Class of 2021: Graduating and Launching Your Career in a Pandemic

Jumpstarting Your Career During a Pandemic

Graduating in a pandemic creates a unique set of challenges for the class of 2021. According to Pew Research Center, employment and labor force participation rates for recent college graduates have dropped. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports unemployment lasting a median duration of 19.3 weeks as of May 2021. In October 2020, the Washington Post reported that many working class and low-income students had lost wages from work-study jobs due to the pandemic.

Thankfully, the U.S. unemployment rate has fallen steadily since April 2020, according to BLS data. Effective vaccines have led to widespread reopenings and the potential for economic recovery. Current job seekers must be adaptable and flexible. Recent graduates can maximize employment opportunities by focusing on transferable skills and considering jobs in industries adjacent to their field of study.

This guide to graduating during COVID highlights strategies for adjusting your job search. The following sections explore job hunting strategies, remote interview tips, and COVID student loan forbearance options.

  • 1. Research How COVID Affected Your Industry

    Students graduating during COVID face entering a job market that may take years to fully recover. Some of the hardest-hit industries include arts and entertainment, accommodation and food services, construction, and retail. Some industries, such as leisure and hospitality, have bounced back and now face labor shortages, while others continue to stagnate.

    Widespread vaccinations and reopenings create strong prospects for economic recovery in the United States. However, experts remain uncertain about COVID’s long-term economic impact and the country’s recovery trajectory. McKinsey & Company projects that some industries could take more than five years to reach pre-pandemic levels.

    Recent graduates can check the BLS to explore COVID’s impact on their industry. The BLS details employment trends by industry and region. Many professional organizations also offer industry-specific data regarding COVID’s impact and recovery projections.

    Consider Similar Roles in Different Industries

    Graduating during COVID can make finding a career in your primary field more challenging. However, graduates can consider jobs in related industries to widen their job prospects. Many industries have remained profitable during COVID, including healthcare, information technology, behavioral health, digital entertainment, and tutoring.

    Graduates should identify their transferable skills to pinpoint matching industries and positions. Regardless of education background, most graduates possess hard and soft skills. Common hard skills include foreign languages and computer program competencies. Soft skills include communication, team leadership, and problem-solving. Indeed recommends that job seekers match at least 60% of a position’s listed qualifications before applying.

  • 2. Practice Your Remote Interview Skills

    Remote interviews will likely remain popular even after the pandemic ends. Graduates can prepare for their job search by practicing remote interview skills. In COVID-era job interviews, candidates should emphasize their flexibility, problem-solving skills, and professional resilience. Job seekers can highlight these qualities through stories about school and work experiences.

    Peers and mentors often help graduates practice for interviews. Mock interviewing can help you prepare responses to common questions. You can also work on the physical aspects of interviewing, such as eye contact and body language.

    Before an interview, candidates should set up good lighting and a clean background. Interviewees should also ensure they have a consistent internet connection.

  • 3. Be Thoughtful About Grad School

    In times of economic trouble, students often attend graduate school to build advanced skills while avoiding a rocky job market. Students can apply to grad school straight out of undergrad or after a significant period in the workforce. Regardless, individuals should carefully consider their options before applying to graduate school.

    Many types of students benefit from attending grad school. However, graduate students should have a deep passion for their subject. The ideal grad student needs a master’s degree for career advancement. Entering graduate school because you aren’t sure what else to do may not lead to the best educational or professional outcomes.

    Grad school is an investment. But many students receive funding to cover some or all educational expenses. In the COVID era, many schools face endowment and budget issues, impacting the amount of funding available to graduate students. Many colleges report decreases in funding and increases in graduate applications, which makes obtaining admission and funding more challenging.

  • 4. Get Creative in Your Searching and Networking

    Students graduating during COVID may need to implement additional job search measures. Individuals may contact other COVID graduates, such as the class of 2020. These workers have already navigated an uncertain job market. They may offer advice on making professional connections and identifying job opportunities.

    If possible, learners can also talk to individuals who graduated during the 2008 recession. Additionally, job seekers can leverage their immediate social network. Try asking friends, professors, and mentors about open positions.

    Professional organizations and job boards can also help graduates identify opportunities. Many industry-specific websites post listings not found on large sites such as Indeed and Monster. Graduates can also check company websites for the latest job listings. To widen your search, consider positions in various professional settings.

  • 5. Keep Your Costs Low

    Graduating in a bad economy can strain individuals’ finances. Graduates can take advantage of pandemic-related financial opportunities, such as COVID loan forbearance. Financial hardship and forbearance options may enable graduates to reduce or freeze student loan payments while they search for a job.

    Smart budgeting can help graduates stretch their available funds. Several online budgeting apps offer tools to help users track their finances and determine how much they can spend per week and month.

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