January 31, 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.
Franklin and Marshall College
Morehouse School of Medicine
Grambling State University
State University of New York at Oswego
The University of Iowa
The College of Wooster
Portland State University
University of La Verne
Ohio State University
Ohio State University
Franklin and Marshall College
Department of Physics and Astronomy
Fronefield Crawford: I don't have much to say about this since I have not had a non-academic job or been involved with that market for about 20 years.
Fronefield Crawford: For astronomy and astrophysics, there are no specific licenses or certifications, but probably the two biggest skills that one graduates with that are immediately applicable are coding skills (usually python) and quantitative problem solving skills. A third and fourth skill set that are often overlooked that majors develop (at least in the libral arts environment where I teach), is the ability to write/speak/present clearly and the ability to work as part of a team. These are critical skills that are not usually part of the formal course curriculum but are developed throughout during coursework.
Fronefield Crawford: In my view it depends on your interests. One thing to keep in mind with a degree such as astrophysics is that you are prepared with this degree to take on a range of challenging professional opportunities, so one's first job out of college may not be as important as the job one eventually will have after applying the various skills and knowledge learned in a challenging academic major.
Morehouse School of Medicine
Division of Graduate Education in Biomedical Sciences
Dr. DeQuan Smith: What we are experiencing now is the most uncertain workforce since the Great Depression of the 1930s. In the coming months, new graduates by the thousands will enter the workforce eager to make their mark on the world. For graduates across the nation, many will enter their new careers remotely forcing them to adapt to new ways of learning and working post pandemic. It is increasingly important now that future graduates begin to construct a "Game Plan". I highly encourage graduates to explore alternative forms of networking, communicating their skillsets, and strategies diversifying themselves from the competition of the workforce. Graduates should also consider high demand careers where their transferable skillsets can make a significant contribution in fields such as: Biotechnology, Health Informatics, Data Science and other related careers within the scientific and technological fields. The coronavirus will have an unprecedented impact on our graduates; however, this provides an opportunity for our graduates to emerge as better thinkers, stronger communicators, and more agile leaders.
Dr. DeQuan Smith: I have found that many of the project management certifications such as the Project Management Professional (PMP), PMI Agile Certified practitioner (PgMP) has been increasingly attractive to employers seeking candidates in the corporate sector. Pertaining to courses, I recommend, "LinkedIn Learning," as this platform provides curated content that many seeking to develop professionally can benefit from. Offerings range from, preparing for a job interview to learning a new skill such as how to write a resume, cover letter, or even how to code.
Dr. DeQuan Smith: Adaptability, collaboration, learning agility, emotional intelligence, creativity, interpersonal communication, growth mindset, focus mastery, and innovation.
Department of Sociology and CriminologyWebsite
Daniel Patten Ph.D.: I think it is safe to say yes. The tougher question is what those impacts are likely to be. Some of those impacts can already be seen. According to some recent research, COVID has impacted students very differently, usually split down lines of social class. For example, many students have delayed graduation with the poorest students most likely to do so. Other impacts have been the loss of a job, internship, or job offer after graduation. All of these will likely have lasting impacts for the future. Most prominently, many graduates can expect lower earnings for longer parts of their career than past generations. Unfortunately, this effect will be more pronounced for students coming from low-income families. One reason for this among many is a lack of social networking opportunities. College can be a time where low-income students expand their social capital by building relationships with others of different social backgrounds. The COVID world is even more segregated than before despite technological systems designed to keep us connected.
All of these impacts say nothing about health-related impacts. Of course, little is known about the long-term health complications associated with COVID. Yet, medical bills may linger alongside college debt for many students. College is also a time for heightened anxiety without COVID where mental illness tends to manifest. COVID can only serve to exacerbate such an issue. Many of these issues could be alleviated to some degree depending on our societal response to these problems. However, at this time, many students are finding little succor for major problems.
Lastly, it is hard to say what the impacts of limiting social life will be. Many students will have to go without entirely or experience quite different alternatives to many traditional social gatherings. It is often in these spaces and through these experiences we gain informal skills that employers seek such as oral communication skills, especially those that are more impromptu.
Daniel Patten Ph.D.: Of course, the answer will vary based on the work being done. There are a few changes that we have seen already that will likely stick around for a while including working from home more often, more flexibility in works hours, typical business meetings being replaced by video conferencing, especially when air travel was needed before, automation of menial (and even more complex) work, and a strong use of technology (not previously used) in the workplace.
Daniel Patten Ph.D.: My answer above leads to this one. There are many skills desired in this new workplace. Getting technologically savvy is certainly good advice for future graduates. It probably was good advice before COVID but it is crucial now. Some of the most important skills employers looked for before COVID are still important and even accentuated under COVID. For example, written communication and oral skills were always desirable. However, with COVID, written communication skills might be even more important. Some of the conversations people might have had in the office are now being had over email. This change increases the importance of writing and in some cases decreases the importance of oral communication. Individuals who found themselves anxious to give compelling presentations might find some solace in making an online presentation. Vice versa might be true of some persuasive speakers. Regardless, communication skills are highly sought after by employers of all fields and have heightened importance in an age of isolation.
Something not entirely related to COVID but definitely a sought after skill is the ability to work well within a diverse group of people. This is a skill where I think sociology graduates have an advantage. Our nation is getting more diverse and future workers need to be able to thrive within that diversity. Sociology dedicates a lot of time to exploring race, gender, social class, sexuality, and national origin among many other societal hierarchies and how they influence people's thoughts and behavior. These insights are invaluable for a worker in the 21st century.
Grambling State University
Department of Chemistry
Dr. Bobby Burkes: Technical skills in addition to having a full and through understanding of your area of expertise will be the ability to communicate interactively via computational systems and other communication platforms. The ability to communicate ( convey and express ideas) in a direct and remote setting is becoming an essential asset. The ability interact with and possibly develop simulations of experimental design and process flow paths are also technical skills that are in demand in most industries.
Dr. Bobby Burkes: The entire Corporate / Industrial arena have positions that utilize chemist. The entry level positions in the Environmental Monitoring, Hazardous Material Management, Instrumentation Usage, Quality Control, Pharmaceutical Sales, Food and Drug Quality Assessment are a few of the many occupations that are available to beginning Chemists.
State University of New York at Oswego
Departments of Biological Sciences and Health Promotion and WellnessWebsite
Ryan Barker: In the US older American's are going to be working longer and looking for jobs at older ages driving up competition for younger job seekers however these older workers are going to want a more traditional job where they drive to and from work locations. For younger job seekers the American market is going to be less desirable as competition from foreign firms with cheaper labor will only strengthen as a result of pandemic driven work related technologies. There is a silver lining for younger job seeking American; foreign firms looking for young well versed talent familiar with American trends, habits and culture are better suited to hire these applicants because of these pandemic technologies. Younger hopefuls should continue to sharpen their post pandemic skills and prepare for jobs with foreign firms on local soils using the latest in telecommunications courtesy of the pandemic.
Ryan Barker: Gap years are great for experience, do your best to find a job on the ground in your local area but keep mastering things like Zoom or Webex and other telecommunication services. Take the time to set up a designated site in your apartment or home and be prepared to use it because foriegn firms want American talent to strength their presence in the American and global market.
Ryan Barker: Put your time in, get your experience, make your bosses proud and move on. So long as there is a strong market, don't waste time "waiting" for the perfect job, leave. Go out and get it, just don't level on bad terms and make sure you provided value at the time of your departure.
The University of Iowa
Department of AnthropologyWebsite
Katina Lillios: Anthropologists are trained in critical thinking and in developing solutions to the challenges that we face in our global community. Because of their distinctive skills in critical thinking and in analyzing problems that engage with cultural differences, graduates with anthropology degrees are found in a wide range of job settings, from educational institutions, governmental agencies, non-profit organizations, and corporations, particularly those involving cross-cultural markets and goods. Most students graduating with a BA or BS in Anthropology do not go into academia. The pandemic has created significant budget challenges in all these settings, however. Given that, there with likely be a bottleneck in new positions for a few years, and college graduates will need to be patient, resourceful, and flexible. They should seek or create opportunities to keep up their skills, perhaps even in settings they did not imagine working in, and maintain connections with the communities they hope to work with and in. In academic institutions, there will likely be an increasing shift to online delivery of courses, so aspiring instructors (students graduating with an MA or PhD) might want to think about developing the skills and content for some online courses they hope to teach.
Katina Lillios: While the precise skills that are desired depend on the job, there are some that all graduates from an Anthropology program should work on developing. These include experience contributing to group projects, collaborating with diverse communities, strong communication and writing skills, versatility, and mastery of a specialized skill, such as GIS, a foreign language, statistics, and other digital technologies.
Katina Lillios: With an Anthropology degree in hand, it is easier to find employment in high population density areas, where colleges/universities, museums, libraries, and hospitals are located.
The College of Wooster
Department of EconomicsWebsite
Melanie Long Ph.D.: Of course, the biggest question at the moment is how quickly the job market will recover, especially in industries that experienced the largest declines due to the pandemic such as hospitality and travel. Once the public health crisis has been addressed and demand does recover, some industries may see a surge in applications from recent graduates and others whose career trajectories were on pause during the pandemic.
For example, we have been discussing this possibility in the job market for economics professors. Some observers have noted that PhD candidates may delay their search for academic posts by a year due to the sharp decline in hiring this year. As a result, even if the number of academic posts increases to normal levels next year, the number of applicants may increase as well, heightening competition for the available jobs.
I would also expect that some employers will consider making telecommuting a permanent option moving forward. Many companies found themselves forced to have employees work remotely due to the pandemic, despite any concerns about potential drawbacks. This situation created an experiment of sorts for companies, and those satisfied with the results in terms of productivity and other outcomes may look to adopt telework in the long term. Moreover, some employees are likely to appreciate more options to work from home as a way to avoid long commutes or high housing prices in metropolitan areas with strong labor markets.
Finally, the pandemic has shed light on the challenges faced by families and individuals trying to balance work with childcare. These challenges have been particularly acute for women, who continue to spend more time on care of dependents than men. Time spent on childcare increased dramatically as schools and childcare services shut down. The result has been that women have dropped out of the labor force at a far greater rate than men during the pandemic. Moving forward, the heightened visibility of these challenges for women may prompt employers to consider greater scheduling flexibility or other policies that make it easier to balance family obligations with work.
Melanie Long Ph.D.: For anyone interested in research or teaching positions in urban economics specifically, the American Economic Association maintains job listings called the JOE (Job Openings for Economists). However, the majority of these listings are for positions requiring graduate degrees.
Portland State University
School of BusinessWebsite
David Cadiz MBA, Ph.D.: Yes, I believe there will definitely be an enduring impact of the pandemic on graduates. First, depending on how quickly the new graduate is able to secure a job post-graduation. If a graduate is unable to get a job in the HR profession for an extended period of time, this could hold them back in terms of advancing their career because the HR profession deals with the ambiguities and sometimes unpredictable nature of human behavior; knowing how to manage these comes with experience. Second, a lot of graduates are going to face a different workplace, especially with work transitioning to be more virtual. We were starting to see organizations rethink the idea that everyone has to come into a central location to complete their work, and this trend has only increased during the pandemic. This means, that as an HR professional, you may be in a physically different location than your colleagues, and so trying to establish relationships and connecting with employees will need to be done through technology. Third, I think because the students have had to be so adaptable and resilient in order to complete their degree, this will translate into a long-term strength in terms of their ability to deal and manage the variety of situations that they will face once they are in the workforce.
David Cadiz MBA, Ph.D.: It is important to have foundational knowledge around workplace laws and to continuously stay up-to-date with new laws and the interpretation of the laws based on the results of different federal and state cases. There is also a growing expectation that students have familiarity and comfort with using data and data analytics to make decisions. Finally, employers are looking to HR professionals to have a more strategic mindset in terms of how initiatives, programs, and policies are introduced and implemented. In other words, the days of the HR department primarily focusing their attention and resources on compliance and transactional processes (i.e., payroll, filling out forms) are reducing because technological solutions can address these type of processes. Now there is a focus on transformational practices, which are practices that facilitate better execution of a company's strategy to achieve their business goals.
David Cadiz MBA, Ph.D.: Based on feedback I have been getting from organizations that have been interviewing and hiring our new graduates, there are two primary components on new graduate resumes that are setting these new graduates apart in terms of those getting more interest for interviews versus those who are not. First, students who have had at least one HR-specific internship (multiple internships would be even better) are definitely seeing more interest from employers. A lot of entry-level HR jobs are asking for applicants with some HR experience and those with internships can meet that requirement and essentially get passed that first hurdle. Second, I am a bit biased here because I am a faculty advisor for a Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) student group at PSU, but students that actively participate and take on a leadership role in a student group have seen a lot of interest from employers. By participating in these groups, the students are able to show employers that they have gained some leadership skills and are willing to go over and beyond in terms of spending time volunteering for a group that is focused on developing HR professionals.
University of La Verne
Department of History & Political ScienceWebsite
Allyson Brantley Ph.D.: For most of our History majors -- as with any others -- I'm sure there will be an impact, but it's hard to say whether or not it will be long-lasting. Since some of our graduates go into fields like museum work and public history, they may find it challenging to enter into those fields right away, given that museums have been facing severe budgetary constraints. There may be some impacts down the line in terms of the ability to get an internship or entry-level position in these fields.
I think we may also see an uptick in the number of history undergraduates who choose to go into master's or Ph.D. programs (something that indeed occurred in the wake of the Great Recession); without many job options, many pursue additional degrees.
Allyson Brantley Ph.D.: I think that now, as in recent years, young graduates with history degrees will need to be able to put their training and education to use. As historians, we learn to think about context, consider large and small patterns, and seek reliable resources. In an era of misinformation and disinformation, history majors have a lot to offer in critical thinking and contextual analysis.
More specifically, for many of our history graduates who seek to become educators themselves, I suspect that they'll want to think about their experiences as students during this phase of Zoom learning. Suppose we continue to integrate technologies into teaching and learning. In that case, new history teachers will want to think about how they learned best, where they found reliable sources and historical discussions, and what it means to study any topic remotely.
Allyson Brantley Ph.D.: History majors and aspiring historians should not hesitate to emphasize their critical thinking and research skills. The ability to research a specific topic, seek out exciting sources, and place them in context are all skills that are needed in the fields that history often 'feeds' into (like teaching, public record, and higher education) as well as in the areas of communication, business, technology, and the like. Just because you don't graduate with a business degree doesn't mean you don't have the right skill set. So it's important to emphasize the transferability and flexibility of your education.
Department of Physics and AstronomyWebsite
David Simon: When I was in college back, in ancient times, the default assumption was that undergraduates in physics would go on to graduate school and would then pursue academic careers in physics. The curriculum was therefore designed with that single goal in mind. In recent years, however, the range of career paths has considerably widened. A well-prepared recent graduate with a degree in physics has a number of non-academic options.
One considerable asset that physics students possess is a strong set of quantitative skills. Especially when coupled with some computational experience, this makes physics graduates a valuable commodity in many fields. For example, for decades, students with physics degrees have often found employment in finance-related industries.
More recently, physics and applied math students have been in strong demand in other areas such as epidemiology, pharmaceutical development, biomedical research, and machine learning, where facility at working with mathematical models of real-world phenomena is vital.
One skill that is widely overlooked, but essential for nearly all technical fields, is a facility with verbal and written communication. Nearly all technical jobs, whether academic, industrial or in government or nonprofit positions, will require constant writing and at least occasional public speaking on technical matters. A student who has taken classes to hone these skills will be at a distinct advantage.
David Simon: Two closely related areas of technology will have a particularly large impact on the careers of young physicists in coming years: quantum technology and photonics.
With the surge in interest in quantum computation and related areas such as quantum cryptography, quantum communication, and quantum sensing, working knowledge of quantum mechanics has become a valuable asset for job seekers. In the past ten years, many start-up companies have appeared whose purpose has been to bring formerly exotic quantum protocols and quantum technologies to life in practical, real-world applications. Many tech giants like Apple, IBM, Microsoft, and Google have also recently founded initiatives along the same lines. So, these quantum technology companies have become a valuable source of potential jobs for new graduates who have a strong grounding in quantum mechanics, combined with either solid computational or experimental skills.
One other rapidly growing source of potential employment for new physics graduates in photonics, the science and application of light-based technologies. Photonics has an enormous range of applications that includes fiber-optic communication networks, self-driving cars, remote sensing for archeology, biomedical imaging, and remote detection of environmental hazards. Photonic devices are also one of the most promising platforms for the quantum technologies mentioned above, as well as being a key tool for many areas of fundamental science such as quantum optics and atomic physics. Non-academic jobs in photonics-related industries have been exploding in recent years, but the academic world has been slow to keep up: there is a widely recognized shortage of dedicated photonics programs at the undergraduate level. So, a student who graduates from a physics program with a strong background in optics and electronics is likely to find themselves with a wide variety of options in photonics-related careers.
David Simon: According to the American Institute of Physics Employment & Careers Report in Physics (available at aip.org/statistics/reports/employments-and-careers-physics), they are starting salaries for new physics Ph.D.'s range roughly from $40k - $65k for academic positions, $60k-$75k for government positions, and $85k-115$ in the private sector. Starting salaries for recent graduates with bachelor's degrees range from about $30k-$70k. In all employment areas, salaries grow at a reasonable rate with increased experience and seniority. The unemployment rate for graduates at both the bachelor's and Ph.D. levels have been well below 10% in recent years.
In most cases, academic positions have significantly lower starting salaries than industry, since the standard academic salary is for nine or ten months of teaching rather than for 12 months. However, the tradeoff is that academic jobs allow a greater degree of freedom in how you spend your time and what type of research you pursue. Furthermore, academic salaries can be supplemented by extra teaching, consultant work, or grant-funded summer salaries, which, in many cases, can raise a professor's total income to levels close to what would be earned in the industry. So, although salary is certainly a consideration, ultimately, the deciding factor for what type of career to pursue should be based on what type of work would make you happiest in the long term.
Ohio State University
Department of HistoryWebsite
Bart Elmore: There really is no profession that does not lean on history. Politicians speak of what the "Founding Fathers" believed in trying and getting legislation passed. Business leaders have to look back at old annual reports and financial records to understand economic trends and predict problems that might arise in the future. Even doctors have to learn how to examine health data compiled decades ago to understand how best to treat their patients. I'm not sure people think of history this way, but the truth is, knowing how to digest historical data and translate it into useful information that can help guide decisions in the present is what historians do. I cannot think of a more powerful discipline when it comes to learning skills that will help young graduates live better lives once they leave the university.
Bart Elmore: Anywhere. That is the thing about history. Once they learn how to navigate archival repositories and digital databases-core expertise acquired by a history major-and hone writing skills that allow them to broadcast their ideas to the public, history majors can really take on any job. This is really the freeing thing about being a history major. These students are not taught highly technical skills that only apply to one craft or profession. Rather, they are taught rigorous writing and researching techniques that can help them start a business, build a political campaign, or develop strategies to combat climate change. Maybe some people see the history major as limiting, but they should not. It is really liberating.
Bart Elmore: It is already changing the profession. Global Information Systems (GIS) maps and textual recognition technology, among other digital tools, are helping us see history like we never have before. This is why historians can enter the job market with real technical skills that have broad application in many different professions. Many history classes offered today require students to learn how to use new digital tools to do their research, and I see that becoming even more commonplace in the next five years. This bodes well for history majors going off into a job market that seeks young graduates with computer skills.
Ohio State University
Department of Agricultural, Environmental, and Development EconomicWebsite
Ben Brown: We are seeing a lot more online interviews and job seekers. Having an updated virtual profile is important in these times.
Ben Brown: Always the soft skills of holding a conversation and working with people, regardless of the pandemic.
Ben Brown: There are a lot of good jobs out there, and people are hiring. The job market just looks a little different because most of it is virtual. This may mean that the applicant has to source out employers instead of the employers coming to the student in the form of career fairs.