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How new college grads can adapt to a COVID-19 job market

Entry-level jobs often aren’t always fit for working from home, but there are ways for new grads to adapt to a changed job market.

How new college grads can adapt to a COVID-19 job market
[Source images: Ridofranz/iStock; Rawpixel]

The Class of 2020 is entering a job market that has been turned upside-down by COVID-19. Entry-level jobs often aren’t a fit for working from home, and displaced employees with more experience are becoming unexpected competition. As a result, many have had to rethink their job search.

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“Fear is one of the best motivators there is, and high unemployment is causing fear,” says Tom Gimbel, CEO of staffing and recruiting firm LaSalle Network. “I think it will work out fine in the end, but right now it will be a challenge until there is either a vaccine or treatment for coronavirus. The landscape is different for new job seekers.”

Expectations and appropriate steps are changing. Here is what the job market looks like and how new graduates can prepare:

Industries

A study from the job site Monster found that job seekers are willing to shift their focus of industries and frontline occupations. Many are looking into healthcare and logistics as industries.

“Adjust on the fly or consider an essential field in addition to your chosen one, such as infrastructure work, transportation, and IT,” suggests Brian Martucci, finance editor for the personal finance site Money Crashers. “To improve your chances of securing a position, you’ll have to look at opportunities you may not have considered in the past.”

Temporary roles

In February, LaSalle Network surveyed 2020 college graduates and found that 25% would be willing to take a temporary role. In April, that number rose to 89%. While not every new college graduate has to take a temporary job, Gimbel says those that are willing could see it as a chance to prove themselves.

“If you graduated from a top-tier school, it could seem like a big slap in the face. However, it evens the playing field among colleges,” he says. “Somebody who went to what is perceived a lesser school may get an opportunity with a company that may not normally hire them. Temp roles are one of the best vehicles to get your foot in the door.”

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Timing

It’s natural to want to hit the ground running when you’re ready to start your career, but Gimbel recommends that new college graduates hold off until the end of May or when the economy begins to reopen.

“A lot of companies have conflicting messages,” he says. “CEOs want to be ready to hire, but human resources departments will be overwhelmed with reentry and onboarding of existing hires and with downsizing. College grads résumés could get lost.”

Expect that your search may take longer. A report from the recruiting platform iCIMS said the graduating class of 2020 expected to apply to an average of 10 jobs before coronavirus, and the number has now more than doubled.

Compensation

The April LaSalle Network survey found that 92% would accept a lower starting salary than desired. The iCIMS report found that this year’s graduates are expecting to earn $48,781 for their first job.

“Job seekers may have to settle for salaries they wouldn’t have considered before,” says Martucci. “And some offers won’t commensurate with educational attainment. Grad school graduates, for example, may have gotten the same job with an undergrad degree.”

It’s unfair to give a blanket statement that says settle for a job wherever you can, though, cautions Martucci. “It depends on your priorities,” he says. “Not every grad has the luxury of moving in with their parents or waiting until things normalize.”

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While you’re waiting

In the meantime, establish your network. “Target alumni and friends who are two or three years older than you who are already working,” says Gimbel. “Then look at your parents’ friends and your friends’ parents. Look at job boards and ads, and go to staffing companies. This is your first line of entry.”

Martucci recommends leveraging LinkedIn groups. “We’re seeing LinkedIn now as a reciprocal network,” he says. “Before it was a place to put up an expanded version of your CV. Now you can do favors for other people who are in the same boat as far as helping them get noticed by potential employers.”

Don’t be afraid to be self-promotional and to continue your outreach, says Martucci. “You’ll be getting your name out there,” he says. “When employers are finally ready to start hiring, your name may be higher on their list or closer to top of mind. Be sure your outreach is within the confines of polite, professional discourse. It can be better than sitting back and feeling paralyzed.”

This recession may not look like previous recessions, and the job outlook and search methods may need to continue to evolve, says Martucci. “We don’t have a past precedent for this; clearly this is the first pandemic we’ve encountered,” he says. “Students coming out of college are looking for work with social distancing measures in place. You have to be willing to be flexible.”

The challenges of the COVID-19 job market could even have some long-term benefits for new college graduates, says Gimbel. “Frankly, it’s going to be humbling,” he says. “We’ve gone through 10 years of a bull market and a great hiring economy since the dot-com bubble. Every college graduate is two degrees away from a startup that went public. As a result, many think they should be closer to the power side. This is a time to recalibrate. It’s okay to start at an entry-level and earn the opportunities.”

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