February 7, 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.
Humboldt State University
University of Mary Washington
Virginia Commonwealth University
Florida Gulf Coast University
San Francisco State University
University of Pittsburgh
Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology
Pennsylvania State University
Dr. Anne Paulet Ph.D.: I believe that a number of companies will keep some of their employees working from home or at least be more flexible about it. This obviously gives an advantage to anyone with computer skills, which most college students should have these days. Additionally, graduates will have to be both articulate in written correspondence-including emails-as that will become an increasing part of work and will also have to be comfortable and professional in front of a computer camera. For students who will be graduating soon and are presently taking online classes which involve discussion-as many history classes do-this is a great time to practice those on camera communication skills before hitting the job market. Students should also be practicing their group work skills. Increasingly companies tend to use groups of people with differing skills to achieve their project goals. The ability to work well with a group can be hard to master and anyone with experience successfully doing so-say in a class assignment-would have an advantage. At the same time, with the increased likelihood of working from home, those seeking employment will also want to demonstrate their ability to manage their time, be self-motivated, stay organized and meet deadlines with very limited supervision. The ability to do well in your classes while juggling other issues during the pandemic can be a good example of this ability. Moreover, the mix of synchronous and asynchronous classes many students are taking will provide a really good opportunity to establish a system for managing the workflow and meeting deadlines even before entering the job market. While some sectors of the economy will take longer to recover-restaurants for instance-areas where history students might shine, such as museum work, should rebound relatively well. Additionally, museums, along with other institutions, will be seeking to increase their online presence so any ability to envision interactive and engaging ways for these institutions to reach a broader audience would be a sought after quality. Finally, there will be a growing number of jobs that may not even exist now-jobs that foster environmental awareness or sustainability, jobs that seek to bring people together across distances and dividing lines whether racial, ethnic, gender-based, political or religious, and jobs that use technology in new and innovative ways. I know that I have had to rethink the way I teach and the methods I use (as well as learn some new computer programs) to better meet the needs of teaching online. As companies continue to increase their online presence, students will need these skills as well.
Dr. Anne Paulet Ph.D.: In terms of soft skills, those probably won't change much, they will simply be practiced differently. Being flexible is important since jobs may switch between home and office and since one may be dealing with someone else working from home and the challenges that can present-what cat owner hasn't had their cat walk in front of the camera or step on the wrong computer key? The ability to work in groups will continue to have importance as well as the ability to manage your own time and meet deadlines. At the same time, the nature of computer camera interaction means that people will have to learn to "read" others differently than they would in an in-person environment. Many recent articles have talked about how it is harder to read facial cues or detect emotional responses on the computer. Again, those presently taking synchronous classes have the opportunity to practice these skills--providing students turn on their cameras rather than relying only on audio. If the past year has demonstrated anything, it is that people need to be more culturally aware and sensitive and also be able to work with people of diverse backgrounds. History classes are a great way for students to better understand what others have gone through and how that might impact interaction today. Additionally, history classes-as well as college in general-should provide students with the skills to help create the kind of changes in institutions and companies that need to be made to make them more inclusive. Perhaps the greatest skill college students have is the ability to learn. I never intended to teach online, yet here I am doing just that. It required learning new ways to approach teaching, reconsideration of the ways students learned in the new environment, and figuring out new online programs to make all this happen. I was forced to do this as a result of the pandemic but most students will find that this sort of adjustment-whether foreseen or not-will be a regular part of their career path. The ability to learn these new skills, to apply new methods and to approach issues in new and innovative ways will help them stand out when it comes to looking for a job.
Dr. Anne Paulet Ph.D.: I am sorry but I don't think I have the ability to describe a day of work. Too much of that rests on the field the grad goes into. Many jobs will likely involve more online time but that does not apply evenly across fields. Some companies or institutions may reconsider the way they configure or use indoor and outdoor space, but that again is dependent on varying factors. The best advice is be flexible, innovative, friendly and willing to learn.
University of Mary Washington
Department of Geography
Dr. Jackie Gallagher: The job market has slowed down in many or most areas, but contractors with funded contracts that need to be completed are still hiring. The University of Mary Washington is located in Fredericksburg VA, 50 miles south of D.C., even closer to a number of government agencies, and their contractors; these are the kinds of places that are still hiring. Jobs in Geographic Information Science (GIS) have remained somewhat strong throughout the pandemic, and I expect them to come back even stronger. I expect the health industries to use GIS more than they have up until now. The maps that are being produced to show the spread of COVID-19, the kinds of people who are most seriously impacted, the kinds of spreading events, locations of resources, and so on - they have all highlighted the importance of geography. I expect organizations to use GIS more in the future. People with geographic or spatial understanding will be needed to help understand, interpret, and create such maps.
The other main trend is environmental, related to climate change and impacts caused by it. We have already seen new flood mapping by FEMA. We will be looking at coastal changes, new risk maps for hurricane damage, and probably new species distributions over time. Geographers interested in environmental and climate impacts will work for government agencies, contractors, non-profits, and local and regional city/county planning organizations. These exist in the greater D.C. region, but also all over Virginia and the country.
Dr. Jackie Gallagher: Students need to be able to communicate well, in writing and by speaking - I think these are the most important skills for anyone. It can be hard to demonstrate on a resume, so a portfolio or web page is incredibly useful! Beyond that, the ability to find good, reliable, information, to be able to do research, to think critically, and to assess information critically. Again, these are hard to demonstrate on a resume, but individual research, internships, presentations at a conference, these are the ways that a student might really stand out.
GIS skills are incredibly valuable for geography majors, but are not absolutely essential. One or two classes in GIS are useful; our undergraduate certificate, especially if it includes Python programming language, is very valuable.
Hard skills like word processing, use of spreadsheets, production of slide shows and posters, and creation of web pages round out my list!
Dr. Jackie Gallagher: Are there any particularly good places in the United States for graduates to find work opportunities in this field after they graduate?
I have always heard that there are more jobs in geography in the greater D.C. region than any other part of the county. There are more job titles including "geographer" here than elsewhere. I don't know how to assess that or find that information, but it makes sense given the large U.S. agencies that hire geographers (NGA, CIA, FBI, USGS, NOAA, etc.) and all of their contractors, plus the various branches of the military. For this reason, UMW is in a phenomenally good location for geography majors: our students can work on internships while attending classes by working locally or by taking the train north toward D.C. or south toward Richmond. The Bureau of Labor Statistics lists geospatial technologies as hiring at a rate higher than average, and earning more than average; this is one aspect of geography. We have had alumni move to Texas and to California for work: these are other "hot spot" places for GIS, in particular.
Dr. Robert Gowdy: In my opinion, universities that were hit hard by the pandemic will be scaling back their hiring of permanent research faculty for a while, although postdoctoral positions should continue to be available. Industrial research should increase in several areas. I would expect many opportunities in new medical applications of physics and biology, such as the use of nanotechnology in cancer diagnosis and vaccine development and production. Science graduates should also find job opportunities in energy, its storage, technology, and robotics. Many of our graduates are finding work in the growing field of "big data" analysis, too.
Dr. Robert Gowdy: Companies want to hire people who can be productive immediately. The most important skill for any type of research or development job is a track record of work in the exact area that a company is hiring for. That record could come from thesis research, postdoctoral work, or from an internship experience. Beyond that, it helps to be familiar with a wide variety of research techniques, computer programs, and systems to increase the chance that one of them is what a given company is looking for.
Dr. Robert Gowdy: So long as one looks beyond narrow specialties, industrial research and development jobs are available in most parts of the country.
Department of Sociology
Dr. Charlotte Kunkel: The newest trends given the pandemic of Covid19 and its aftermath is in both the study of public health and institutional racism. While the jobs won't change per se, the foci on the impacts of systemic inequalities will be foremost - perhaps more than they have ever been before. Therefore, a background in the sociology of inequalities may be the biggest factor in being competitive in the job market.
Nearly every field is experiencing and confronting the effects of systemic inequalities - educational systems are confronting unequal access to resources and technology since the move to distance learning, parents are confronting the inequities of double and triple shifts as schools and daycares close, social services are being overwhelmed with newly poor and struggling families. The fields of healthcare, housing, policing and unemployment, etc., may all have to take a look at how services can meet future needs as well as address the inequities in the distribution of resources. A background in Sociology and the ability to see systems at play rather than only individual agency will be the key to making organizations successful.
Dr. Charlotte Kunkel: The skills that will stand out on resumes are the ability to grapple with the complexities of a rapidly changing world, the ability to view the world from a critical perspective, and the ability to research social issues impacting society. It will also be an advantage to be able to critically analyze scholarship and synthesize sociological theory and ideas. Employers will be looking for skills to evaluate evidence and offer solutions. Sociology helps students to develop proficiency in the use of both quantitative and qualitative research methods, conduct scholarly research, gain proficiency in data analysis, and offer solutions at the root of social problems.
Dr. Charlotte Kunkel: The obvious places are in social research organizations, like the Census Bureau, however, I think anywhere in the healthcare and criminal justice systems (lawyers, probation, and policing) will be looking for candidates who can understand the larger patterns of social inequalities that are present in society.
Dr. Glenn Whitehouse: -Work from home arrangements are more common now and will probably continue after the pandemic - this should make it less necessary to migrate to a major city to find good work
-Along with virtual work goes the need to be able to do your job in a technologically mediated way. Workers in all fields will need to "tech up" and know workplace software, even if they are not employed in a "tech" field
-Career paths are likely to become less linear and less secure in an unstable economy. This puts a premium on career flexibility and the ability to pivot among opportunities and adapt to change. Philosophy majors actually have some advantages here, since the key skills of philosophy - critical thinking, problem solving, persuasion, writing - are all highly transferable between jobs.
Dr. Glenn Whitehouse: -Learn workplace technology. Employers may not be used to hiring Philosophy graduates. You can go a long way toward reassuring them by mastering some of the common workplace applications that are required for many jobs. Start with the basics if you don't already know them: Word, PowerPoint, and especially Excel. Then move on to more specialized applications that may be important for a field you're interested in - this could be Google Analytics for marketing, design software like Canva or Adobe creative suite, or Tableau for data visualization. Many of these applications can be picked up through online platforms like LinkedIn Learning or Udemy. Often the base course is quite inexpensive, but there may be some charge for certification. It may be worth your while to get the certification for the applications that are most important to your career goals. More importantly, learn those applications like the philosopher you are. Anyone can learn what the buttons do on PowerPoint, but not everyone understands the principles of an effective presentation, what makes it different than a written report, how to analyze a problem into parts for discussion, and so forth. Apply your skills of reflective thought to the use of your new workplace skills, and you'll have a leg up over a lot of your peers.
-Invest time in career search skills. Many college graduates stop with writing a resume and going to the career fair, but that's only a small part of searching for a job. Approach your career search as a research project. Find out where other philosophy graduates from your institution are working - LinkedIn makes it easy to do this by searching the Alumni sections of college LinkedIn profiles. When you find an alum with a job that's of interest to you, reach out to that person and ask for an informational interview to find out more about that career. Networking may be more important than any other career search activity - use alumni networks, young professionals groups and the like to connect with people who can help you with information and contacts. Once you identify some career options you'd like to pursue, use LinkedIn or other job search sites to find out what key skills are listed either in job ads or in the profiles of people who have the job. If you're missing a key skill, you can work on filling in that gap.
-If your "gap year" is a gap before you intend to go on to graduate or professional school, consider taking a "real job" if that's an option. Too many students wait tables or tend bar in their gap year, just because those paths are familiar young person jobs. But if you can get into a corporate training program, paid internship, or entry-level professional role, do it. You'll give yourself a more informed choice between "real world" careers and graduate study, you might find you like and are good at the job, and if you do decide to go on to further study, you'll do so with a viable Plan B in your pocket.
Dr. Glenn Whitehouse: -Think of yourself more as a bundle of skills than as an expert in your major - and while you're at it, think of job titles that way as well. Too many liberal arts students never pursue careers they might be very good at, because they couldn't imagine themselves in that job title. But consider: the most common career type for Philosophy BAs without graduate study is Management, and the most common job for Philosophy BAs with graduate study is Lawyer. Those might not sound like "philosophical" jobs, but what do lawyers do? They make arguments, apply ethical principles, and read and write very carefully. What do managers do? They persuade people, analyze problems into parts so they can be solved, synthesize the viewpoints of team members, and mediate between details and the big picture. Does that sound more like your philosophy studies? Learn to see the ways your academic skill set matches real world roles.
-Know the value - and rarity - of your skill set. As you enter the workforce you may encounter peers who walk in knowing business lingo or specialized knowledge you didn't encounter in school. But as a philosophy major, it is likely that you can write clearly, read carefully, think precisely, persuade effectively, imagine alternatives, and assess issues. These are not common skills, and they can be the key to rapid advancement and career mobility. As an entry-level employee, seek out opportunities to showcase your skills, and you won't be in that entry-level position for long.
-Treat your early career as a learning experience. It's very unlikely that your first job will be your forever job, and that means it's OK to try something that will help you develop professionally, even if you don't intend to stay with that employer. You chose a major that called you to do research and stretch your mind to unfamiliar places. Carry that spirit into your first job, and you'll quickly erase any advantage that peers from so-called practical walked in with. You may need to teach yourself some business knowledge and skills as you get started, but I promise nothing you have to learn in the professional world is harder than reading Kant and Hegel!
Matthew Fisher SFSU, Hult, SMC: Perhaps. For engaged students committed to learning, there is not likely to be too profound of an impact. Students that have mastered the material in their coursework should be armed with robust critical thinking skills, theories, and frameworks that enable them to confidently apply to positions and succeed. However, I would anticipate that some employers may be more skeptical of recent grads and their capabilities stemming from online course delivery. It is undeniable that some students are less engaged with remote learning and may be retaining less. Additionally, employers may take this critical view from their own experiences with children and remote learning. While there are many that are thriving in a remote learning environment, there are also many that are realizing that there are many challenges to neutralizing distractions, budgeting time, and remaining accountable when surrounded by distractions of the home.
For firms that might be embracing remote work on a more permanent basis, then it is very likely that time management skills will become much more important. Young professionals that can emphasize their capability to manage multiple projects and self-motivate are apt to find employers receptive. Additionally, writing skills may also be more important for the fact that there is less face-to-face interactions.
Matthew Fisher SFSU, Hult, SMC: Students will need to have some exposure to more technical skills. I say "exposure" for the fact that not everyone needs to know how to code, but understanding what coders do goes a long way in empowering young professionals to work in roles adjacent to those with technical skills that they might not have. However, the core skill that will not be outmoded anytime soon is to have robust critical thinking skills and a motivation to keep learning. While firms may seek to fill an immediate need position, it's always better to hire individuals who can learn for the fact that you can almost always teach specific skills.
Matthew Fisher SFSU, Hult, SMC: Experience in the industry that you are applying always stands out more. However, many firms would benefit greatly by hiring individuals with experience in other fields to inject fresh perspectives into the business. As a result, this is one of those areas that many firms ought to be doing something different than their normal business-as-usual practices.
Shalini Gopalkrishnan: Remote work is here to stay. Don't wait for it to become the normal of 2019; it will never be. Short-term work will also become the norm.
Shalini Gopalkrishnan: If you are taking a gap year, please decide the purpose. Be very clear about it. Is it for being on campus? Is it to get into a better college next year? Decide what are you going to do that year. Most students want to travel, but it is not possible now. Maybe work on a wild idea you have had and didn't have time for; start a business. If not, take courses. Go to Coursera, Udacity, Edx, or any others, and get an employment-oriented certificate now. Areas such as project management, data science, human resources, and supply chain management are needed now.
Shalini Gopalkrishnan: Reskilling and upskilling rather than four year degrees. Already Google, Amazon, IBM, and other firms have removed the bachelor's degree requirement. Please be agile, keep an open mind, and learn new things. You will always be a student as the pace of change is rapid. Get into a growth mindset now.
Jane Caldwell: The hiring process will be slower. Graduates may receive offers to start at later dates or see start dates deferred depending on the availability of the vaccine, and work will more often be remote. In general, service industry jobs have been more disrupted than other jobs, in particular, leisure and travel service industries. We've seen much less job loss in the government sector.
Jane Caldwell: This is likely not a good time to take a gap year as the opportunities to use that time productively are limited. However, if a graduate must take a gap year, it's always useful to develop technology and analytical skills. There are online courses available to develop these skills.
Jane Caldwell: Be persistent, patient, and flexible. Be willing to change jobs and constantly search for the best opportunities. People who are willing to change jobs are able to increase their earning capacity and also increase their skill set and problem solving ability.
Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology
Cheryl Dorsey: I think one of the biggest trends in the job market will be IT. With the pandemic and social distancing, IT connections (for example, Zoom, Microsoft Teams, etc.) is very popular because it allows you to continue to conduct business through online media while fulfilling social distancing. IT also allows individuals an opportunity to work from home or other locations. I think this trend will continue to happen in the future and may be the new way to do business.
Cheryl Dorsey: Regarding a gap year, I think if a graduate needs to, take a gap year. It would be beneficial to join professional organizations (many provide student discounts) and to participate in online trainings and webinars of interest to enhance skills.
Cheryl Dorsey: Overall, for a new graduate starting their career, I would suggest that you be flexible and try to learn as much as possible to develop additional skills. This will make you more marketable in the future.
Lindsay Alvarado: The pandemic has accelerated a lot of trends that were already in motion, most notably flexible work arrangements such as telecommuting and virtual interviewing, hiring, and onboarding. Organizations that were already set up for virtual work transitioned smoothly, and those who hadn't were forced to adopt new technologies and processes for conducting business. Instead of being seen as a perk, employees will come to expect this benefit and level of technological agility from their employers.
Lindsay Alvarado: Being able to analyze, draw conclusions, and solve business problems using data is the most in-demand skill right now in every industry and job function. The increased automation of processes and robust reporting capabilities have provided organizations with a tremendous amount of data. However, that data isn't useful unless it can be interpreted and applied appropriately. For individuals just getting in to data analytics, I suggest starting with data that interests you, such as your favorite sports team's statistics. Start playing around with the data in common applications, such as Microsoft Excel, or download open-source software available for free. Formalized instruction can be found all over the Internet, including YouTube tutorials (free) and LinkedIn Learning (for a fee).
Lindsay Alvarado: My advice has always been to be flexible, and that is even more important entering the job market during a pandemic. You're not expected to know what you're going to do with the rest of your life when you graduate college. In fact, the job you will retire from hasn't been invented yet, or if it has, it looks nothing like it will in 40 years. Find a job role or company where you can learn, grow, and evolve, as that will provide you the tools for a successful future, whatever that may look like.
Pennsylvania State University
Department of Socilogy na Criminology
Stephen A. Matthews Ph.D.: I send job ads to our students every week, so I still see jobs. The majority of those I am sending out seem to be postdoctoral positions. Personally I welcome this as it provides a great opportunity for early-career scholars to build-up their experience and publication resume (hopefully) before fully committing to an academic career. At this time, it feels like I do not see as many academic jobs (i.e., assistant professor positions), but it would be misleading to say there are none. Indeed, I know of several institutions that are hiring and even conducting interviews over Zoom. I also believe that many universities are exploring ways to enhance their instruction and research around social inequities and race and ethnicity and themes such as racial health disparities but more broadly BLM.
Stephen A. Matthews Ph.D.: Our program is too broad and complex to answer this in any meaningful way (see my opening paragraph). I hope our Ph.D. graduates have both soft skills (e.g., people skills, communication (writing/speaking), team science/work skills, critical thinking skills) as well as the technical skills (e.g., data analysis, data visualization, data ethics, IRB experience, etc.). As mentioned, I also hope they are flexible and adaptive vis-a-vis other perspectives (interdisciplinary outlook).
Stephen A. Matthews Ph.D.: Anywhere and everywhere - academia, government (local to national), NGOs, INGOs, private sector, and applied research - in the US and overseas!