Job Market for College Graduates in 2020

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Evan Thompson is a Washington-based writer for TBS covering higher education. He has bylines in the Seattle Times, Tacoma News Tribune, Everett Herald, and others from his past life as a newspaper reporter.

2020 college grads are facing the worst economy in generations. Here are ways to adapt in the uncertain job market.

College graduates could face the worst economic recession since the Great Depression. They need to be more flexible than ever before to succeed in the 2020 job market.

Nearly 39 million Americans have lost their jobs since the coronavirus crisis began. Nearly every industry has been affected by shelter-in-place laws designed to limit the spread of the disease.

Job loss due to coronavirus makes it more difficult for graduates to find jobs that fit their career aspirations. Not only are there fewer openings, but graduates will be competing for positions against recently unemployed workers, who often have years more experience than them.

Experts believe college grads who are willing to pursue career paths besides their chosen fields will be more successful down the road. Those who remain stagnant could fall even further behind.

Are There Any Pandemic- or Recession-Proof Industries?

While many industries have been devastated by the coronavirus, some have shown resilience.

Technology, retail, and healthcare have weathered the storm, said Greg Wright, an economics professor at the University of California, Merced. Other relatively safe jobs include finance, insurance, and computer and peripheral equipment manufacturing, according to Bloomberg's analysis of BLS data.

The best jobs for college grads are in the tech industry, which Wright said has fared the best during the crisis. Graduates who hold a computer science degree will have more opportunities for employment than others.

"Technology, retail, and healthcare have weathered the storm."

People sheltering at home rely on tech services for teleconferencing, telemedicine, and food delivery. The companies that deliver these services have ramped up hiring. Tech giants, such as Amazon, Apple, and Google, are hiring software engineers and product designers. Meanwhile, Zoom recently announced it would fill 500 software engineering roles to handle issues with its teleconferencing services.

"There's a huge demand for tech services because we're all at home using devices," he said. "If you're in a position where you can look at jobs like that, there are even entry-level positions available."

But you don't necessarily need tech skills to get a job. Technology companies are hiring warehouse workers to fulfill the surge in delivery orders. There are also openings for middle management positions, which are more suitable landing spots for grads in terms of salary and experience.

Healthcare Industry Trends for 2020

There are 1.4 million people with COVID-19 in the U.S. as of this writing, and the healthcare industry is on the front lines of the crisis.

But revenue for hospitals is plummeting because elective procedures are mostly on hold while people stay home, and elective procedures are a major source of funding for hospitals. As a result, 1.4 million healthcare workers lost their jobs in April, according to the Department of Labor.

However, experts are optimistic that the healthcare sector will bounce back after the crisis is over. Many of the lost healthcare jobs should return when the demand for care returns to normal, making related degrees a worthwhile investment.

"It's probably worth thinking about healthcare as a long-run option," Wright said. "Maybe it's a good time to get a nursing degree."

Meanwhile, other fields of healthcare are hiring, according to Mark Peltz, dean of careers, life, and service at Grinnell College in Iowa. Medical supply, biotech, and healthcare tech companies will continue to have openings throughout the pandemic.

In an interview with NPR, Peltz said graduates could be hired by those employers regardless of their field or discipline. They're looking for applicants with skills in critical thinking, research, and information management. However, there's a caveat.

"Candidates need to really tailor their materials and message as to why they're a good fit and why they're interested in that particular opportunity," he told NPR. "Employers don't want to hire somebody just looking for a job. They want to hire somebody who's looking for their job."

Proactive Graduates Are More Likely to Succeed

Graduates face an uphill battle to find a job. It will be even more challenging if they don't take immediate action.

"They can't just wait for it to pass," said Daniel Orozco, a college career advisor since 1986. "They have to be proactive."

As the director of the Center for Career and Professional Development at Southwestern University, Orozco helps graduates land jobs. But that mission is increasingly difficult.

"College graduates are competing for jobs with others who lost jobs or got furloughed," he said. "The competition is a little stiffer, and these people maybe have 1-5 more years of experience, and they're a little more confident than a graduating senior."

"College graduates are competing for jobs with others who lost jobs or got furloughed."

In the past, 85-90% of the university's graduates found stable employment 6-8 months after leaving school. He expects that rate to decrease because of the coronavirus.

"It might take them a little longer to find that position they feel like is more in line with what they want to do," he said.

Preparing for job interviews, creating strong resumes and cover letters, and pitching relevant skills will be critical. Graduates will also have to adapt to virtual interviews. Orozco said the overall purpose is still the same as if it were taking place in an office.

"There's nothing different in the sense of being professional in a Zoom call than standing in front of somebody," he said. "Your handshake may be the first few things you say or what you chat."

First impressions are still just as important, too. A messy room, unmade bed, or distractions in the background can leave a negative perception.

"Don't think that this is easier just because it's on a Zoom call," Orozco said. "If I see a messed up bed, that says to me that you didn't think about what it would look like."

Orozco recommends graduates reach out to their school's career services, saying they'll be far more likely to land a job if they have a support system. Career centers can help graduates develop a game plan.

"If they try to go it alone, they can be successful, but it's going to be way more difficult," he said. "There is strength in numbers."

Flexibility Is a Virtue for Graduates

Lately, Orozco is advising graduates to keep an open mind about their options and be willing to learn new skills. While most grads in the past have pursued careers in their respective fields, the class of 2020 may not have that luxury.

"I'm not saying bring your expectations down," Orozco said. "I'm saying consider anything out there that will get you some experience and put you in an organization. I think organizations are going to want to see people who are working."

Wright shared similar sentiments. While future employers will be more sympathetic if graduates were unable to land a job in a recession, it will become a concern if the gap is too long.

"The reality is we operate in a market-based economy where competition is real," Wright said. "It's important to keep something on a resume and not have a dead period."