College Grads Prepare to Enter the Remote Job Market

College Grads Prepare to Enter the Remote Job Market

March 17, 2021

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Similar to online learning, remote jobs were gaining traction well before COVID-19. Studies show a growing share of the workforce already worked from home for part of the week. Remote students and workers enjoy many of the same perks — and face many of the same challenges. But while colleges seem likely to reopen this fall, giving students both in-person and remote options, offices could stay shuttered.

Widespread remote work will probably continue for another year at least. The work-from-home trend, magnified by COVID-19, changes what job opportunities look like for all job-seekers. For college students and recent graduates specifically, the shift to remote work could alter entire career trajectories.

For college students and recent graduates, the shift to remote work could alter entire career trajectories.

Major tech companies, including Facebook and Twitter, announced that employees can continue to work remotely after the pandemic, and most Americans say they want that option. Demand for office space is still down 60% compared to this time last year.

Other big employers like Netflix and Goldman Sachs want workers back in the office as soon as possible. Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon says working remotely is "not a new normal. It's an aberration that we're going to correct as soon as possible."

Most HR leaders are planning for a hybrid approach: hiring hybrid teams — some in the office, some remote — and allowing employees to work from home one or more days per week. Many recruiters promise long-term remote work as a job perk.

Remote Jobs Typically Require College Degrees

College degree-holders are more likely to be able to work from home. While just 40% of all U.S. jobs immediately prior to the pandemic could be performed remotely, 62% of workers with a bachelor's degree or higher could work remotely.

The option to telecommute or telework makes many degree-required jobs more stable in an otherwise unstable job market. Unlike millions of hands-on workers, many workers with college degrees were able to continue working this past year.

Without the constraint of location, companies could pull from a much wider pool of applicants. Most jobs must contend with a limited local talent pool. Now, with potentially global competition for every available role, degrees will become even more important distinguishers among candidates.

The Wins and Losses of Working From Home

More than half of workers who have been remote during the pandemic say they want to stay remote after the pandemic. In Buffer's 2019 survey of remote employees, 99% of respondents wanted to work remotely at least some of the time for the rest of their careers.

Working remotely boasts many of the same perks as learning remotely; flexible hours accommodate other responsibilities, kids, and even side gigs. In addition to greater autonomy, remote teams could bring greater diversity. Remote teams hired without geographic limits shuck off location bias, helping to build diverse teams.

That said, some companies that have tried working remotely before now claim work culture suffers. Remote employees can feel marginalized, taking a bite out of morale and loyalty. There's also a persistent lack of communication and contact, contrasted by the struggle to unplug after work.

Working remotely boasts many of the same perks as learning remotely, such as flexible hours and greater autonomy.

Pre-pandemic forays into allowing employees to work from home found that people work a lot better when they're physically together. Some companies that tried going all remote say productivity, creativity, and serendipity — the right elevator chat at the right time — take a dip.

The same goes for revenue. Just four years ago, IBM abandoned the work-from-home policy it helped pioneer when revenue began to slump.

Remote employees, too, could earn less money. Without job ties to expensive metro areas, more city-dwellers are moving out to other counties and states. New college grads may choose not to move to the city at all. Because compensation is linked to the local cost of living, workers who relocate to less expensive areas could see lower wages.

New College Grads Face Risk of Underemployment

College-aged Americans are struggling to find work. Paid internships and entry-level jobs have dried up since the coronavirus hit. According to ZipRecruiter, popular internships among college grads are down 83%, while popular job postings are down 73%.

In addition to unemployment, college students and recent grads face high rates of underemployment, which can have reverberating effects. Hiring for entry-level college graduate positions has fallen 45%. With fewer "good" jobs available to new grads, an even greater share could wind up taking jobs for which they're overqualified.

College students and recent grads face high rates of underemployment, with hiring for entry-level college graduate positions down 45%.

Students who graduate into underemployment are five times more likely to stay underemployed compared with peers who started in college-level jobs. Underemployment straight out of college is a major predictor of lower lifetime earnings.

With internships and entry-level slots closed, the risk of underemployment after college is bigger than ever. The good news, however, is that it's also more forgivable: Employers are more likely to overlook resume gaps from the year 2020.

Scott Kustis, a job recruitment professional at The Ohio State University, explained that employers' "intention is not to hold it against students that maybe didn't have the opportunity to do the perfect internship. What they are looking for are students who made the most of a bad situation."


Feature Image: Susumu Yoshioka / DigitalVision / Getty Images

National Student Clearinghouse Research Center data show enrollment down 6.5% since fall 2019, the sharpest two-year drop in the last 50 years. The Pay Down, Upskill Act would pay off up to $10,000 in undergraduate student loans per person. Many college students have an eating disorder or know someone who does. Use these resources to get support, help others, or find treatment.