January 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 North Carolina at Greensboro
Department of EnglishWebsite
Dr. Anthony Cuda Ph.D.: Obviously work that can be done remotely is at a premium, and writers in particular will benefit from this. Freelance writers have long worked remotely and on their own schedule. The shift now will involve science writers, technical writers, corporate communications professionals-anyone who knows how to put sentences together with clarity, elegance, and professionalism. So the ability to write well-the way that English majors are trained to-is key to capitalizing on the trends.
Dr. Anthony Cuda Ph.D.: I think graduates should always find ways to offer their services to professional organizations-nonprofits, small businesses, even larger firms. If graduates can get a foot in the door with a professional organization-paid or unpaid-and work to hone their writing and communicating skills, they'll be well positioned to pursue a variety of alternative career paths.
Dr. Anthony Cuda Ph.D.: Uncertainty abounds, but society is adapting and learning to live in new ways. You'll make yourself essential by proving your adaptability, your willingness to change gears and try new ways of working, but also by proving that you can be both nimble (quick to adapt and change) and rigorously attentive to detail. Attention to detail-the equivalent of rigorous, thorough proofreading in any profession-will set you apart from your peers and get you noticed.
Department of Journalism and CommunicationWebsite
Jack Lule Ph.D.: I think the pandemic will have enduring impacts on many aspects of life, from restaurants to public transportation to city living-to, not in the least, journalism. Many media organizations were already quite fragile because of the ongoing loss of advertisers and paying subscribers. The pandemic hastened their demise. Ironically, in some ways, that is good news for college graduates. The news organizations that remain will have truly endured the worst of times and will be looking to grow.
Another more subtle aspect of the pandemic for journalism careers is the renewed respect for local news. Social media and the big media corporations are great at covering national and international news. But, during the pandemic, where did people go for news on how the virus was affecting their own schools, towns, restaurants, hospitals, sports? The local news media. I think the pandemic will actually help strengthen local news media and provide really interesting jobs.
Jack Lule Ph.D.: I always laugh when alumni ask what classes we are teaching students now. I tell them: We have to teach today's students everything we taught you-how to report, write and edit, how to fact check and make deadlines, how to tape audio, shoot photographs and make videos. And each year, we have to add more! We have added classes in data, data visualization, multimedia, and social media. And we introduce our students to artificial intelligence. They will need all of that to get started. But, paradoxically, as they progress in their careers, they will be asked to develop a specialty and be really good at one thing.
Jack Lule Ph.D.: I think ANY experience stands out at first. We require that students work for the college newspaper. We require that students work a senior internship-and we set it up for them. We help them get other internships during the summers. But as employers dig deeper into student resumes, the ability of students to work on their own will really stand out. Organizations are so lean these days that no one has the time, unfortunately, to train or teach a new employee. Students have to be prepared to hit the ground running-or more likely-sprinting!
David Faldet: Their senior year is going to be memorable: a year of trials and challenges and disappointments that will set them apart from people who came before them. The virtual education and networked learning required for the eighteen months leading up to their graduation will also give them good credentials as they enter the work-from-home or connect-remotely environment of business today.
David Faldet: Those college years of reading, writing, and discussing literature mean English majors have three skills business leaders want: creativity, the ability to communicate well, and the empathy that can set a person or a business apart. Creativity is crucial in a time of change such as this one, and as employers look to transform their business model. Good communication is basic within a business and in reaching out to the market. Empathy is there to make sure communication matters and reaches a receptive audience.
David Faldet: Number one, employers want to see initiative, but they want to see that you know how to work within an organization, too. They are also looking for skills older employees may lack, such as ease with social media or new technologies. Finally, even though they may hire you for your youth, they may be ten, twenty, or thirty years older than you, and they want to feel you understand and can talk to them. That will matter a lot.
California State University
Journalism and Public Relations DepartmentWebsite
Aaron Quinn Ph.D.: In my limited observations, the pandemic has changed journalism workflow from being office-based to having employees working from home and other locations that are suitable to getting their jobs done. It has certainly made experienced journalists more valuable than usual because they have familiarity with protocol and professional standards. The pandemic has also led to staff reductions and/or furloughs, largely because the slim advertising offerings have become even more scarce as small businesses who advertise in local and regional publications struggle to stay open.
Aaron Quinn Ph.D.: I suspect a university graduate who takes a gap year prior to something like full-time journalism employment won't exactly be frowned upon under the circumstances. Almost everyone in the industry is struggling to stay afloat in one context or another. That said, this has always been a competitive industry, so future candidates who have maintained an effort to practice some journalism to remain sharp will have an advantage over those who drop it for a year. I've rarely known a news leader who doesn't appreciate persistent, enterprising new journalists. Take six to ten hours a week during most weeks to pursue a story or two in your locality as an independent journalist, and attempt to sell it to a local news organization. Even if they don't buy or publish it, you'll get someone's attention and you'll remain fluent in the practice of the craft. You'll probably open some doors for future employment as well. I can't stress that enough.
Aaron Quinn Ph.D.: Practice, practice, practice. Seek feedback from experienced practitioners, and don't let your ego stunt your growth. I would do the exact same thing if I went back to working in a newsroom again, and this is something that as a department we seek out from our advisory board of professionals. We craft our practice-based curriculum in large part based on feedback from professionals, even if it sometimes runs contrary to our intuitions and biases.
Colorado Public Radio
Rachel Estabrook: In my opinion, in terms of journalism jobs, the need for these jobs is only getting bigger in the pandemic. But the finances of almost every news outlet have suffered. Even in nonprofit media, sponsorships have declined as businesses don't have events to promote, for example. So hiring may be a bit more stagnant than it otherwise would have been. Unfortunately, you're also seeing journalists furloughed and even let go sometimes when outlets are forced to contract given the economic pressures.
Rachel Estabrook: If a graduate needs to take a gap year, I'd suggest they try to establish a freelancing relationship with a news outlet they want to work for. There's no better way to get on a hiring manager's radar than to show them your work. Pitch some stories you think would expand the news outlet's coverage. Or, if you're not ready for that yet or can't afford to do that, spend your free time reading about a topic that interests you that you want to report on, and think about how you'd want to cover those stories, so you're ready to pitch when the time comes to apply for jobs. Or, spend your time building your technical skills. Data reporting skills are really valuable in newsrooms, as are coding skills. In radio, get familiar with audio editing. You can use free software online and record on a phone; the barrier to entry in audio is low. Experiment and build your portfolio so you can demonstrate interest when the time comes to apply for jobs.
Rachel Estabrook: For a graduate beginning their career, I'd recommend a few things. Most importantly, be hungry. Go doggedly after whatever stories most interest you. Take time to build sources, by taking people out to coffee (when that's safe to do) and checking in with them regularly to ask what's up in their world. Follow your interests, even if they lead somewhere that traditional journalism outlets haven't always gone; given the summer of protests and focus on racial equity, traditional outlets are hungrier than ever for stories they haven't historically told. Be humble while also being confident; know that you have a lot to offer and your approach is valuable, but that you also have a lot to learn.
Arkansas State UniversityWebsite
Dr. Ronald Sitton Ph.D.: Although the pandemic definitely presents a challenge to incoming journalists, the bigger challenge may be the news deserts popping up throughout the country. Fewer outlets mean fewer traditional opportunities. Those entering the industry will not only be competing with other graduates, but also with veteran journalists now seeking employment. The pandemic adds another layer: many interviews will be conducted over the internet instead of in-person. Those who aren't professional in these interviews face additional hiring challenges, e.g., nobody's going to hire someone who interviews from their bed in pajamas.
Yet those who can be comfortable and professional in an internet interview will show potential employers that they can be expected to conduct themselves professionally in a setting that's becoming increasingly common. The pandemic continues to require journalists to innovate when obtaining information. For example, instead of being able to visit a source in their professional setting, now they will often see the source work from home. Noticing how the source chooses to present themselves in that setting will provide details for stories the general public might not otherwise see. Will their animals or children walk in and out during the interview? How does the source react to interruptions? As a result, journalists have an opportunity to make their sources more "human" for the audience.
Although much has gone online, it will still be necessary for broadcast journalists to gather B-roll and natural sound for their work. It will still be necessary for print and online journalists to include photography with their written work. Journalism isn't a job for people who want to stay home during the pandemic.
Dr. Ronald Sitton Ph.D.: Writing will always be an important skill. Even if someone prefers to be a broadcast journalist or photojournalist, most news outlets keep an internet presence, which requires great writing such that the public can find out additional information unavailable through a photograph or in the time constraints of a broadcast medium. Whether graduates prefer to remain in the industry or seek employment elsewhere, every employer wants to hire someone who can willingly communicate their ideas precisely and concisely.
Reporting skills will also remain important as employers need employees who understand how to properly research and vet information prior to publication. They must know how and when to ask the difficult questions that provide insights into contentious issues. Prior to beginning work, reporters must pitch their ideas, which is a skill that also is useful outside of the industry.
With the continual movement of publications to online outlets, knowledge of content management systems (e.g., WordPress) becomes even more important than it previously was. Knowledge of standard industry software including Photoshop and InDesign is almost mandatory, while video editing skills will stand out even more due to the amount of video now gathered through internet interviews. Graduates entering the field with a multiplatform skill set will possess skills a lot of veteran journalists are still learning.
It's expected that journalists understand the necessity of using critical thinking, being dependable, making deadlines, and adapting to change. Showing how they've previously done this rather than just telling that they can will stand out to employers.
Dr. Ronald Sitton Ph.D.: With corporate media continuing to downsize and local media disappearing, some may find it difficult to suggest ANY good places to find work. However, opportunities now exist that haven't existed in a century. Where once one had to own a press in order to publish, now the internet provides a press to almost anyone. This will give entrepreneurs the opportunity to make their own jobs covering a niche, such as focusing on city government in cities and towns that no longer have a traditional outlet. The idea, "Build it and they will come", actually works here - i.e., if journalists can professionally and adequately cover traditional news where no coverage exists anymore, citizens will notice and attend to the outlet to stay informed on local occurrences. We've seen this in a few different places in Arkansas where entrepreneurs saw a need and started their own outlet; the advertisers soon followed as the outlets provided the only area for miles around for their target audience of local customers.