Today's college grads and soon-to-be grads must enter a daunting job market due to COVID-19, but you can still secure a job and achieve your career goals.

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.

In May, The Hill predicted that the graduating class of 2020 would "enter one of the most difficult job markets in U.S. history." The months since have proven to be volatile for the economy, specifically employment.

If you recently graduated from college or plan to graduate this coming school year, the reality is that your job search might not be 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 downturn 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.

A woman in a ribbed pink sweater takes handwritten notes as she participates in a video conference on her desktop computer.
ake1150sb / iStock / Getty Images Plus

Job Hunting During the COVID-19 Economic Recession

The U.S. economy is experiencing a recession, and news about unemployment can make life feel overwhelmingly grim. Some jobs have been more affected than others. While industries like food service and travel have been hit hard, others like IT and healthcare are doing very well.

Those preparing for their post-graduation job hunt should focus on where the hiring is actually happening.

While industries like food service and travel have been hit hard [by the COVID-19 pandemic], others like IT and healthcare are doing very well.

LinkedIn editor Andrew Seaman provides an updated list of companies that are looking for candidates right now. This collection includes a wide array of industries, including technology, retail, and food service. You can also search for open positions using hashtags such as #NowHiring on LinkedIn and other social networking sites.

Tracking monthly hiring trends is another way you can identify potential areas of economic growth. In early August, CNBC reported that most new jobs are in leisure and hospitality, government, and retail — a sign that some businesses that had to completely close at the start of the COVID-19 outbreak are now reopening and rehiring.

Finally, consider looking into fields that have increased hiring during the pandemic. According to the job search site FlexJobs, industries that have ramped up hiring since February include medicine and health, IT, customer service, education, sales, and accounting and finance.

What Are Employers Looking For in Candidates?

Despite the economic downturn, 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:

  • Keep Networking

    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 starting with an update of 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.

  • Stay Motivated

    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.

  • Continue Learning

    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.

Two women wearing face masks sit at a conference table and confer over miscellaneous printed materials.
GeorgiNutsov / iStock / Getty images Plus

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 are ultimately critical to your success.

Feature Image: Pekic / E+ / Getty Images