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 Oklahoma
California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo
Saint Xavier University
University of Kentucky
Department of Communication
Stacie Shain: I am a very optimistic person, and I believe the enduring impact will be positive. The graduates from 2020 and 2021 have learned to be flexible, agile, resilient, and persistent. They have overcome obstacles that no one predicted, challenging them to complete not only a lot of the coursework from their final semester(s) online but also to grapple with the personal challenges that the pandemic caused.
Finishing college is not easy in a traditional setting in a "normal" academic year. But add in a change in delivery systems, quarantines that took away social and academic support systems, and psychological and financial hardships created by the loss of socialization and jobs (many students work in service jobs such as restaurants, coffee shops, bars and retail stores, many of which were shuttered during the spring and summer), and you have an unprecedented college experience. Because these students graduated under such conditions, they are well-prepared for whatever happens along their career paths. They've already shown they can navigate through change, adapt to and overcome obstacles, adjust in adverse conditions and still complete tasks and accomplish goals.
Stacie Shain: I think graduates will need the very skills they have already learned: agility, flexibility, resiliency. Many in the workforce when the pandemic hit were expected to work from home and figure out how to keep doing their jobs and be productive. In some states, large segments of the population are still working from home and will continue to do so for some time. For those graduates getting their first jobs, they may be working from home as they start their careers. They will need to bring to the job the same skills they learned in their last semester (or semesters) in college. I believe business and industry will expect workers to be agile, flexible and resilient while also being productive and accountable.
Beyond that, for graduates with communication degrees, they will still need to be able to write and speak effectively, be able to shoot and edit video, and be proficient in social media. Students will need to have multimedia skills and not be a specialist or "one-trick pony." To be prepared to work in a communication job, the graduates must be well-rounded. They should be able to use Mac and PC systems, a myriad of software programs (from Office to the Adobe Suite) and all major social media platforms. Further, students must be able to understand when to use particular systems or social media platforms; for example, when is Facebook the best platform to use, and how is it best used?
Further, graduates must have soft skills, such as being able to think critically, solve problems, work as part of a team and make decisions. They need good interpersonal skills and intercultural awareness because they are likely to work with people across the country and around the world, especially now that all businesses and industries have learned they can function virtually.
Stacie Shain: To me, real-world experience always sets one graduate apart from others. There is also plenty of research that supports this.** Any experience a student can gain doing real projects for real organizations is a bonus because it shows students can translate what they have learned in a classroom to a project for a business or nonprofit. It shows students can do the work when there is more than a course grade on the line and when many people will see their work and not only a professor or classmates.
In our program, all majors must complete at least one internship, and we encourage our students to complete more than one so they get different experiences. This not only builds their resumes and hones their skills but also allows them to learn what they like - or don't like - doing. Some students have been set on working in a particular field only to change their minds after an internship and decide they want to do something else.
Our marketing communication minors are required to take a practicum in which they work for a student-run agency doing work for area nonprofits. They are responsible for the client meetings, production, deadlines and client satisfaction. The projects range from graphic design to writing to social media planning to website design to video production. All of their work will be used by the organizations, so having these projects in their portfolios and on their resume showcases exactly what they can do. The students earn credit and get to show the work in their portfolios, and the nonprofits do not pay for the projects. It's a true win-win situation. Students may complete more than one semester in the practicum, and that gives them a wide range of work samples in their portfolio. I've known several students who had jobs before graduation, and they all said their work for clients helped them get the job because they already had professional experience.
Internships and working for a student-run agency will help students build those soft skills, too. They must collaborate, they must learn to work in a team setting, they must solve problems as they arise, and they must think critically about the projects and how they will complete them. Research shows that students with hard skills will get interviews, but students with soft skills will get the job and keep it ** because businesses value soft skills and not every applicant has them.
Department of CommunicationsWebsite
Heidi Mau Ph.D.: An increased ability to work digitally is an immediate trend in the job market- to be nimble communicators via digital tools and online interactions with colleagues and clients. This trend was already happening before the pandemic but has now accelerated as an important part of an overall skills set.
There seems to be an increase in positions calling for digital communications and content management for small businesses as they seek to move parts of their businesses online, and also increase their digital communications with clients and community during a time in which local, face-to-face communication is more difficult.
Heidi Mau Ph.D.: Skills particular to industry needs, and unique experiences that help a candidate stand out continue to be important to highlight but what is often forgotten is emphasis on strong communication skills needed for all professions - written, verbal, visual, and digital communication skills. These are skills that continue to translate across all industries.
Proven skills in advocating and supporting diversity, equity, and inclusion are similarly important across all industries. Being able to speak concretely about actions that positively impact these areas is of particular interest and stand out on a resume.
Skills that highlight the ability to think critically, problem solve, be productive without supervision but also have the ability to collaborate and work with teams - these are skills that continue to be important across all positions. Solid skills in interpersonal and applied communications can greatly enhance these abilities, which are important both within the field and across industries.
Heidi Mau Ph.D.: Communication as a field is uniquely malleable - it has its own industries and can also be a component within other industries and because of this there is work that can be found in unexpected sectors and locations. It is a field that is constantly evolving, which is exciting. There are opportunities to move into more established positions, evolving positions that are finding their foothold, and the potential for new positions we are unable to even predict yet.
University of Oklahoma
Management & International Business, Price College of BusinessWebsite
Bret H. Bradley Ph.D.: Yes, without a doubt. Major traumatic events have lasting impacts on those affected, and the coronavirus pandemic will be a major traumatic event for those who graduated from college in 2020. The conservation of resources theory of stress (Stevan E. Hobfoll) argues that resources play a major role in stress experiences. The pandemic has had a major blow on many things in life such as life (death), health, jobs, finances, opportunities, relationships, education, entertainment, regular routines, time with family or friends, etc. Also, different people handle stress differently. For example, research shows that people high in emotional stability (one of the Big 5 personality traits) deal with stress better than people lower on this trait. Social support has also long been shown in the scientific evidence to be a primary buffer to stress.
Bret H. Bradley Ph.D.: The pandemic has rushed the transition to virtual work, but this transition has been happening for at least 20 years. I suspect that the pandemic will have lasting effects on 2020 graduates in how they work; that is, I suspect new work habits and routines from the pandemic may very well persist well past when the pandemic is over. I had a virtual meeting with 25 colleagues on Zoom last week. In normal years past, we spend $15,000 to $25,000 to get together at a hotel for two days and work together. This year we did 'pre-meetings' with small groups over two weeks, then a large 4-hour meeting with the whole 25 person team. COVID forced this on us, but we will use virtual tools more in the future because of it.
Also - the value of social skills has long been on the rise. In some of my research on organizational teams, we discuss how the changing nature of work has increased the need for collaborative skills (aka, soft skills). In a hugely impactful article in a top economics journal, David Deming at Harvard found that the labor market increasingly rewards social skills. He showed that between 1980 and 2012, jobs requiring high social interaction levels grew by nearly 12 percentage points as a share of the U.S. labor force. Math-intensive but less social jobs-including many STEM occupations-shrank by 3.3 percentage points over the same period. (The Growing Importance of Social Skills in the Labor Market, David Deming, 2017, The Quarterly Journal of Economics.) This is remarkable because it's during the PC and internet explosion, the rise of tech jobs, the information (read 'data') age, and emphasis on STEM! Social scientists make perfect sense: the world of work increasingly demands social skills like teamwork, collaboration, negotiating, etc. This is a major trend in the world of work.
Bret H. Bradley Ph.D.: I would say three types of experience stands out on resumes. LEADERSHIP - that is, actually taking responsibility for doing something. For example, OU's Price College of Business offers various ways to develop leadership during college. SKILL BUILDING - that is, whatever the person's major is. Students who add to their major skills (do an internship, add a certificate or minor to their degree, attend workshops, etc.) stand put. And finally, SOCIAL SKILLS - that is, working with others effectively. There is a long-standing challenge in the study of teams to answer why teams usually underutilize their expertise. Few teams are great and have motivated members, a climate of psychological safety, solid leadership, and strong results. We all aspire to it and usually think we are apart of these teams, but we rarely are! Those who can get the most out of a team (performance, AND satisfied members) excel, period. Patrick Lencioni's hugely influential book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team (2003) states, "Not finance. Not strategy. Not technology. It is teamwork that remains the ultimate competitive advantage, both because it is so powerful and so rare."
Department of Public Relations
Bonnie Riechert Ph.D., APR: Current college students respond to enormous challenges such as functioning in hyflex classes, and many of them are finding the focus, resilience, and motivation to adapt and succeed. The pandemic undoubtedly will have an enduring impact on graduates as employing organizations continue to reinvent themselves for a changing economy. Students who can manage the stress effectively and give full attention to their objectives are the ones who advance, and those strengths will serve them throughout their careers.
Bonnie Riechert Ph.D., APR: Creativity, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills will always be important to employers; new graduates can demonstrate these skills in semester-long projects. Communication and professionalism skills are crucial throughout a successful career. Continually evolving digital technology skills also are required. Career management should include a commitment to life-long learning. Global and intercultural awareness and fluency will become increasingly important in organizational community building and public engagement. Business literacy -- understanding of organizational issues - is an important skill that many new graduates lack. And research skills are valuable to employers - can this individual ferret out relevant information to base informed decisions?
Bonnie Riechert Ph.D., APR: Employers want to see evidence of effective skills in teamwork, collaboration, and leadership. They also want to see applicants with practical experience, and that's where multiple, varied internships can set some apart from others. Resumes should report quantified results. Certifications in social media management and analytics, media relations, etc., are valued. We also encourage our students to earn the nationally administered Certificate in Principles in Public Relations, which demonstrates achievement in 10 areas of industry knowledge, skills, and abilities (https://www.praccreditation.org/apply/certificate/) and serves as a stepping stone to the Accreditation in Public Relations credential.
Jamie Shaw: Employers have been asking more and more for "self-starters" since so many are working remotely. We are not passing each other in the hallways to ask quick questions, so it is imperative that employers feel like they can trust their teams to be independent while working from home. In addition to this soft skill, technical skills continue to be in-demand.
Jamie Shaw: It is hard for me to think of it as a gap year since I would recommend working in various capacities. For example, high school graduates taking a gap year can begin learning various technical skills through platforms like LinkedIn Learning to start building those skillsets. They should also consider volunteering to begin building those resumes and reaching out to former teachers to see if there are any projects related to their future career paths that they can assist in with-perhaps some research? This will help the students as well as their former teachers. Finally, I would recommend those in a gap year to begin information interviews, which are an invaluable tool in helping students determine career paths while also allowing students to build their networks.
Jamie Shaw: Network. Network. Network. Get to know your colleagues at your new company once you get there. There are so many ways to do this, including just asking to set up 15-minute information interviews. Besides making relationships with others, which will help make work easier and more fun, understanding why and how a different department operates helps understand the whole organization. This will ultimately make you a better employee.
Jessica Mackinnon: Network. Network. Network. Get to know your colleagues at your new company once you get there. There are so many ways to do this, including just asking to set up 15-minute information interviews. Besides making relationships with others, which will help make work easier and more fun, understanding why and how a different department operates helps understand the whole organization. This will ultimately make you a better employee.
California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo
Communication Studies DepartmentWebsite
Aubrie Adams Ph.D.: In some ways, yes and in some ways no. The reality is that over time, graduates are always adapting to changing industry standards and norms. In that way, this aspect will stay the same, and we'll all continue adjusting to meet the needs of our ever-evolving globalized society.
However, what's different about the coronavirus pandemic is the speed that induced change in so many different industries simultaneously. Never before have so many people across the globe had to adapt and implement new work practices and procedures quickly. A year ago, teleworking was rare, most people didn't know how to videoconference, and paperwork often required hard copies. But industry practices have all shifted at a remarkably fast pace, and most of us have been forced to adapt quickly without much choice.
Ultimately, many of these adjustments are likely to result in permanent changes to workplace policies and procedures. Whereas a company before may not have had options for employees to work from home, now many of them do. And although working from home may not always be perfect, it's hard not to recognize the many benefits it can afford. I would suspect that even long after the pandemic, companies will be better positioned to allow more flexible work options that make better use of digital tools to facilitate our work, life, health, and wellbeing.
There's this common joke I've heard before in which the idea is that a face-to-face meeting "could have been an email." The pandemic allowed us to test this idea, and for many meetings, we found out that this was true. So the pandemic has forced us all to become more technologically savvy better to use our online tools in more efficient ways. Of course, we'll have to figure out a balance moving forward between what practices should remain online and what practices should function face-to-face. So there will likely be some trial and error as each respected workplace and industry seeks to figure this out.
Aubrie Adams Ph.D.: Workplaces in the past didn't necessarily require employees to present themselves well online because so much of their everyday interaction occurred in person. But as we continue to rely on digital tools for both our work and social lives, graduates will need to know how to portray personality, sociability, and professionalism using technological tools. They'll need to work on their digital impression management skills.
This can be challenging for someone who doesn't consider how interaction is inherently different online compared to face-to-face. When we communicate face-to-face, we often draw upon an assortment of nonverbal communication tools to help deliver the intended meaning of our message that most of the time, we don't even realize we're using. For example, if you meet someone new face-to-face, you can convey friendliness simply by smiling. But when communicating over email, all those nonverbals we've become accustomed to using face-to-face become harder to convey.
The good news is that researchers have been studying this phenomenon for decades. My favorite theory that looks at this issue is Walther's (1992) Social Information Processing Theory. Walther claims that it is indeed possible for our digital communication to be just as good for developing interpersonal relationships as face-to-face communication. The only differences are that (1) it may take a little more time for interpersonal relationships to be conveyed and built online and that (2) our face-to-face cues need to be thoughtfully translated into appropriate digital cues. For example, instead of a face-to-face smile, we can include emojis into our text to convey friendliness instead.
Essentially, graduates will need to be aware of this issue and be a bit more purposeful in conveying "who they are" in their digital interactions. This may require more time and extra effort. Still, with practice, people can become just as skilled at conveying personality, sociability, and professionalism digitally just as much as they could in face-to-face interactions.
Aubrie Adams Ph.D.: I don't think the pandemic has played a major role to change what kinds of skills, abilities, and experiences employees look for. Of course, it's always good to be able to show that one has experience performing tasks related to the job position they are applying for, but one type of experience I know I always personally look for and encourage in my students is simply participating in "above and beyond" experiences that show that they are engaged community members. Participating in clubs, organizing events, donating their time to philanthropy: all of these experiences help to show that a graduate has done more than just the bear minimum to get by. It always help to show a future employer that they have been participating in purposeful ways to stay connected with a broader community in some way.
Saint Xavier University
Department of CommunicationWebsite
Cyndi Grobmeier: Indeed, in the short-term, students coming out of college during the pandemic may be challenged to temporarily rethink their career trajectory, as some areas of our economy boom and others struggle to survive. For example, many of our communication majors at Saint Xavier University live our institutional mission by finding work in the nonprofit sector-where we see some advocacy areas, such as food banks, overwhelmed. In contrast, other nonprofits struggle to survive without the ability to fundraise. But across industries, there is a growing understanding of the importance of effective communication across all mediums, which in the long-term, should provide new opportunities for communication professionals as they help organizations adapt to these new ways to communicate.
Cyndi Grobmeier: Communication skills have always been in high demand by hiring professionals. We are still only beginning to understand our new standard with the accelerated and comprehensive shift to replacing much of our face-to-face interaction with technologically-mediated communication. This will require a new emphasis on training people to engage audiences and develop strategic messages that cut through the noise.
Young graduates who understand the nuanced differences in communication across different channels and can effectively engage audiences in various ways will prove to be very valuable to organizations, no matter what their job role. We have been amazed, for example, at the number of computer science majors who are minoring in communication-recognizing that the ability to communicate technical material to a non-technical audience effectively will set them apart in the workforce.
Cyndi Grobmeier: Demonstrating leadership skills, either officially or even unofficially, is critical. Sometimes, students become leaders without being in an official role, like an officer of a club. Being able to tell that leadership story effectively becomes a critical piece. Storytelling has become such an essential part of our culture that telling a compelling story about any accomplishment can help graduates stand out from the crowd. The more an applicant can say to the level of something they specifically accomplished that connects to what the organization is looking for in that position, the more memorable they become. The days of the general resume are obsolete. The expectation will be an application (whether that be online, video, etc.) that tailors the applicant's knowledge, skills, experience, and qualities specific to the position and the organization.
University of Kentucky
Department of CommunicationWebsite
William Howe Ph.D.: I believe that there will be an immediate impact on recent college graduates, but I am unsure how long the effect will last. The magnitude of the effects can be mitigated by seeking out career development opportunities, which can be completed while the pandemic continues. Some examples of these opportunities would be workshops, portfolio development, further education, and volunteer work. The added strain of completing such opportunities now could set individuals up for success in the future.
William Howe Ph.D.: I think three types of skills will benefit those who have recently graduated: competent communication, understanding workplace diversity, and becoming proficient in new technologies. Skilled communication recognizes that the contextual cues guide the appropriateness and effectiveness of how we speak to others. Understanding workplace diversity goes behind acknowledging structural barriers that exist and begins to look for ways to remove these barriers. New technologies are more critical than ever in the workplace, yet many older workers may be reluctant to learn them. Therefore, workers can make themselves more valuable to a company by demonstrating proficiency in these technologies.
William Howe Ph.D.: Cover letters are perhaps the most critical piece of a resume and yet are often the most underdeveloped. Cover pages should clearly state who you are, what you have done, and where you want to go with the company. Within the resume itself, it should be easy to read and well organized.
Department of Integrated Marketing CommunicationWebsite
Clarke L. Caywood: For recent college grads, writing and speaking experience to work with associates and clients. Strong grades in areas of value to an employer.
Clarke L. Caywood: Rapid and changing from competitors who offer advanced textual intelligence systems to track brands, employees, competitors, public figures, customers, and more.
Clarke L. Caywood: A useful advantage would be to study or read about crisis management as a continuing policy and practice strategy and tactics.
Department of PhilosophyWebsite
Dr. Arsalan Memon: That is a difficult question. I say this mainly because I am biased in my response. I fundamentally believe all young graduates need some necessary fundamental skills (regardless of their chosen major). In the coming years, I think students need: a) critical thinking and problem-solving skills, b) resume construction skills, c) communication skills, and d) life skills.
Critical thinking and problem skills: these skills are essential because they are applicable in all aspects of life, even if we cannot clearly and distinctly see that. For instance, let's say that a student who has majored in chemistry must write a personal statement for graduate school. Just taking this general example, we can see that she would be required to make an argument (understood in the broadest sense possible) to the committee to select her over other equally (if not more) qualified candidates. The student would have to construct a coherent, compelling, and precise narrative to move the readers of her application. Teaching since 2009 and at various universities, I have noticed that a lot of students are not taught such critical thinking and problem-solving skills.
Resume construction skills: such skills are quite self-explanatory. A lot of my students who have graduated have asked me to write letters of recommendation for them. Most of the time, they would send me their resume. I have noticed that some students do not know how to properly organize their information in the outline (say, what goes first etc.). Other students do not know what should be included in the resume. Some students do not know how much information per item must be included. In some summaries, I have seen paragraphs and paragraphs. I have witnessed insufficient data (e.g., 2-3 words describing their previous jobs).
Communication Skills: more often than not, a lot of my students struggle with in-class student presentations. I have also noticed that many students do not actively participate in class discussions. I speculate that they are afraid of being wrong or genuinely not knowing the answer to some of the questions. Whatever the source of their silence may be, it does not change the fact that some students are afraid to speak their minds. But lacking such communication skills can play a significant role in the actual interview process (for instance). If students cannot articulate their thoughts clearly and distinctly, especially during an interview, they may be less inclined to hire the person. Thus, we need to empower our students to speak their minds, even if they may be wrong at times. In my opinion, being wrong is part of life. We learn from our mistakes. However, being silent is worse than being wrong because when we are silent, our interlocuters can assume many things about us and our lack of responses.
Life skills: no one teaches us life skills. Regardless of one's major, such skills need to be taught in some way. I do not know how such skills would be taught, but that they should be taught. By "life skills," I mean skills that play a central role in determining the outcome of certain events and actions, especially as they pertain to life as such. For instance, based on my perception of teaching students since 2009, no one teaches students to have contingency plans. No one teaches students that effort does not equal outcome. That is, a student can put all the effort into making sure that a particular event or situation actualizes itself in their favor; the work remains independent of the action, mainly because there are so many factors that shape the outcome (and most of those factors are outside of our control). No one teaches students the skill of resilience. The list goes on. I fundamentally believe that such life skills are essential and that students should be oriented to such gifts.
Dr. Arsalan Memon: With a BA in philosophy or philosophy of law, most students go to graduate school or law school. But students can do other things. There are many factors to consider in thinking about work opportunities (to name two): 1) some funding to pursue graduate work (e.g., grants, fellowships, scholarships, teaching assistantships, research assistantships, etc.) and 2) the economic situation (e.g., because of the current pandemic, a lot of universities are no longer accepting new graduate students). A lot of our students go to John Marshall Law School. Very few students from Lewis continue graduate work in philosophy. I would also add: it ultimately depends on the student's interest.
Dr. Arsalan Memon: In my opinion, I do not see technology impacting philosophy in any fundamental way in the next five years.