56.5% of respondents had to drastically alter their post-graduation plans in 2020 and 2021, with more than half deciding to pursue further education until the job market levels out.
Nearly 1 in 4 respondents changed the industry they intended to work in due to the pandemic.
60.7% of respondents preferred a job they are very passionate about, despite it having a lower salary.
Graduating under normal circumstances can intimidate even the most scholarly of students. Good grades and the ability to impress teachers can only provide so much armor in a job market that’s typically looking for experience. But in a post-pandemic world, where many qualified and experienced candidates have lost their jobs, every students’ competitive pool has been blown wide open.
Not only are students competing against more people, but they’re competing for fewer spots – and going up against candidates who perhaps have families to feed, or health issues requiring financial coverage. The pandemic has permanently changed the job market in a way that teachers were likely unable to prepare their students for. With this in mind, we recently checked in with 1,006 recent or soon-to-be grads for a pulse check. They spoke candidly about their levels of optimism, how well applications are going, and how their search strategies have changed post-pandemic. If you’re curious to hear what life is like for a college graduate in the midst of a pandemic, keep scrolling.
Entering the Real World
Our study kicked off by asking students and recent grads how optimistic or pessimistic they felt about their respective situations. They explained how their excitement levels for the “real world” had changed since the pandemic and how easy or hard it has been to find entry-level positions.
Pessimism essentially dominated the scene, though there was some rare optimism to be found. More than half of students and recent grads – 55.6% – described their career outlook as pessimistic, while only 26% could describe theirs as optimistic. That said, preparedness, which may include everything from relevant work experience to having your finger on the pulse of available opportunities, really impacted respondents and helped them find hopefulness.
Most respondents were already familiar with a pivoted strategy when it came to the job search. Just under 57% said they had to “drastically” alter their post-graduation plans because of COVID-19, while most also agreed they felt their excitement levels decrease. Evidently, they had good reason. While the vast majority were looking for humble, entry-level positions (81.5%), 3 out of 4 agreed they were struggling to find such a position.
Industry-specific searches made a huge impact on students and recent graduates. The next part of our study asked respondents to consider which industries they still wanted to work for, as well as their general perceptions of each.
Most respondents agreed that the medical and health care industries had the most to offer in terms of number of positions. That said, health care experts actually anticipate a slowed growth of the industry due to its intense focus on COVID-19. Perhaps the world watching hospitals be so understaffed during the pandemic has caused this misunderstanding. A more accurate assumption was the perception respondents had of the technology industry. The tech industry experienced a boom because of the pandemic, as it became a major tool in helping people adapt to the new normal.
Nevertheless, students were actively making changes based on these industry perceptions. Many were switching from dreams in finance and insurance (9.7%) for careers in the medical field (11.8%), while others were ditching their plans in arts and recreation (9.7%) for technology (10.1%).
Interviews and Offers
Though some respondents were still in school, many had already begun their application and interview process. The next part of the study checked in with this pool to see how it’s going.
Even in a pandemic, securing an interview appeared commonplace. Sixty-two percent had success in at least talking to someone at the company. The pandemic has caused a surge in virtual interviewing and provided applicants and hiring managers alike an opportunity to both stay safe and save time in the job hunt. That said, the interview certainly didn’t always lead to an offer. Only 26.4% of the applicants we spoke to were successful in securing a full-time offer.
Certain strategies seemed to influence whether the interviewee received an offer. The best chances an applicant had for securing the offer appeared to be relevant work experience (31%) and having good references (30.1%). On a similar note, most applicants shared that not networking enough was their biggest employment regret. All of these point to the adage that it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. Especially in a time of sparse opportunities and a lack of social interactions, make every effort to stay connected to the people you already know.
Political Influences on the Job Hunt
Considering the division the country is currently feeling, we would have been remiss to not see how politics influenced a graduate’s optimism for the economy. We asked about government-related sentiment as well as what students felt the government should be doing and broke these responses by political leaning.
Republicans and Democrats alike felt generally negative about the government, with fewer than a third of both parties describing an optimistic outlook for themselves. Under the Biden administration specifically, 41.7% of all respondents felt optimistic about their job prospects. That said, only 14.5% felt their chances of landing a job would have been higher under Trump, so we’re likely looking at pessimism stemming from beyond who is in the White House.
As far as what the government could be doing to quell this pessimism, most (75.1%) wanted student loan forgiveness. Student loan forgiveness did just receive an emphasis, at least politically speaking, with the recent COVID-19 relief bill. The provision to make student loan forgiveness tax-free was added by Senate Democrats, which is likely part of the reason our study is showing Democrats supporting loan forgiveness much more often than Republicans. Though the two parties were divided on most COVID-19 relief ideas, this was the most polarizing.
During the job search, students and recent graduates often have their dream jobs thought out. The final part of the study evaluates their desired work environments.
The top priorities of a recent college graduate really spoke to a post-pandemic world. With remote work becoming the norm, location mattered to fewer than a third of respondents. With an economic crisis in our midst, applicants were 17 percentage points more likely to prioritize salary over happiness. And more than half were just hoping to gain some experience, hopefully shaking off the lack thereof.
Though job location wasn’t respondents’ top priority, we did ask them to consider where they would like to live, and most answered with locations that typically provided most U.S. jobs from a physical office standpoint. New York City was the top choice among respondents, which is ironically a city many are fleeing. Perhaps there’s optimism for the city’s rebound, though the study didn’t see that same optimism applied to the job market.
Securing the Job
Though respondent pessimism was certainly noticeable, all was far from lost. More than a quarter of students and recent grads had already received full-time, salaried offers, while more than half were getting interviews. Moreover, the applicants that felt prepared saw their levels of optimism soar.
One way to stay prepared is to know the job market and available listings well so that when an opportunity does arise, you are ready to strike. At Joblist, we help you keep your fingers on the pulse of jobs that are right for you. We understand each applicant and job search is different, so you don’t have to be someone who de-prioritizes happiness on the search, even in a post-pandemic world. If you’re looking for work, head to Joblist today to get started.
Methodology and Limitations
We collected responses from 1,006 soon-to-be college graduates (4th year of study) and recent graduates (graduated in 2020) using Amazon MTurk and Prolific. Of the 1,006 respondents surveyed, 48.7% were female, 49.2% were male, and 2.1% identified as nonbinary. Additionally, the average age of respondents was 24 with a standard deviation of 6.1 years.
The main limitation of this study is the reliance on self-report, which is faced with several issues such as, but not limited to, attribution, exaggeration, recency bias, and telescoping. Data are solely representative of self-reported claims by college students. This survey ran in February and March 2021.
Fair Use Statement
Applicants could certainly use all the help they can get on the job hunt these days. If you know anyone you think could benefit from the findings of this study, you are welcome to share the information with them. Just be sure your purposes are noncommercial and that you link back to this page.