The COVID-19 pandemic put the class of 2021 through the wringer.
From dealing with a lack of social connection to the challenges of remote learning, this year's graduates have endured much more to receive their college degrees than those before them.
If you're one of those graduates, at least there's a silver lining: All of those experiences make you one of the most unique graduating classes of all time. By forging ahead and earning your degree, you've come away with more skills than you may realize, including career and life skills.
We asked job recruiters, college professors, and other professionals how the class of 2021 can leverage their pandemic experiences in job interviews. Here's what they said about how your experiences may have led to certain skills – and why that matters to employers.
Graduating during the pandemic proves that you can perform remotely. Since the workforce is expected to have more remote work after COVID-19, employers will want to hire candidates who can easily transition into a work-from-home or hybrid job. You also understand how to interact and communicate in cyberspaces. From Zoom meetings to instant chat, your digital experience makes you easy to hire and quick to train.
"Signs point to an increase in remote work environments. One significant 'benefit' of the pandemic has been an increased familiarity with the good and the bad of remote work and accompanying responsibilities," says Kirk Hazlett, adjunct professor of communication, University of Tampa.
The pandemic forced you to be flexible. You bounced between online, in-class, and hybrid learning; dealt with ever-changing health protocols; and started a job search in uncertain economic conditions. Being adaptable is useful in workplaces, where change can be constant but productivity must remain high.
You made the hard choice to enroll this fall and take mostly online classes when face-to-face instruction wasn't an option. It was a risky bet given the challenges of remote learning, but it paid off with a diploma. Comfort with taking risks can be good for business, especially when tough challenges lead to great outcomes.
"Imagine graduating and being asked about your flexibility and your willingness to take risks. You'll be able to tell the story of how and why you decided to forge ahead with college in fall 2020, in spite of less-than-ideal conditions," says Michele Ramsay, assistant professor of communication arts and sciences, Penn State Berks.
Though it meant sacrificing your social life, you followed COVID-19 rules both on and off campus. You kept yourself and others safe. While there will never be a statistic to prove it, you may have even saved lives by social distancing. By protecting other people, you showed empathy — a trait that can influence how employers hire and retain talent.
Despite all the challenges, obstacles, and hardships of COVID-19, you made it. When times were tough, you stayed on track to graduate. Performing under this kind of pressure makes you a strong candidate. Resilience is increasingly recognized as a key driver of job performance. Employers value people who can cope with and recover from adversity.
"The pandemic happened during the class of 2021's most formative years. They lost internships and other resume-building opportunities. No other graduating class has demonstrated their resilience. It is that resilience that they should leverage as an asset they can bring to employers," says Mark Beal, assistant professor of practice in public relations, Rutgers University.
Remote learning helped teach you how to function with minimal supervision. Without a professor or peers in the room urging you to finish your work, you had to learn to solve problems, make decisions, and motivate yourself. Employers appreciate workers who are self-reliant and able to fix issues without asking their bosses for help.
"The public health crisis has made this group of students more resilient and flexible than recent cohorts. This resilience and experience will give each of these students a strong inventory of skills and insight to draw from in job interviews, on admissions essays to university/college, and as they navigate entering adulthoo," says Phil Ollenberg, assistant registrar, Bow Valley College (Calgary, Canada).
You made crucial decisions about your workload and course content in an upended school environment. Your choices had to be carefully considered with the big picture in mind. Critical thinkers operate the same way. They're often needed in the workplace to make the right decisions based on whatever information is available.
"Explanations of how you managed your time and exercised good judgement during the time of COVID-19...can go a long way in impressing a prospective employer," says Michele Ramsay, assistant professor of communication arts and sciences, Penn State Berks.
The coronavirus has impacted student mental health across the boards. Even if you never had COVID-19, you dealt with the mental and physical stresses of the pandemic all the same. You coped with remote learning, a lack of social connection, and strict deadlines to complete your degree. You're much more prepared for the ups and downs of working life than grads before you.
"If there's one thing that graduates can use from this experience to leverage themselves in the world of work, it would have to be that they adjusted and overcame the challenges of studying while also juggling the mental and emotional stresses brought by the pandemic. This experience not only exposed them to new applications and software — which they can use to improve their hard skills — but also allowed them to develop necessary soft skills and a mindset that can keep up with the demands of the ever-growing and ever-competitive world of work," says Simon Elkjær, chief marketing officer, avXperten.
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.
Header Image Credits: Melanie Acevedo, Radoslav Zilinsky | Getty Images
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