How College Grads Can Overcome the COVID-19 Job Market
- The COVID-19 pandemic has caused an unprecedented economic downturn.
- Despite the recession, some industries, like healthcare and IT, have increased hiring.
- Employers continue to look for soft skills, such as adaptability, teamwork, and communication.
- College grads can prepare by networking online and prioritizing remote work.
A year ago, The Hill predicted that the class of 2020 would "enter one of the most difficult job markets in U.S. history." The months since have revealed a volatile economy, specifically in terms of employment. But as the U.S. economy slowly bounces back from the pandemic-driven downswing, many 2021 college graduates wonder what the future holds for them.
If you recently graduated college or will graduate soon, your job hunt is likely far from what you expected when you started your undergraduate program. While most economists agree that the economy has stages and that even the current recession is only temporary, nobody knows just how long this particular downturn — and the pandemic itself — will last.
What will your future job search experience be like? How can you stay motivated in a tough job market? These are just some of the questions college students have as they progress toward graduation and their careers.
Job Hunting in a Slowly Recovering Economy
Last spring, the U.S. entered an unprecedented recession due to the coronavirus outbreak. Although the emergency-use authorization of several COVID-19 vaccines has helped hasten economic recovery and improve job prospects for college grads, the job market has yet to fully return to its pre-pandemic state.
Some fields, such as computer science, accounting, manufacturing, healthcare, and electrical engineering, are welcoming more job opportunities than others.
Additionally, more and more companies and organizations are embracing the transition to remote work and expect recent grads to develop and hone the skills needed to stand out in an increasingly remote job market. Some of the most important job skills for college graduates include flexibility and persistence.
“The global economy could be headed for a hybrid approach: recovering many jobs lost during the pandemic, while retaining the digital-first innovations of the last year.”
LinkedIn editor Andrew Seaman maintains a regularly updated list of companies looking for candidates right now. This collection includes an array of industries, such as technology, retail, and food service. You can search for open positions using hashtags like #NowHiring on LinkedIn and other social networking sites.
Tracking monthly hiring trends is another way to identify potential areas of economic growth. February and March saw the biggest increases in job postings on LinkedIn for positions such as receptionist, pharmacy technician, marketing strategist, and e-commerce developer. Meanwhile, Monster saw month-over-month growth in job postings for sales and manufacturing roles.
You should also consider looking into fields that have increased hiring during the pandemic. According to FlexJobs, industries that have ramped up hiring since early 2020 include medicine and health, IT, customer service, education, sales, and accounting and finance.
What Are Employers Looking For in Candidates?
Even with the ongoing recession, employers remain focused on what they've always wanted and needed: talented employees with a strong work ethic.
Does this mean you need to have a lot of work experience or technical skills? Not necessarily. Employers hiring for entry-level positions often look for soft skills and those they can train in the hard skills needed for a specific role (e.g., project management, proposal writing, UX research).
A recent Forbes article recommends emphasizing your experience with the soft skills currently valued across jobs and industries. These skills are as follows:
Being able to adapt to change is important at work and in other areas of our lives. Be prepared to share examples of how you've been flexible in the past when faced with a shift in circumstances or priorities.
- Communication and Organization
These two skills are essential in the workplace, especially during this time of remote work environments. Working at a distance means sharing your ideas, enthusiastically contributing to discussions, and actively listening to your colleagues. Staying organized and on schedule allows for better problem-solving and stress management, both of which are important in today's unpredictable climate.
- Leadership and Teamwork
Collaboration in some form is required for most jobs. This means effectively contributing to and completing assigned tasks as a member of a group. You may also be asked to lead a small team or manage a project, which can be even more challenging at a distance. These skills build upon your abilities to adapt, communicate, and organize.
- Intrapreneurship and Creativity
Skills related to problem-solving, innovative thinking, and initiative are valued by many organizations as they navigate the challenges related to today's changing world. The shift to remote work, which is becoming more long-term than initially anticipated, enhances the need for intrapreneurship and creativity in many industries.
5 Ways Students Can Prepare for the COVID-19 Job Market
Although the current job market is less than ideal, and the timing is terrible for new graduates, it won't be the only challenge you'll face during your career. Finding a place where you can work and continue to grow will be critical to your professional success.
Whether you're actively on the hunt or anticipating a job search in the near future, you'll need to take action to improve your employment options. Here are five tips for college students on the verge of entering the workforce:
While in-person events, such as alumni association meetings and professional conferences, may be on hold, you can continue to build your network online. Career professionals at Bentley University recommend updating your LinkedIn profile. LinkedIn is also a great place for college students to connect with new people in a variety of ways, such as by joining professional groups, participating in discussions, and asking questions.
Your dream job might be out of reach right now, and that's all right. Shift from the disappointment and discouragement you may be feeling to focusing on the opportunities available for working and learning. Denison University President Adam Weinberg recommends "build[ing] a narrative about how you turned this time period from a challenge to an opportunity. That alone will speak volumes to future employers."
Practice Your Skills
Look for ways to continue honing the skills you've learned in school. Think "use it or lose it" with volunteer opportunities, part-time work, and/or projects you start and complete on your own, such as building a professional portfolio or exploring entrepreneurship.
Developing a diverse skill set can expand your appeal to a larger number of employers. These days, you've got lots of opportunities to learn online at your own pace, whether by taking individual courses or enrolling in a certificate program through platforms like Coursera and Udemy. If you're still in school, consider adding a minor in a subject that augments your major.
Consider Remote Work
The "new normal" means many companies recently extended remote work options for employees into 2021 and beyond. And a lot of the hiring happening right now is for remote jobs, or jobs that will at least initially function remotely. FlexJobs tracks this remote job market, including companies that are currently looking for remote workers.
Resilience Remains Key to Securing Employment
The coronavirus outbreak has had an unprecedented impact on employment, resulting in the widespread closure of college campuses as well as businesses across multiple sectors. As a consequence, many employers are beginning to rethink their systems and processes.
These economic shifts we're experiencing will no doubt persist, and will likely have long-term effects on not only what jobs are in demand but also how work is done. Though you can't predict when the economy will recover or when more opportunities will emerge, you can take steps to make the most of what's available as you continue to work on your marketability.
Learning how to navigate these kinds of events strengthens your life skills, leaving you better prepared for whatever comes next. Building resilience in your career and in your approach to the job market is ultimately critical to your success.
Feature Image: Pekic / E+ / Getty Images