February 8, 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 – La Crosse
Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College
University of Pittsburgh
Eastern Washington University
The University of New Mexico
Kansas State University
Azusa Pacific University
North Central College
University of Wisconsin – La Crosse
Department of PhysicsWebsite
Shelly Lesher: The coronavirus pandemic has been difficult for students entering their final years of studies as physics and engineering emphases hands-on skills. It has forced us to emphasis different skills that are of importance in today's every changing world. Advanced labs can emphasis modeling and simulations, while continuing to work with students on important data analysis and technical writing skills since hands-on experiments were only sporadically available over the last few semesters. Forcing classes online has also made our students more comfortable with communication software which is important since many science collaborations are national and international. Collaboration will continue to be important in physics/engineering and the pandemic has allowed us to help our students to develop additional skills to help them adapt.
UWL Physics sets itself apart by offering research experiences for students at all levels. The majority of these experiences were canceled during the summer of 2020, especially those in laboratory settings. This will continue to impact students hand-on skills and comfort in the lab for years to come.
Shelly Lesher: I don't see this changing much. Since most of our students are involved in hands-on work, they will be required to work in a laboratory of some sort. It will probably be masked and distanced but the same as pre-pandemic. I am concerned graduates will receive less training for this reason making their positions more frustrating at first.
Shelly Lesher: Employers value our graduates for their ability to independently solve complex problems, whether in or out of the lab. This skill has not and will not change regardless of instructional mode.
Department of Anthropology & SociologyWebsite
Shiri Noy Ph.D.: This is an interesting question to think about, but because I'm not a labor market scholar I don't want to speculate on that aspect. However, I think the pandemic will have an enduring impact on all of us, and our societies. Many students and graduates will have had a very different experience in college than their counterparts in years past. Then there are the economic, familial, social impacts. As a sociologist, this is a time of a lot of social change, not just in terms of the pandemic but politics, social justice, the economy, among others, and it's a lot for everyone to handle. However, I also think that the pandemic has shown the importance of so many competencies: the medical advances and development of vaccines has been wonderful and awe-inspiring. We are also seeing great challenges with logistics of vaccine distribution, promoting preventative and protective behaviors, and issues of equity and access, which require careful consideration and planning. These are things that students trained in Sociology and the social sciences are well-equipped to engage with: the social and institutional challenges. Further, these graduates will already have so much practice and experience in so many skills that employers value: mastery over digital tools, professional communication in online formats, engagement with varied technologies, remote teamwork, and so much more, in that way they are so prepared for the world ahead of them! Particularly at Denison University, where I teach and work, students leave with a well-rounded liberal arts education, that treats them not only as students, but as whole people, and prepares them to meet the world in its full complexity: working across disciplines, skill sets, competencies, and approaches.
Shiri Noy Ph.D.: This is of-course field dependent. Denison University and we focus on teaching our students how to carefully and critically engage with ideas and information in context: whether that's theoretical, conceptual, or substantive. In my experience when I talk to potential employers of my students as a recommender they are interested in students' interpersonal skills, independent thinking, and research skills. Knowing how to collect, systematize, and analyze data, whether that be archival documents, statistical datasets, or interview data, for example, is something that is very appealing to employers. We are bombarded by information and have trained our brains to value novelty (think constant notifications and scrolling!) but having employees that can distinguish patterns and highlight key issues is highly prized. Equally important are interpersonal skills, and knowing how to learn. New jobs always come with new challenges and opportunities, having students that are open to learning, and that know themselves and can utilize the resources around them, primarily their community, peers, and supervisors, to deepen their learning is equally important in my experience. Central to this is communication and awareness: you need to know how to communicate your questions, insights, and needs--this facilitates the best processes and outcomes!
Shiri Noy Ph.D.: I am not particularly fond of the term "soft skills" since it's often gendered and I think in a lot of ways is not easily distinguishable from so-called "hard" or technical skills. However, I think that what people mean when they talk about soft skills is deeply important: communication, time management, organization, teamwork, approaches to problem-solving, etc. This affects not just how effectively you can use your "hard" skills, but also about communicating your work and ideas to your peers and supervisors. What good is technical knowledge if you don't know how to approach a problem critically, from diverse vantages, and while being open to feedback and others' ideas when you hit a dead end? In this way, and especially in today's world, I think patience and communication are key. With a liberal arts education our Denison University students are used to having to approach a topic from different lenses and perspectives, and work and learn from diverse peers, Professors, and community members. In this way, they have experience with clearly communicating their ideas but also with different ways of thinking about and approaching both practical and theoretical problems. No one will know every technology, system, and skill they will encounter in their first job, so what's most important is knowing how to learn--this means knowing yourself but also knowing how to ask for help, communicate challenges, and be willing to adapt!
Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College
Department of Social and Behavioral SciencesWebsite
Sara Church: Absolutely, yes. We may not even know all the ways this pandemic will impact graduates professionally and personally. Students have experienced tremendous stress because of this pandemic. Classes have gone virtual, loved ones or they themselves have gotten sick, some are battling anxiety and depression-all the while they are trying to complete their coursework and stay engaged. I think it's important for us to acknowledge that along with this collective traumatic experience has come some incredible resilience. Graduates will have become flexible and adaptable; they will be ready to use technology in the field. Also, empathy! There is a depth of compassion for others that comes from living this together.
I will also say that qualified helping professionals are needed now more than ever. Counselor caseloads are packed, and people are reaching out for help at high rates. People were universally stressed before this pandemic happened. This sent some people over the edge and straight to their local therapist. We are working to get our psychology and human services students ready to make an immediate impact in this field.
Sara Church: Young graduates should be thinking about trauma competency that includes somatic approaches. Somatic approaches include a person's mind AND body, which is so important when treating stress of any kind. Young graduates also need self-awareness. Young graduates need to know how to interview! They should set up mock interviews to practice. Interviews are important in our field, because the interviewer is getting a feel for what the person would be like in a helping relationship. They need to be well versed in professionalism and be able to set healthy boundaries within their work. Finally, they need to be culturally responsive and open to learning. This field is broad and can act as one, big difficult conversation. Conversations about differences-about behaviors, about people, about groups and institutions. They need to be ready to have these. SMWC has been very intentional about setting their students up for success in this way.
Sara Church: Relevant experiences! If students are working towards any degree it would be smart for them to get a job in the field, even if it's just a shift a week. Work in acute settings (e.g., inpatient, and supervised group living) stands out on a resume. These experiences also help them understand content and make them more engaged in class discussion.
Right now, trauma resolution and experience with substance use disorders really stands out! The pandemic and illuminated racial tension have led to heightened trauma responses and an increase in substance use. New grads with any related experience will definitely stand out from the pack. SMWC is currently creating a bachelor's level addictions counseling program that is infused with trauma-informed care. We are excited to be offering this program and do our part in the communal healing process
University of Pittsburgh
History of Art and Architecture DepartmentWebsite
Dr. Christopher Nygren Ph.D.: It seems obvious that the move to remote work is the most important and last trend in the job market. In theory that should translate to increased flexibility for applicants, who no longer need to be located in physical proximity to the job they are pursuing.
Dr. Christopher Nygren Ph.D.: I think that languages stand out. Foreign languages (and let me be clear that I include computer coding languages here) teach people to think in new ways. Mastering another language requires one not only to contort their tongue to produce different sounds, but also to bend their mind to understand a different mode of thinking, a different grammatical structure. Human thought is produced according to a stunning variety of grammatical structures and being able to think beyond the one you grew up with is, I believe, one of the keys to creativity.
Dr. Christopher Nygren Ph.D.: Med/Ren is focused mostly where there is a high concentration of museums, universities, and libraries. This means urban center, mostly (though not exclusively) on the coasts. Chicago, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, and other historic cities in the center of the country have a ton to offer. There are also major centers for Med/Ren in some unexpected places like Kalamazoo,MI, South Bend, IN and Sewanee, TN.
Eastern Washington University
Terrance MacMullan Ph.D.: I am not a market analyst, but my informal sense is that industries like hotels and restaurants will continue to be severely depressed by the pandemic, but others such a grocery stores, storage and logistics will continue to expand. I think that once we get the "all clear" some time in later Summer/early fall of 2021, we will see a slow but steady job growth across just about all sectors with a huge boom in the hardest hit markets, like entertainment and restaurants. The pandemic would seem to have accelerated the Boomers' 50 year dominance in the job market making room for younger workers to finally increase their suppressed wages.
Terrance MacMullan Ph.D.: I took a gap year after college. When I started undergrad I wanted to be a lawyer. I majored in philosophy (which, contrary to misconceptions, is the single best performing major for graduate school placement tests like the GRE or LSAT and have much higher-than-average employment rates and salaries after 10 years) to prepare me for law school. Then my dad got cancer and died after a terrible 6 month fight. In my last few conversations with him, he told me not to do what everyone else expects me to do and to instead create a life that is meaningful. I sent rejection letters back to the law schools that had accepted me (nearly giving my poor mother a heart-attack!) and then waited tables in D.C. for a year while I researched PhD programs in Philosophy and applied to schools that interested me. Seven years later I got the job that I have grown into over the last 20 years teaching philosophy at a regional state university. I would have made more money as a lawyer. I doubt I would have been as fulfilled. I would not have had the time to readjust my trajectory without that gap year.
So to answer your question, I would tell students to feel free to take a gap year if they are anything less than absolutely committed to clear path towards a life that holds meaning for them. If they take a gap year I would encourage them to do whatever they can to not incur pointless debt. I would then encourage them to look at a gap year not so much as a year to develop skills so much as a year to take stock of what they want to become. If that is to work in a particular industry, then find people 5 or 10 years ahead of you in that industry and ask them their advice. Finally, I think we, as a civilization, are returning to older ways of understanding ourselves. The idea that a person is just a vessel for marketable skills and that a human being's purpose is to sell themselves on a labor market is a very, very recent one. It is also unsustainable, both in terms of the environment and the fact that productivity has become detached from wages, so that now the overwhelming majority of people are working more but making less in terms of spending power. Younger people will have to live in a world that is witnessing the shortcomings of globalization's promise that never came to pass and an environment that is crumbling under the weight of a consumer-focused civilization. They will need to figure out new ways to live, not just fit themselves into a waning system. So they should use that gap year to figure out what kind of person they want to be and what kind of world they want to live in and find a way to make it come to pass.
Terrance MacMullan Ph.D.: On the practical level, don't incur meaningless debt! If you start a degree, commit to finishing it no matter what! Even if you don't get a job in that field, studies consistently show that degrees offer a good ROI over time, but only if the debt results in a degree!
On a personal level, realize that not every generation (or person, or race, or gender) has the same opportunities, and Millennials and Gen-Zs pretty much drew the short straw in terms of generations. In the 1950's and 1960's a year's worth of tuition could be covered by flipping burgers for a summer. If you tried that now, you'd have to flip burgers for a decade to save up enough for college! When Boomers were young, they benefited from public spending on services at the highest rate in human history. Wages were so high they could often buy a house after high school! As you know, the world is radically different now. So don't get down on yourself. Don't measure yourself according to older generations. And don't think that your purpose in life is to work for the sake of working for someone else. Money is important, but only as a means to some other end. If you don't know what that end is, you will never be happy. We are meant to work, but in ways and towards purposes that are meaningful. So you aren't starting your career: you are continuing your life. You will be able to work harder and with greater rewards if you find (or make) work that pulls you in, rather than work you need to push yourself to do.
The University of New Mexico
Foreign Languages and Literatures DepartmentWebsite
Emma Trentman Ph.D.: I think the individualized, gig economy will become even prevalent.
Emma Trentman Ph.D.: Communication (especially in multilingual settings), innovation, and flexibility--these are often hard to commodify as skills, so it is important for employers and prospective employees to understand the many ways in which they can be demonstrated.
Emma Trentman Ph.D.: Linguistics majors can have excellent careers in a variety of fields. I recommend checking out the job series on this blog (based in Australia, but the U.S. is similar in many ways) to get an idea of the many potential options:
Kansas State University
Department of HistoryWebsite
Michael Krysko: Graduate Students: When it comes to graduate education, references to the job market often means the academic job market. Here, I believe the pandemic accelerated existing trends: severe budgetary pressures, especially at state institutions, contributed to a decline in the number of tenure-track positions with many programs choosing to rely more heavily on more poorly compensated adjunct and term instructors, who often teach more for less pay and benefits. The pandemic, of course, has compounded and intensified the existing and already severe fiscal woes at so many colleges and universities (including at my own institution), and I would only expect a continuation and acceleration of that trend. Indeed, given that the pandemic has also had the effect of depressing enrollments, I would assume that even as tenure-track positions are eliminated there will also be fewer adjunct and term instructor positions to be filled as well. None of this is specific to those focusing on topics with an international relations element, though, but certainly applies to such students.
Undergraduates: I am not really in a position to speak about trends in the job market given the pandemic as it pertains to our undergraduates for two reasons. 1) Our undergraduates are not separated out by interest in international relations vs other areas of interest; 2) undergraduate history majors are not necessarily pigeon-holed into select markets. The advice I give to incoming students is that the history degree is not just one for teaching history/social studies and that the skillset of critical thinking, analytical writing, and argumentation based on evidence are skills that apply to any number of jobs and professions. I often point them to a piece published by the American Historical Association in 2017 called "History is not a Useless Major" (Historians!), which shows the wide array of positions and professions history majors get after graduation in which teaching positions are not necessarily the dominant landing spot, but that history majors have great success in landing positions in business, management, and the law (to name a few). Once again, this is not specific to undergraduates who might be interested in international relations type topics. Positions for historians/analysts in the State Department, Defense Department or Central Intelligence Agency are also options I have long suggested to students, and would continue to do so going forward in our pandemic world. To the extent that reports of career officers in these agencies have been demoralized and left their jobs during the previous presidential administration are valid, one might speculate that such positions could become available offer viable landing spot for recent graduates as a new administration takes over (pure speculation on my part, as I have no numbers on hand about how many people left and what effect that might have on filling new entry level positions).
Michael Krysko: I'm not sure how well I can answer this question with regard to history graduates with an interest in International relations. If we are talking about a gap year between undergraduate and graduate education, entrance into the history program would still be highly contingent on the undergraduate record reflected on the transcripts, writing samples, and letters of recommendations included in an application.One of the most important skills needed to complete a Masters thesis or doctoral is clear writing underpinned by strong analytical thinking. I can't think of many "gap year" type jobs that would showcase that type of skill development to enhance one's application to graduate school. I suppose a stint in the Peace Corps (or Americorps) would certainly look good on an application (and maybe it would help make a difference pushing an applicant over the top if their application was on the "bubble"). But this would be the case regardless of the pandemic (and regardless of whether the student was interested in international relations or anything other area of history).
Michael Krysko: A History degree gives you options and flexibility. This is not specific to those with an interest in International relations, but certainly does apply to that group as well as others. I'd again reference the 2017 piece "History is not a useless major" to note the wide range of career choices a historian can take advantage of. While the pre-pandemic data indicated that a history major is not likely going to have you earning six figures before age 30, over the course of a lifetime the earning potential compares favorably with many other majors. I don't expect that will change moving forward, even though employment options might be depressed presently. For undergraduates earning a history degree, it's a great stepping stone degree to earn admission into graduate school in other related fields that will continue to hire (for example, law and journalism). Perhaps most importantly, as documented by the aforementioned article, a history major prepares one for careers in public service (i.e., such as the government jobs noted above), and such a career would seemingly be very appealing to those with the interest in international relations that started our email exchange.
Hansjakob Werlen Ph.D.: In the hyper-competitive environment of the pandemic job market, command of a foreign language might be the factor that leads to being hired, especially by foreign companies. An engineering major with a language minor increases the chances of employment with international companies that usually have teams consisting mostly of native speakers. There are more than 3000 German firms doing business in the US and surveys confirm that job candidates with German language skills will be chosen over other equally qualified job applicants. An ever increasing number of recruitment companies in technical fields now pay special attention to the cultural and linguistic skills of applicants when recommending them to foreign companies. Fluency in the key language is becoming a prerequisite.
Hansjakob Werlen Ph.D.: While the pandemic makes living abroad to perfect one's language skills in a gap year very difficult, it is not impossible to increase linguistic and cultural skills. Various technologies allow live contact with native speakers eager to exchange language learning with English speakers or to become conversation partners. Students can change all digital settings to the target language and watch news, TV series, and films in the original language.
Hansjakob Werlen Ph.D.: If your degree is not in a particular high-demand field, such as computer science or organic chemistry, consider positions that, while not exactly matching the field of your degree (e.g. in management, health care), provide job opportunities where strong language- and writing skills are in demand while the specifics of the position can be learned. Make full use of the advantage your fluency in a foreign language gives you. Even a cursory look at job advertisements by German international companies shows that verbal and written knowledge of German is a prerequisite for being hired.
Department of AnthropologyWebsite
Brian Wygal: For students graduating in the next few years, the pandemic has clearly altered the job market and will further shift research and priorities of companies, governments, and our society. Public health, and similar specializations like medical anthropology, will obviously in high demand. Likewise, we are entering a period of racial reckoning so employers will be looking to create "anti-racist" institutions and workspaces. Students with a background in the social sciences, including anthropology, already know the importance of fostering and supporting cultural and biological diversity. The difficulty will also be translating those skills into a narrative prospective employers understand. They want to know, what will you bring to their table.
Your skills should be useful in HR departments, research and development, state and local governments, and many other sectors of our economy. The secret is, find those entry level positions, volunteer, and network so that you can better learn what types of jobs you qualify for and would enjoy. Remember that most opportunities are not labeled specifically for "anthropologists", so you need to find these spaces and figure out how the employer can benefit from the skills you have. That includes an ability to research, analyze, think critically, and write articulately. Skills that are still in high demand and not easily replaced by robots or computers.
Brian Wygal: Many things you can do without enrolling in college can improve your chances on the job market. For example, train yourself in the use of ArcGIS or Q. Having Geographic Information Systems (GIS) skills is highly marketable skillset for many sectors that hire graduates in anthropology. You can also learn R or other similar statistical programs that can bolster your research and analyses skills. Of course, anthropology is about people, so projects or volunteer opportunities that facilitate community building are excellent ways to help the people around you and build your experience portfolio. Giving back or studying social processes in a way that can help improve people's lives is a great place to start applying your anthropological knowledge. Whatever you do, do not spend your gap year playing video games in your parent's basement. You really need to work toward a set of goals. That could be writing an article for your local newspaper or a popular website or volunteering at a nearby clinic or shelter. Also remember, there is really no replacement for college credentials so not finishing those degrees will not serve you well in the future market.
Brian Wygal: For students graduating with a degree in the social sciences the job market is always a bit tricky. Fortunately, anthropology and similar disciplines prepare students with technical and social skills useful for navigating difficult terrain-and these skills do not go out of date. First, if you are interested in pursuing a research or teaching position, then obviously graduate school is the necessary choice. However, many of my students chose to enter the workforce following their undergraduate degree. With an archaeological field school or other technical training (like GIS) under your belt and a willingness to move around, recent graduates can almost always find entry level jobs as a field technicians, conducing survey, or excavation work with private sector consulting firms. This is also true of certain environmental sectors. A better route would be to secure an internship with federal or state government agency to begin building job experience but this strategy is easier as a current student rather than after graduating so keep this in mind during your junior and senior years. Try applying specifically to planning departments or a nearby NGO to use your skills working with maps or conducting research. Clearly, there is a lot of funding right now for public health departments and there may soon be funding for climate change related fields. With recent reductions in work forces and shrinking budgets, look to economies of the future like preparation work related to solar panel or wind farm installations and support sites.
Above all, follow your passion. Eventually a niche you love will open up and you'll find your place. The world needs anthropologists now more than ever before. Remember that anthropology is ultimately about helping people. Find the best way for you to be contribute and eventually a professional path will emerge.
Azusa Pacific University
Department of History and Political ScienceWebsite
Verónica Gutiérrez Ph.D.: I believe there will be an increase in remote career opportunities, which may lead recent graduates to take a job in a part of the world they would previously not consider. From what I understand, it has already become a trend during the pandemic for young people to move to more affordable or desirable locations while working remotely. This type of mobility is much more possible when one is young and just entering the workforce. Even after the pandemic has subsided, I imagine some positions will remain partially or fully online.
Verónica Gutiérrez Ph.D.: I urge my students never to underestimate the power of a beautiful, perfectly formatted resume or C.V. The document itself can testify to the applicant's creativity, organizational and analytical skills, as well as demonstrate the precision of one's prose. As for skills listed on the document, I would think that experience with online platforms and the ability to collaborate virtually with someone the applicant has not met in person - and might never meet - would be appealing, given the new reality of remote work environments. Specific skills history majors possess that would stand out on a resume would be the ability to critically analyze conflicting accounts, to approach moments in time from a long, historical view, to bear in mind historical context at all times, to consider diverse perspectives, and to remain culturally sensitive in a globalized world.
Verónica Gutiérrez Ph.D.: Historians do the essential work of researching, analyzing, and understanding the past. The skills history majors acquire will always be in demand. No industry can understand where it's going unless it knows where it's been. As for particularly good places for history majors to find work in the U.S., I couldn't say. What I can say is that students of history find work in museums, historical sites, the government, as public historians, and as teachers at all levels. A degree in history prepares students for jobs in many sectors, even in those one might not immediately associate with history. Now that so many opportunities are shifting online, the question of where - geographically - one will work is perhaps not as relevant as where - institutionally - one will work.
Matthew Wright Ph.D.: I would recommend that students leaving college feel comfortable learning advanced skills on a computer/technology. For example, can you pick up a new programming language quickly?
Matthew Wright Ph.D.: Buy a Raspberry PI or a Beaglebone black and do something amazing with it.
Matthew Wright Ph.D.: Network Network Network. Keep contact with people on LinkedIn, attend conferences, put yourself out there!
North Central College
Department of Modern & Classical LanguagesWebsite
Dr. Jelena Sanchez Ph.D.: Translators and interpreters are highly sought after to work in public health, health systems, social services, and human resource management due to the disproportionate numbers of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths among persons identifying as Hispanic or Latino, according to the CDC. Bilingual language skills are urgently needed in disaster response jobs for example, attorneys, credit analysis, loan officers, mortgage underwriters, and paralegals for loan processing, mortgage underwriting and credit analysis. There is a growing demand for bilingual graduates headed for government jobs in immigration and citizenship. Furthermore, according to a recent study by Stanford University, an astounding 42% of the U.S. labor force is working from home, this has caused a change in many careers. Spanish graduates have embraced remote work and flexible global jobs in customer service, social media, and customer service.
Dr. Jelena Sanchez Ph.D.: Currently, multilingual skills shine bright in resumes. Finally, the pandemic reality will validate the global currency of languages.
Dr. Jelena Sanchez Ph.D.: The pandemic has blurred geographical boundaries. A successful bilingual graduate today will find access to the global employment from their computer at home anywhere in the world.