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What 2020 college grads should expect as they enter the job market

Posted May 28, 2020 by

As recent graduates enter the job market, they should expect employers to be slow in responding, interviewing, extending offers, and scheduling start dates. The vast majority of human resource professionals for medium- and large-organizations are working from home due to COVID-19. Although those and others working from home proved, on average, to be more productive, that productivity will likely wane over time as people inevitably settle into bad habits. Even if the people you’re interacting with are very productive, it is likely that at least one of the people involved in the hiring process won’t be and that will slow down the entire process. 

Also, there are huge variations industry-to-industry and even metro-to-metro in terms of the job market. We’re 2.5 months into the shutdown and a typical job posting ad on a typical job board or employer’s career site automatically expires after 30- to 60-days and so very few job postings that you might run across are now leftover from the pre-pandemic days. If you see a job advertised, there’s an excellent chance that employer is actively hiring for that role. 

What recent graduates can do to prepare themselves for the job market is to be more proactive and less reactive. Focus on the quality instead of quantity of your interactions, meaning that you’re more likely to get hired if you focus your efforts on five to 10 employers within one industry than 100 to 200 employers across several industries. Just as you would do your research prior to writing a paper in school or taking an exam, do the same when getting ready to apply. Research the industries of interest to you and focus on the one that best aligns with your competencies, interests, values, and needed compensation.

From there, look for five to 10 employers who are hiring people like you and get to know those employers well, including who are their customers, vendors, and partners and what their products or services are. Apply to their advertised jobs and network with the people in the departments you would work in to build a relationship with them. Use your research to demonstrate to them that you really know who they are and what they do, as very few candidates do that and so you’ll really stand out. After you contact them and after you apply, follow-up in three to five business days, as your occasional but repeated affirmation of interest will also stand out in a positive way. You need to convince first the human resource recruiter that you meet the requirements and, hopefully, preferences for the role and then the hiring manager. Do so by directly addressing each of those in your cover letter and resume. Convince them that you’re the lowest risk candidate to hire as you’ve done the same or very similar work before. 

What underclassmen should consider for the future due to the current changes in the labor market is that their graduating class is going to struggle throughout their careers against underemployment and underpay. Students who graduated during the 2008-09 Great Recession and took any job they could find at any hourly wage found it very, very difficult to migrate from those jobs into career-related roles with good compensation. If you’re an engineer working as a minimum wage barista, it is going to be hard for an engineering firm in a couple of years to see you more as an engineer and less as a barista. Also, when they’re looking at what to pay you, too many employers look at what you were paid in your most recent role and then try to pay you close to that, so if you were making $12 an hour but should have been making $25 given your degree, then it is going to be hard to convince your career-related employer to increase your pay more than 100 percent, even though what you were paid for a job you’re no longer doing shouldn’t matter.

To get back to the level of compensation you deserve, you will likely need to move from job-to-job more frequently than those who graduated a year or two ahead of you. That doesn’t mean that you’ll need to hop from employer-to-employer. Maybe within a couple of years you start in a call center for a large firm, hop to a better paying and more career-related customer service role within that same organization, and then hop to a sales engineer role with that same organization. 

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