When 2020 began, Nevada’s economy was as strong as anywhere in the nation. Statewide unemployment was under 4 percent, and soon-to-be college grads getting ready to enter the job market were practically a lock to land an entry-level spot in their chosen career fields.
Then, in the blink of an eye, the COVID-19 pandemic hit and everything changed.
As the nation – and Nevada – wrestled with the early realities of COVID-19, unemployment soared and the job market for new grads went quickly from solid to uncertain.
Now, early career professionals are vying for jobs alongside out-of-work industry vets. While the job market has undoubtedly changed, there are some things job seekers of all experience levels can do to stay competitive and stand out in a crowded field.
Eileen McGarry, executive director of UNLV’s Career Services Center, says that the best advice for students and graduates caught in this is to stay in touch with employers while strategically exploring all options.
“Employers who weathered the effects of the last recession have become wiser to the value of staying connected to career centers and are doing their best to offer alternatives and creative solutions for how work gets done,” said McGarry. “Staying positive, connected, and focused on long-term outcomes is challenging, but it pays off in the long run.”
We spoke with McGarry to glean some tips for new grads on how to make their resumes pop. We also learned why it’s important to keep in contact with employers even when the jobs aren’t there, how certain traits are “recession-proof,” and about the variety of resources UNLV Career Services offers to students and alumni wading into an uncertain job market.
When the Class of ‘20 entered its final semester this spring, the job market was buzzing. That’s no longer the case. What’s your advice for graduating college seniors entering an uncertain job market this summer?
More than ever, this is a time for new grads to tap into their network of support, which includes utilizing campus career services resources to prepare their professional brand and to keep a pulse on what is happening in their desired field.
For anyone, thinking of a strategy that supports your current basic needs and allows you to maximize your flexibility and agility while the market is down is challenging. It’s important to balance this with the long view to be prepared to launch a chosen career when COVID-19 gets under control. Keep in mind that professionals are now finding unique ways to provide their talents virtually and this should be a part of the plan for job seekers as it may have lasting impact in future workplace environments.
Can you share some general tips to help new grads stand out when looking to land that first job out of college?
Candidates can be overly passive in the job search and fail to showcase their attributes through cover letters, letters of interest, and resumes tailored to the position.
A well-written cover letter added to applications with meaningful content that aligns interests and skills with the position description often sets candidates apart. Express interest in the organization and articulate why your background aligns with the company and position you are seeking. Resumes as well should focus on relevant goals, skills, accomplishments, and experience for the job you are applying for, and emphasize key words found in the job description as employers often screen out candidates through Applicant Tracking Systems.
One piece of advice for new grads is to be somewhat selective and strategic about spending time and energy on opportunities where they are best aligned. If they find they’re pursuing an industry that has been hard hit by COVID-19, they should look for opportunities to highlight skills and accomplishments that go beyond day-to-day responsibilities, whether it’s special certifications/training, leadership roles, or service learning experiences. Emphasis on quality and quantity of work, problems solved, and outcomes achieved are all components that make candidates stand out to employers.
For recent grads struggling to find employment right now, can you share some guidance on how they can persevere through these challenging times?
For one thing, I want them to know that they have a community of support behind them. That includes both current and former Rebels that want to see them succeed.
In time, they’ll look back on how they weathered these challenges and emerge stronger. They should continue to reach out and connect with others, be there for each other and continue to look forward and create opportunities for themselves and others.
For those considering a shift in careers and a return to school, are there “recession-proof” fields people can turn to?
There are fields less impacted than others, sure, but the impact is felt worldwide and in nearly every sector. The one principle that any entrepreneur will tell you is that you will always be recession proof if you focus on meeting needs, solving problems, and maintaining a growth mindset.
We are already discovering new ways to solve problems and meet needs given the challenges that the pandemic is presenting, and several of these will be lasting and create new opportunities and ways of working never imagined before. IT, engineering and technology, logistics, consumer goods, customer service, protective services, health care and education, media and communications are seeing less immediate impact than occupations that depend on close social interaction.
Utilizing technology to communicate and perform functions virtually is keeping us working, and many of us are reinventing how we work and pursue education as we find ourselves restricted to home environments. Several companies are reporting increased productivity because of reduced commute times and distance from family.
In addition, what makes a Rebel recession proof may be more a function of power skills, attributes, and attitudes than the field we choose. Adaptability, resilience, communication, teamwork and collaboration, and problem solving will outlive any one particular technical skill or knowledge area. Once the crisis is over, the industries most impacted will likely come back in a new way and our graduates will be a part of that creative process.
Can you recommend resources for UNLV alumni unexpectedly entering the job market for the first time in a while due to the effects of COVID-19?
UNLV students and alumni will have access to a new career management platform by July 2020. This virtual platform, called UNLV Handshake, is a network of top companies seeking UNLV college interns and graduates/alumni specifically. The platform creates a one-stop shop for employers and job seekers, allowing connections to be made for the most targeted needs – for example, software engineers working with specific programming languages – to skills and attributes found across many disciplines.
Enrolled UNLV Rebels across disciplines will be preloaded to get immediate access whether looking for an on-campus job, internship or career position upon or post-graduation. Mobile apps and intelligent algorithms will help career centers and advisors across campus facilitate access to opportunities and make meaningful connections between employers and job seekers. Our campus wide network model for career services will help our community of employers reach a broad and diverse talent pool.
UNLV Career Services will continue to offer virtual career coaching by appointment as well as dedicated programs like webinars for professional development during COVID-19, and virtual roundtables for discussions with professionals and alumni in a number of fields. All sessions are recorded on the UNLV Career Services YouTube channel.
All of the programs, resources, and services described above are available to students, and to UNLV Alumni as a part of Rebels Forever. Watch for a virtual career fair in the coming fall semester as we continue to innovate and facilitate career connections for students and alumni.
What are you hearing from employers about what they’re most looking for in prospective employees?
The biggest change is the uncertainty in what the needs of employers will be as we settle into a “new” normal. Those who continue to seek talent are looking at similar attributes as in the past, but with increased emphasis on certain characteristics. For example, our team is hearing a lot about flexibility and adaptability. Obviously, there is a lot up in the air now, and employees that can adjust to unprecedented circumstances fluidly without panic are highly valuable.
Employers hiring interns continue to focus on soft skills and professionalism. They want to know that the student can work in a team as well as independently, will show respect, and have a good work ethic. They hope that the students have some experience/education in whatever job is required and want to learn and adapt to the workplace culture.
For college students a year or so away from graduating, how can they make the most of this time to make themselves attractive to future employers?
Students will want to take advantage of programs and services that enhance their professional development as soon as they begin attending college. Three things that go hand-in-hand with building knowledge in any discipline include building related competencies and skills, expanding networks of peers and professionals, and developing career awareness and professional acumen.
As students prepare themselves for a 21st-century workplace, a focus on professional development should be integrated into and throughout their college experience. Early career awareness, engagement with organizations, and relevant professional experiences are differentiators today and will continue to be. Students can take advantage of career and self-assessments to understand their potential talents and strengths, pursue volunteer and service learning experience, engage in professional student organizations, and participate in peer-to-peer and career mentoring programs. These experiences expand into internships, skill-building projects, leadership and career experiences as upperclassmen.
One of the best predictors of job search success upon graduation is meaningful interaction with employers and professionals in your areas of interest, so students are encouraged to attend professional development sessions, access career center resources, and attend career fairs and sessions with employers early and often.
In addition to UNLV Handshake and other in-person coaching and career support services, the office will launch Rebels Forward Career Mentoring this fall for juniors and seniors wanting to connect to an alumnus or professional that aligns with their interests and aspirations. Rebels Forward has sophisticated matching algorithms, and walks mentors and mentees through a meaningful mentoring relationship.
During the recession, unemployment for college grads was half that of the general population. As another recession likely looms for Nevada and the nation, why is a college degree important?
Similar trajectories will remain as the economy will rely on more sophisticated human relations and problem-solving skills that cannot be replaced by machine learning. Not only does a college education increase the lifetime earning of individuals, it significantly enhances lifetime learning and communication skills that will continue to play out in the future.
College graduates are the leaders of the future and while they will need to do more today to hone their skills and experiences beyond the classroom, their tenacity, enhanced critical thinking, and capacity to embrace and drive change will serve them well. That said, one of the greatest predictors of future career success and satisfaction is engagement. The more engaged students are in their college experience as a whole, the greater their engagement and satisfaction in their work environments as future alumni.