across different cultures, triggering a train reaction in GVTs. It first requires people to have an open mindset, which helps them realize that cultural differences are just differences and that every culture has its own way of defining "right" and "wrong." Just as the famous Confucius teaching goes, "all people are the same; only their habits differ." Indeed, when differences are seen as something neutral, the negative consequences of cultural bias can be minimized. CQ can also improve GVT communication effectiveness by better understanding visual and auditory cues such as body language and facial expressions so that GVT members will not form false impressions based on stereotypes. When everyone on your team is ready for open dialogue, GVTs can easily clarify shared team goals and guidelines, set clear expectations of each role, and foster trust along the way.
If CQ is the most important soft skill, then being tech-savvy would be the most important hard skill. Technological advances in online coordination/communication make global virtual teams possible and function well. As of right now, there are a lot of great online tools (e.g., Zoom, Google Meet, etc.) that integrate all key types of communication: conference call, breakout rooms, text messaging, file sharing, and online collaboration. However, simply being able to use various virtual meeting tools well is not enough because there's no one-size-fits-all tool for every team all the time. Being tech-savvy asks managers to steer the digital transformation in their teams promptly. It requires managers to constantly evaluate the emerging new technologies and make sure their choice of the tools "fits" their teams' needs over time, which may include members' network conditions, tool preferences, work style, tech skill levels, and the nature of the task/project.
Working in a global virtual team isn't necessarily only about challenges and lower productivity. It can become a valuable advantage and even build a 24/7 work cycle in teams, with proper training on CQ and technological skills.
Rutherford Johnson Ph.D.: People and companies have seen that many jobs can be done from home or remotely, and the technology exists and is improving to allow that. It also allows for more work-life balance, which is, in my opinion, important both for health and for worker productivity. I expect this trend will continue to one degree or another, even as more in-person interaction returns. The same mindset and technology also allows for more international engagement without travel or relocation. So, perhaps now we will see graduates in the USA working for companies in Germany, or from France working for Polish companies, and so on -- all without relocating. That is a great way to expand opportunities as well for those in developing countries who might not otherwise have access to such jobs.
Rutherford Johnson Ph.D.: Well, familiarity and proficiency with the technology I just described is now important. I also always promote language as a highly valuable skill -- and if you are working internationally, even remotely, it is a definite skill that makes you stand out. Even though English is now the main international language, do not just rely on that if that is your main language. Knowing the language of your clients, for example, even just a little of it, can pay off and make you get noticed. It also helps you understand the culture and people of that country a lot better.
Rutherford Johnson Ph.D.: With the remote working possibilities, graduates could work for a company in a big city without leaving their hometown. As for classic jobs with relocation involved, that really depends on the field. For international business, the major international and finance cities such as New York, Boston, and Atlanta are always significant -- though with definite cost of living problems. My advice is to look everywhere and be willing to give a city or region you never thought of living in a try. The less-traveled path can often lead to great success.
Phil Stuczynski: Yes, and no. On the one hand, we can look back to something as recent as the "Great Recession" from a little over a decade, and in some ways we are still seeing the impact from that generation. Rather than graduates being able to step into a strong entry level position in a desired field, you had many individuals who literally would take any job that was available. And, while it was admirable for individuals to go into a job (something is better than nothing), if you find yourself in a different career path or even in a job that may not need as much training in the skills you specifically went to school for, it can make an improper fit.
Now, the good news here is that students who have been trained in economics, or many business students in general tend to understand the broader vantage point of business. In times like these, even if unemployment starts to creep up, there will be businesses climbing over one another to try and secure talent that can understand data. Certain computer skills, forecasting skills, drawing connections between differing levels of business, any every other combination of resource and household management will be useful to a business.
So, will there be an impact? Perhaps. Jobs are probably just a bit more difficult to come by right now as compared to even one calendar year ago. That being said, many universities have continued to not only have students positioned well so they can plug right in and be effective remotely, but many of those students are as good or better with the technology and software as those in the private sector.
Phil Stuczynski: Hitting just a few of the big ones, computer skills are going to be as important as ever. We have seen individuals in many fields embrace the idea of technology. Supply chains are being tested, and with that comes the financial capacity to build those facilities and shipping routes. International skills including trade and negotiations will be key. And truly any of the numbers from data analysis, to software that helps understand and manipulate said data, and especially financial and accounting. The long story short is probably three major skills.
1) Communication (with people and computers / software). 2) Analysis (economic at the macro level, and business specific / financial / accounting at the micro level). and 3) Self learning. As we have seen through this pandemic, we have seen processes, systems, products, and entire operations literally change overnight in response to biological threats, supply chains being broken, or by government decree. Individuals who can adapt on the fly and go find a new solution (even if it means they need to teach themselves the system, teach themselves the technology or software, teach themselves the coding, etc.), those are the types of graduates that employers are not just going to like, but are actively looking for.
Phil Stuczynski: Currently? I think a big one is going to be being flexible, showing you are able to adapt, and having any example of continuing to push through during these recent times.
We have had students who have literally been stuck. They have been in an apartment or a dormitory hours (or countries) away from home. And yet they still managed. They still did their coursework, they learned new software on the fly, they felt comfortable asking more questions than ever and even teaching themselves more as needed.
When we go back to something such as the great financial crisis, you had individuals who would sort of get burnt out when searching for a job. And to be fair, who could blame them. This was a strained economy and even the most qualified of candidates were hard pressed to find employment coming out of college when you had people with decades of experience competing just to continue bringing a paycheck in. However, you also had some individuals who would do what was necessary. For example I am keenly aware of an individual student I had years ago who was qualified for almost any job in a normal economy. That being said, he took a job with a bank where his degree wasn't even required. He was overqualified and knew it, but he would rather get experience than just sit around and do nothing. Fast forward a few years and he was not only at that bank only a short time before being promoted, but he used that promotion to move into yet a higher role later and has continued to enjoy success he may not have had if he was just waiting on a good job to come along.
What I'm saying is, the parallels here are through no fault of their own, students are going to enter an economy where things aren't as normal as they were just weeks before. This is going to sort itself out, but the students who push forward and adapt and just do something will stand out compared to those who sit on the sidelines and wait. Anything that highlights they are flexible and able to work in the face of disjointed operations or new limitations will not just find themselves being sought after, but because businesses need employees who can make quick changes on the fly more than ever, those students who can prove they can do it? They're going to be the ones who get ahead.
Milena Stanislavova Ph.D.: Along with all the obvious negatives, I feel that we were forced to experiment and innovate the way we teach and learn, and it has brought a lot of ingenuity and creativity on the part of both professors and students. This past semester I have seen so much depth of experiences and focus on what really matters, optimization of the amount of facts versus hands on problem solving techniques, and just sheer planning of the time spent in the classroom time on the part of professors. At the same time, students are forced to be more organized and self-sufficient, skills that will serve them well on the job market and beyond. This new and more focused way of teaching and learning, using every instrument in our toolbox and varying the virtual, in-person and hands-on practical will definitely remain after the pandemic is over.
Milena Stanislavova Ph.D.: In today's highly technological world, strong quantitative skills are a must for every job. These come with deep mathematical foundations, but more is needed - knowledge of statistics and computational techniques or programing languages, ability to read and interpret data in various formats and familiarity with economics are all great prerequisites. Such courses and technical skills allow one to gain a deep understanding of how the world really works and to create quantitative mathematical models for it. The more we ask students to work on real world research projects that emphasize these skills, the better prepared and competitive they become.
Milena Stanislavova Ph.D.: Working and collaborating in groups, presenting to different audiences, writing technical reports, grant applications and researching new topics are all essential soft skills. Much of today's world relies on data, so collecting, summarizing, organizing and presenting data is also an important soft skill that is becoming quite fundamental.
Dr. Smriti Bhargava Ph.D.: This is a hard question to answer given the uncertainty that exists. One trend that is likely to stay is the possibility of working remotely or working-from-home. More and more companies are gravitating towards this trend, and this may open many exciting and flexible opportunities for new graduates and current workers. It may also take a while for the job market to heat up again and to create new jobs.
Dr. Smriti Bhargava Ph.D.: I think skills of data analysis in addition to knowledge of software programs (through prior experience in terms of a research project with a faculty member or an internship) will stand out on a resume as college graduates search for jobs. Such experience signals abilities of quantitative reasoning and critical thinking, which are highly valued. In addition, good communication skills, both written and verbal, are extremely important.
Dr. Smriti Bhargava Ph.D.: It depends on what the student likes doing- if they enjoy working with numbers and data, they would be well suited for industry as data analysts. They may want to work in policy think tanks or government organizations as research associates of policy analysts if they want to learn about the effect of legislations. If math is their forte, Graduate school is also an interesting path to take if they are hoping to work in academia or pursue high-ranking positions in the government, research, and policy.
Nicole Jones Young Ph.D.: One big trend we will see is the continuation of working from home. It may not be for all employees every day, but I think that is definitely here to stay. Many employees have been asking for this benefit for years. After almost a year of working from home, many employers that were reluctant in the past have likely realized that employees can still be very productive and they can decrease expenses related to office space.
Another is related to the focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion related efforts. While the majority of the country was quarantined, we all witnessed the same horrific murder of George Floyd, and there was nothing else to distract us from finally directly addressing issues related to race in this country. Many employees of color, and particularly Black employees, are no longer interested in making everyone else around them feel comfortable. Organizations that issued statements and initiatives in the spring will likely be held more accountable than ever before.
Another trend may be the elimination of jobs in their previous iteration. Many companies that have survived, or even thrived, during COVID likely did so by adapting. As such, these organizations may not return to their prior ways of doing business, which may require employees and applicants to increase or highlight a different skill set.
Nicole Jones Young Ph.D.: Gap years are interesting to me. There is a difference between someone who has ample monetary resources and voluntarily decides to take a "gap" year to travel the world, as opposed to someone who involuntarily takes a "gap" year because they legitimately cannot find a job.
For students who opt not enter the workforce immediately upon graduation, I would recommend that they utilize this time in a strategic fashion, primarily expanding their network, increasing their skills related to data analytics/analysis, and reading or researching within the broader business field as well as their particular field of interest. Expanding your network is always beneficial because of the value employers place on referrals. If students do not know where to start, I would recommend they join their applicable professional organization and begin attending events (virtual events can still help build relationships).
While specific job duties may differ, the ability to understand and utilize data is in high demand in virtually every job role. Having comfort with data-both quantitative and qualitative--can be a highly beneficial skill that many in the job market may not have to offer.
I also recommend continued reading and researching, as whenever you do enter the workforce you want to know what is going on. I am never surprised, but always disappointed when I ask my students if they heard the latest job numbers or if they saw a recent news article. It is hard to articulate your value to an organization's problems if you are unaware of what they are. Stay current.
Interestingly, I would not recommend that someone enroll in a graduate program simply to take up time. If you just love school, have a clear focus, or had already planned to enroll in graduate school prior to COVID, then proceed. However, if you are unsure about your interests or future career goals, enrolling in a graduate program may be a large investment of time and money that may not result in securing a job of interest upon completion.
Nicole Jones Young Ph.D.: Be flexible. The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a lot of uncertainty, but has created new opportunities in others. Staying flexible allows individuals to shift focus away from industries or occupations that may be in decline, and re-focus on employment opportunities that may be more aligned with our current moment.
Ravi Sarathy Ph.D.: Growth in global supply chain and their management, AI and cloud-based software development and solutions, in areas such as global payments, and crowdfunding, and healthcare, using remote healthcare counseling and links to healthcare monitoring devices, developed in global innovation teams, as well as home healthcare combining remote personnel with intelligent health monitoring devices. And more broadly, a significant increase in remote working, on a global scale and through global virtual collaboration.
Ravi Sarathy Ph.D.: Business analytics capability, with facility in both data gathering and data analysis; understanding of and ability to work with global supply chains; experience and expertise in using global collaboration tools and in managing global virtual teams; and skills and experience in using AI, applied in fields as diverse as healthcare, education, gaming and entertainment.
Ravi Sarathy Ph.D.: Given the interest and acceptance of remote working, geographic location is less likely to be of primary importance. Having said that, cities such as Boston, New York, LA, San Francisco, Austin (TX), Seattle, Miami, Atlanta, Nashville and Miami are all likely to be significant growth centers for such jobs and skills.
Denise Lorenzetti: It is likely to see a continuation of remote job opportunities even after the pandemic is resolved. Many positions that have been successfully moved to remote options may in fact stay remote, depending on the employer.
The pandemic has increased the number of jobs available in specific industries and decreased the amount in others.
Industries and fields that have and will likely continue to grow include:
Supply chain/logistics and positions related to production, distribution, and selling of goods such as e-commerce
Technology and industries that help support businesses such as software, developers, artificial intelligence.
The service industries were affected by the pandemic, making these positions harder to come by. This would include entertainment, travel, lodging, and full-service restaurants among others.
Denise Lorenzetti: Employers have been placing a large emphasis on finding candidates with skills that demonstrate the ability to utilize technology and demonstrate adaptability, resilience and taking initiative.
Tech skills such as programming, coding, and Excel continue to be valuable to employers for both tech and non-tech roles.
Employers are also interested in learning how graduates spent their time during the pandemic. If internships were not an option, continuing to build skills through online classes such as LinkedIn Learning or Coursera, virtually volunteering, and demonstrating to employers a commitment to growing during the pandemic is critically important.
Job seekers can demonstrate this by earning microcredentials and digital badges relevant to the industry they are interested in or in areas they are passionate about.
Denise Lorenzetti: This will vary from industry to industry.
Many organizations have seen success with the transition of jobs to a virtual environment. It is uncertain how things will progress, however we anticipate there to be less of an emphasis on geographic region as a part of the job search than pre-pandemic. The pandemic has opened up opportunities for new graduates to find opportunities that traditionally were only available in large metropolitan areas such as Silicon Valley or NYC.
Many companies are still providing flexibility with working from home and/or not needing to be physically located in the city where the position resides. Some are work-from-home indefinitely and others are offering the flexibility to telecommute more than physically being in a location every day.
Large cities will likely continue to be a major hub for industries that will continue to require in-person jobs, such as healthcare roles.
Robert Mcnab Ph.D.: Graduates will enter a workplace that is dramatically different than a couple of years ago. Remote work, which once was frowned upon by many managers, has become commonplace for many organizations. It is likely that many graduates will do most of their interviewing on Zoom or similar software and some may start their jobs remotely. We should not expect remote interviewing to go away as it increases efficiency and effectiveness. Economics graduates are likely to be in demand given the numerous economic shocks from the pandemic. Understanding how to communicate economic concepts and apply tools and techniques is of increasing importance.
Robert Mcnab Ph.D.: Young graduates must be able to effectively communicate as they enter the workforce. Analytical skills are continuing to increase in importance also and graduates who are unable or unwilling to develop these skills will quickly fall behind their peers. If you are unable to work with data and cannot communicate the results of your analysis, then your value to future employers is diminished. Graduates need to realize that they must continue to learn after graduation, not only to improve their existing skills but to adapt to the demands of a changing workplace.
Robert Mcnab Ph.D.: Young graduates need to think about the job market in terms of signaling. How do you tell a prospective employer that you have a unique set of skills? Graduates often fail to understand that there are hundreds of applicants with similar traits competing for the same job, so you need a strong signal to the employer that separates you from the crowd. One such signal is practical experience. Have you been able to apply the concepts and tools from your college experience in the workplace? Did you seek out and find an internship, externship, or other type of formative experience that shows initiative, responsibility, and the acquisition of experience? If you don't have a strong signal, then you need to develop a plan. Find more experience economists in your area, ask questions, and develop a network. Figure out what you can do to separate yourself. It may sound like a cliche, but you need to market yourself.
Mark Paquette: The pandemic has caused employers to assess their work capabilities and shift positions to virtual environments. As a result, I think the trends we will see are:
-An increase and shift to permanent or long-term work-from-home opportunities. Many companies are recognizing that the shift to working remotely may actually improve morale, efficiency, quality, and job satisfaction among staff. Additionally, companies are seeing financial savings with reduced need in utilities, ancillary, and auxiliary services. As a result, I believe employers will be looking at their structures and making decisions to increase remote work opportunities, which also allows the employers to access a broader talent pool outside of their regional areas.
-A demand in flexible work arrangements from employees and candidates. As companies see the benefits of remote work, so do the employees and those searching for work. Individuals are seeing benefits of commuting less, having greater flexibility with time, and the ability to have more independence. I would suspect we will see individuals asking for more flexible arrangements, including the option to work from home at least part of the time. Prior to COVID, candidates were already asking for options that allowed for, at least in part, some remote work arrangements, and with COVID, this will likely be magnified.
-Contract workers may experience more opportunities. As businesses grapple with the impacts of COVID, many are also seeing the need to have more control of time-sensitive changes that impact their business. When lockdowns and limitations are imposed on the number of people allowed in spaces, the need to have a workforce that can pivot quickly is becoming more essential. I think this will lead to more contract, or contingent, type work rather than full-time employment as it allows the employer greater flexibility.
-Expanded benefits may also be a trend, especially around mental health support services. The pandemic has forced many people to feel isolated, not in control, and questioning their value. To combat this, I anticipate employers will focus on promoting their health and wellness programs as benefits, and helping job seekers see the value in a company that has a well-rounded benefits package versus just a standard health plan or limited paid time off.
-Social distancing may be the norm for some time. As the vaccine rollout is underway, there are many months ahead of us for true results, and even then, questions linger on how many people may choose not to be vaccinated, or how many new strains there will be for which the vaccine may or may not work. This will impact business operations, and companies (and governments) may impose requirements for job seekers such as wearing personal protective equipment during the interview and onboarding process or as a standard operating practice throughout the year.
-Virtual interviewing is likely a big trend over 2021, whereby companies will focus on phone and video interviewing rather than in-person opportunities. Many individuals may onboard virtually as well. Virtual interviewing was on the rise prior to COVID, but the need was magnified. As a result candidates may also need to be adaptable to using various types of platforms and more products are coming to market, and existing products are enhancing their service options.
Mark Paquette: Many skills standout on resumes, but I believe these are the four best: technical skills, leadership skills, problem-solving skills, and communication-specifically the ability to be concise and accurate. I think a better way to think about this is that relevant information is what stands out. Many resumes are packed full of irrelevant details, subjective statements of soft skill, and lack quantifiable bullets that show skill or accomplishment for the role to which one is applying. Recruiters lose interest in irrelevancy, and they do so quickly (average amount of time a recruiter spends on a resume is just 6 seconds).
Additionally, I've seen hundreds of resumes full of errors in grammar, spelling, punctuation, and even the individual's own name, yet they also claim to have "excellent communication skills" or be "detail-oriented"-so there is a disconnect. Candidates who tailor their resumes to the job, ensuring their experiences and education showcase relevancy to such position, and who do so with accuracy, demonstrate the best skill of all-that they are qualified for, and understand, the position at hand.
Mark Paquette: There are so many places to find opportunities in marketing that it is difficult to pinpoint specific places or sites. Of course LinkedIn, Indeed, and Handshake (if one's school subscribes) are great resources, but depending on the marketing focus and overall experience, one may find benefit in sites such as MarketingJobs.com or Krop. I would also encourage individuals to look at the professional associations relevant to their field. For example, the American Marketing Association has a job board dedicated to marketing roles. Finally, the best source for finding opportunities is by networking. Identify companies of interest, reach out to individuals you know with connections or use LinkedIn to source potential options. Networking is the best way to find opportunities that perhaps haven't yet, or never will be, posted online.
New York Institute of Technology
School of Management
Elisa Chan: The market has seen exponential growth in e-commerce and digital marketing during the pandemic. This trend will continue as more companies continue to transition some, if not most, of their businesses and customer engagement online. I believe that we will see high demand for talents in performance (sales/lead-oriented) and brand (content/engagement-oriented) marketing, especially those who have a good understanding of both.
Elisa Chan: In my opinion, the fundamental skills required for marketing jobs haven't really changed. What changed is where or how these skills are applied. So my response to this question might sound cliche, but I strongly believe that it is true. Strong statistics and marketing analytics ability to show that you are able to make data-driven decisions. Interpersonal skills to show that you can respectfully and effectively interact with others, which are indicative of how you will manage work relationship as well as that with clients and customers.
Elisa Chan: Companies, big or small, will be looking for talents in e-commerce and digital marketing. But I think that there could be more demand from small/medium-sized companies looking for help in these areas.
Cortnee Young: I believe work-from-home/virtual job opportunities will become more available. For recent graduates, this comes with pros and cons. I believe a big pro is the availability to more opportunity (versus narrowing down their search to specific geographic locations). A major con that I see would be the inability to learn hands-on skills and teachable moments from being in the office, for their first job.
Cortnee Young: I believe that in addition to education, experiences and skills should stand out the most on a student resume. Students should seek out work opportunities including part-time jobs, internships, or job shadowing opportunities while obtaining a degree. This shows that student put forth effort to educate themselves outside of the classroom. For skills, listing things learned in the classroom and outside of the classroom is important to show.
Cortnee Young: I'm unsure what field you're referring to. I do suggest students use all online resources such as Indeed and LinkedIn. Additionally, if students have an idea where they would like to work-sending email, contacting department heads, and reaching out to HR for the company they would like to work for can pay off.
Indiana Wesleyan University
DeVoe School of Business
Joseph Snider: For IT, managing a virtual team in a pandemic where everyone is working remotely is a big trend that will likely last after the pandemic is over. Corporations are now renting out building space or selling them since they have found that their workers can be successful at home.
Joseph Snider: Experience, certifications, and degrees. Some are must-haves, and some are nice-to-have.
Joseph Snider: There are many opportunities in the South right now. With major tech companies moving to Texas, that is now going to be a hot spot.