March 2, 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.
Davis & Elkins College
University of Minnesota
Fort Hays State University
University of Northern Colorado
Wright Sate University
Eastern Illinois University
Kansas State University
University of Cincinnati
Bridget Esterhuizen: I don't think anyone knows the answer to this question. In the Theatre industry, we are doing our best to attend to "the moment," I think--which is what we try to do in our work, too. Right now, we have been given a gift that theatre artists rarely have time to reflect and prioritize. This is a time for us to look at addressing social change (such as responding to the "We See You White American Theatre" statement. This is also a time for taking action to nurture the arts in a financial way. I think MANY people in our industry would say this is a time similar to the Great Depression when programming to support the arts through government funding is essential for the survival of our arts, artists and our society. The impact on graduates will unfold in 'real time'. Graduates will face a need to be more adaptable than ever as they look for work alongside a call for making meaningful work. But, they also have an advantage right now because this is a major social event that is underway--which is a great prompt for creative work. We need art and stories more than ever right now in order to get through this together.
Bridget Esterhuizen: Even in a pre-COVID world, a good job is tricky to find right out of college. Graduates rely on the connections they've made during their time in college and the people in their circle of connection. Right now, there are work-from-home and online opportunities--which is exciting new territory that might strengthen family bonds and will create new avenues of work--that's something to take advantage of.
Bridget Esterhuizen: Flexibility. Versatility. Creativity. Luckily, these are things we are well trained for. BUT, it's very hard to make art when you are trying to survive, which is why I'll circle back to calling on our government to think a bit like Roosevelt's administration did and put funding into governmental arts projects and initiatives.
University of Minnesota
Hubert Humphrey School of Public Affairs
Zhirong Zhao Ph.D.: I am the Director of Master of Public Policy Program (MPP). MPP is a professional graduate degree. The Covid condition has interrupted student internships and make it harder for students to navigate the job market in the traditional way, but I expect the market remains good for our students, who are mainly getting into public, nonprofit, or educational institutions.
Zhirong Zhao Ph.D.: Many of our students aim for a career in public or nonprofit organizations to address issues of social inequality and power imbalance. These are great jobs that align well with the skill sets of our students and their future career goals.
Zhirong Zhao Ph.D.: People in a public or nonprofit career aims not only for the growth of personal earning potential, but also the opportunity to make positive changes to the society.
Mark Grabowski: I'm not going to sugarcoat it: The pandemic could permanently setback the college students who graduated during it. Timing is very important in the job market. Research shows that college graduates who start their working lives during a recession really struggle for many years afterward. So, if you're graduating now, you really need to hustle to succeed.
Mark Grabowski: A good job would be one where you're happy, able to grow professionally and make enough money to get by. Your first job is probably not going to be your dream job. It may not pay great. And there will be boring days, bad days and perhaps all-nighters. But, because you're spending so much time working, you should try to find something you enjoy doing. You want to avoid taking on credit card debt or medical debt, so you may need to turn down opportunities that only provide "experience" or "exposure" over an actual salary and benefits. That said, it's hard to find an entry-level job that is both fun and pays a decent wage. So, you're going to have to strike a balance between doing what you love for peanuts versus making money but being miserable. Finally, you want to work at a place that will enable you to advance in your career or at least acquire skills that will help you in life. Otherwise, you're just wasting your time. And your first few years after college are prime years, so use them wisely.
Mark Grabowski: In media, it's important to have multimedia skills, so that you can be an effective and compelling digital storyteller. You should know how to record sound, how to shoot video, how to edit sound and video, how to write using search engine optimization, how to create a webpage, etc. That said, being able to write and speak well remain the most important skills - and so few young people do that well because they've been isolated this past year and they primarily communicate through texting.
Hsin-Yen Yang Ph.D.: The PR industry will look for talents who can identify credible information sources, truthfully report it to the stakeholders, and respond quickly to a crisis such as the current pandemic we are in.
The ability of using digital media to communicate and host online events effectively will become more and more important even in the post-pandemic era. For example, many events and conferences were moved to online platforms due to the pandemic in the past year and this trend is not going away anytime soon. Even when it's safe to hold face-to-face events, the demand for a safer and more affordable online option will remain significant.
Hsin-Yen Yang Ph.D.: Because of the trends we see in the job market, it would be wise for the students to take crisis communication and social media management courses before they graduate.
Earn certificates or at least take online courses (some of them are free) from Google analytics and social media management sites such as the Hootsuite academy.
Hsin-Yen Yang Ph.D.: I do want to encourage students or newcomers in the field of public relations or strategic communication to build up their resumes in order to stand out in the job market.)
Even if you are graduating this year, check into the internships and scholarships that would accept May 2021 graduates and use these opportunities to strengthen your professional experience on your resume. Sometimes, you may be able to find a long-term job through the internship!
Never stop learning. Join a professional organization to keep up to date with industry developments and the field of study. Actively network with your peers and find mentors to support your personal and professional growth.
Thomas Endres: The virtual and mobile workplace is not going away. All those employers who said their job HAD to be done FROM an office DURING workday hours are now realizing none of that is true. Many jobs that moved online from home offices during both synchronous and asynchronous time slots are going to stay that way. What employers are also realizing is that many employees cannot successfully make the transition to the new market. Fatigue and burnout is real, but the Zoom meetings and blurring of workdays is going to continue. The successful employee used to be the one who could keep their shoulder to the wheel and nose to the grindstone from 9-5. Now it is the one who can master the disconnections of virtual reality without being overwhelmed.
Thomas Endres: Sounds simple, but the ability to present oneself in a virtual environment. I just finished a three-hour Zoom meeting. One of the individuals called in because they couldn't make the link work on their computer, so we spent three hours listening to their voice while looking at a phone icon. Another had the camera set far away and angled back so that they were cut off at the neck. Just a small head resting on the bottom of the screen and lots of white wall and ceiling above. A third person was obviously slouched down on a couch in a darkened room, so they were flattened out and fuzzy. If I was an employer, would I want to hire any of these people and have them represent my organization? Probably not. The "skilled" communicator comes across strong on screen while simultaneously not drawing attention to it. They log-in early and take care of camera and microphone issues before the session begins. They are centered on the screen, the background is appropriate and non-distracting, they have front-lighting, and their head and shoulders fill just enough of the screen so that we can see them without staring up their nostrils. Again, it sounds simple, but it is amazing (and distracting and disheartening) how many have not figured out, or don't care about, the impression they make on camera. If you make it look effortless and natural, employers will notice.
Thomas Endres: Two words: Experience and Education. Go out of your way to learn or do something that makes you stand out from the pack. Volunteer. Land an internship. Do informational interviews with and/or shadow those who have position titles to which you aspire. Start on a graduate degree. If that's too much, earn a certificate. At least take a class. Enroll in community seminars and workshops on professional presence (especially in the virtual environment) and leadership skills. Take advantage of networking opportunities and meet people. Because many organizations are moving conferences and events online, and therefore have less overhead, they are offering sessions and "cocktail hours" for free. Attend! Finally, brace yourself. These are suggestions for a lifetime, not just a trial period.
Dr. Tara Moore: Due to the pandemic, companies now have greater comfort with remote collaboration. This opens up opportunities for professionals in charge of content creation. Employers are considering remote work from the start in some cases, and this widens the field for writers looking for a job. Some writers might start out with freelancing-another largely remote option-to gain experience and to enjoy that freedom early in their career.
Dr. Tara Moore: A large percentage of job ads list SEO experience as a desirable trait in a candidate. Writers must understand the power of keywords. Students preparing for the workforce can sharpen their skills in a content management system like WordPress and learn to use social media scheduling apps. When I teach writing, I have been able to use the web pieces written by recent graduates to cover the expectations students will face on the job.
First jobs also often include work with maintaining style guides, so becoming familiar with that process and AP Style helps too. For a writer, audience is key. These technical skills are simply the means by which we prepare vibrant writing to reach our target audience. Ads also continue to list expectations for soft skills like being able to collaborate, communicate clearly, take initiative, and meet deadlines. Students who have participated in client-based projects or internships can demonstrate their experience in these areas.
Dr. Tara Moore: Recent graduates often start in content creation and social media marketing, which make for an excellent first job out of college.
Students have a chance to use the creativity they value and apply it to their client's brand language. One alumna told me that she now spends as much time finding the right ten words as she used to spend writing a whole college essay!
Writers' prospects can take many different directions after that first job. Within five to ten years, our graduates move from content creation into a wide variety of management and director positions based on their interests.
World Languages Department
Dr. Tamara Centis: Yes. This pandemic changed the world, how we do things, how we think, what our priorities are...The world will continue, and people will move on, but that does not mean things are going to go back to how they were. However, I like to see the bright side and I believe that enduring impacts on graduates (and everyone else!) are not all negative. Students who work towards their degree during the pandemic can demonstrate a great level of commitment, resilience, and stamina. Those are necessary skills now more than ever.
Dr. Tamara Centis: Travel abroad and embrace diversity! Students tend to focus on technical skills, having certifications, licenses, which are all great, but let us not forget about the soft skills! When learning about people and culture we develop a broad set of skills like communication, adaptability, motivation, teamwork, and creative thinking, just to mention a few. Mastering these skills with any certification, license or course can have a great impact on your job prospects. Get out of the comfort zone, be humble, and be willing to learn. The sky is the limit.
Dr. Tamara Centis: The above questions kind of answer this, but what I can add is take time to reflect on yourself, on what motivates you, challenges you, and what do you do to overcome difficulties. Be able to take these experiences at your advantage and learn about yourself. Think about what you can do to grow personally and professionally. Keep track of your accomplishments, milestones, and volunteer experiences. Explore new opportunities and learn, learn, learn! It is never too late.
Erica Bondarev Rapach: As we learn to live alongside COVID-19, I hope the biggest trend we will see in the job market will be a more holistic and human approach to both employers and employees. If we have learned anything from the pandemic, it is that our community is only as strong and as healthy as the individuals who make it up. This means that the job market will need to offer greater flexibility and tolerance around work/life integration. Over the past year, both employers and employees have grown more accustomed to working remotely, adjusting their schedules to accommodate the demands of life, and taking into consideration individuals' strengths, while respecting the challenges they are facing, both in and outside of the job. I think the job market has a lot to gain from acknowledging that we are all humans who are seeking productive, equitable, and thriving relationships in our professions and in our lives.
Another trend I expect to see is an expectation from both employees and employers around competency in being anti-racist. I expect candidates for positions to be inquiring about the presence and authenticity of organizational diversity, equity, and inclusion practices and I believe employers will be assessing candidates based on the training and experience in those practices.
Erica Bondarev Rapach: Digital, digital, digital. Arts and entertainment organizations have become digital media organizations during the pandemic and so technical skills in social media marketing, website development and maintenance, search engine optimization, video, audio, post-production, and live streaming are standouts. And I am not even certain that's an exhaustive list!
Erica Bondarev Rapach: One of the biggest changes I have seen with regards to salaries in arts management and the business of entertainment is the call for employers to post vacancies with clear and transparent information about compensation. It has been a standard practice to not have job postings include the salary range. Providing this is critically important to ensure that candidates are paid fairly based on the skills and experience required and the salary that the position commands. Additionally, there has been a movement in the field to eliminate unpaid internships as they create issues of inequity, privileging those that can afford to work a job for free.
John Dinsmore Ph.D.: While we all wait for things to go back the way they were pre-COVID-19, the pandemic will have some long-term effects on business generally. Following a year of having employees work remotely and seeing them remain productive, companies like SalesForce have said they intend to allow employees to continue to work from home. As a result, you will see some industries (tech, telecommunications) benefit from that and others (commercial real estate) suffer. Additionally, with telecommuting remaining at high levels, you will see the proximity of employees or applicants to their current or prospective employers become less of a factor.
John Dinsmore Ph.D.: There is a stereotype of marketing majors that they are people who want to be business majors but don't want to do any math. That's not true anymore. With marketing being so data-driven these days, candidates with training and/or experience in marketing analytics are in short supply. We are seeing employers aggressively snatch up our Masters in Marketing Analytics & Insights students well before graduation.
John Dinsmore Ph.D.: While salaries are generally up across the board, marketing is such a broad discipline with many sub-fields. Some of those fields are increasing faster than others. Those fields in marketing with well-defined, hard-to-find skillsets like digital marketing and marketing analytics, continue to increase rapidly due to the shortage of qualified applicants.
Eastern Illinois University
Department of Journalism
Dr. Ensung Kim Ph.D.: The covid-19 pandemic will have a lasting impact on everyone including journalism students seeking jobs in near future.
Dr. Ensung Kim Ph.D.: If you can find a job at a news media outlet, getting your foot in the industry is important. If you have a strong vision of what you want to become, you will be looking for opportunities and eventually get those.
Dr. Ensung Kim Ph.D.: Ability to work across media platforms. Good writing ability is a must. In addition, if you can take photos, record and edit audios and videos, have some design ability, you'll be quite marketable.
Dr. Tom Hallaq: As with many other fields, students in journalism and mass communications fields have been required to become flexible in their approach to problem solving, lending to more creativity. Increased numbers of employees have adapted to working remotely. This is a characteristic desired of the current generation anyway, so seeing this come to fruition is likely pleasing to many college graduates. Many of them have already figured out how to do much of the required work remotely in the first place, so they may likely be feeling that the rest of us are just catching up, which may indeed be true.
Additionally, journalism and mass communications schools have seen an increase in students pursuing degrees in social media-related work. This type of work is very easily done remotely with social media managers securing contracts for clients all across the nation and around the globe. Other mass media fields will also see similar adjustments to remote work. One example is the remote camera mixing done remotely during the most recent Democratic and Republican national conventions in preparation for the election. Photos of some of these employees at work from home have been tossed around over social media channels, advertising the fact that work like this can indeed be done remotely.
Dr. Tom Hallaq: So many changes have been made on a temporary basis during the pandemic. While there is recognition that some of these alterations will stick, it is too early to tell which ones will and which ones won't. However, I believe that more employees will have options to work remotely, whether that be from their own homes or from communal office spaces away from the company headquarters.
With more remote work comes increased flexibility in work schedules. More employees will likely be able to adjust their workday to fit their personal preferences, leaving increased internal motivation to the individual employee. This new approach will come with its own set of challenges for management but could mean decreased control over subordinates and increased difficulty in employee evaluations - for better or worse.
Dr. Tom Hallaq: Media professionals who are adaptable and willing to learn new skills will be in a better position to increase their earnings. Content creation is what is needed. Today's technology allows for information to be communicated in a wide variety of formats, from legacy media such as television and radio, to newer technologies including social media and others. Workers who understand how to reach specific audiences through various media platforms will be most successful as will those who are willing to put in the time required to meet an employer's or client's needs.
In addition to familiarity with various media platforms comes the need for understanding the analytics and data accessible through these digital media. Through these analytics, companies and individuals can better understand their audiences, build stronger brand awareness, increase return on investment, and increase profits - all valuable tools in a competitive marketplace.
Dr. Jeffrey Layne Blevins Ph.D.: Well, if there is a silver-lining with the pandemic for journalism is that we're discovering how much journalistic work can be done remotely when there are no other safe alternatives. For paid interns, free lancers and other part-timers this means more opportunities for paid work from home, especially for people with design and media production skills. Journalistic work never stops because the news never stops, and journalists have to be able to adapt. The kind of things that have been fundamental to journalism -- like always do an interview in person -- have been completely reshaped by what technology allows us to do remotely. Journalists with media production skills are best positioned in the current environment to adapt and work independently.
Dr. Jeffrey Layne Blevins Ph.D.: All journalists need a healthy sense of assertiveness. They need to be go-getters and self-starters who can self-manage. Because of the remote nature of a lot of work right now, not just journalistic practice, you're not going to have an editor or supervisor hanging over your shoulder and micro-managing your work. You need to be independent. And for that matter, journalism graduates are well positioned. They have to think critically, be able to analyze and contextualize rapidly developing phenomenon and communicate quickly and effectively to a general audience.
Dr. Jeffrey Layne Blevins Ph.D.: To be honest, I don't know that salaries have changed negatively over the past 20 years. However, I think there is more competition for fewer jobs, and those journalists with the broadest set of hard and soft skills are the most competitive. What I would say, is there are more part-time opportunities now than ever before as journalism has been more in line with the so-called "gig economy."