Published: May 8, 2020 By

Graduate students entering the job market face unprecedented challenges from a slowing global economy, a raging pandemic and record unemployment. 

Career advisors

Alaina Nickerson, left, and Cat Diebel-Wilson, right

If you are a grad student beginning your job search during these chaotic times, the Office of Career Services offers a variety of resources, whether you are interested in a career in academia or want to explore the broad range of industry employment options. 

Advice from Cat Diebel-Wilson, a career development advisor for graduate students in Career Service is: Don’t panic. Be proactive. Advisors in career development keep a finger on the pulse of what is happening in the world of work and what your most effective job search strategies should be now.

“COVID-19 is affecting academic hiring,” Diebel-Wilson said.

Opportunities in academia have already been shrinking for the past 30 years. Some academic sectors are contracting dramatically. That’s a real problem for some of our graduates. Graduating into any kind of contraction of the job market is really hard. A lot of students decide that the best way for them to have the kind of future they imagine for themselves is to look for a job in industry. We provide a lot of support helping them figure out what kind of industry jobs they want to apply for and how to navigate the job search outside of the academy. The good news is that a lot of advanced degrees are widely applicable to industry.”

Advisors recommend evaluating your skills gap for the work you want to do. Consider taking a related, temporary job that will help you build the skills in which you’re deficient. Though virtually every sector is damaged, there is still opportunity for meaningful work. Sectors that have seen the lowest market contraction are education, technology, health care and biotech.

It’s about broadening how you look at the skills you obtained during this degree as they might apply to industry jobs, asking yourself, “Why am I qualified for this particular position?”

“Our students are very qualified,” Diebel-Wilson said. “The disconnect comes when they try to market their skills in more academic terms. One of the first things we do is coach them on how to use the right language to talk about themselves and their skills for an industry position.”

Pay attention to the language and terms being used in the job ad and mirror that in the way you describe your past work and accomplishments, advisors say. When applying to industry, make sure the recruiter sees that you understand the scope, focus and application of skills in the role. When they see your application, they must think, “This person understood what I’m looking for and is offering that.”

Being proactive in the job search means showing ingenuity and flexibility, managing short-term expectations around the job search, and approaching this as an opportunity to build your resilience and creativity. Ingenuity and flexibility in your job search may mean having more than one possible career in mind so that you are able to seize opportunities without feeling constrained to a single course of action. 

Managing your expectations goes along with flexibility. If you need a job quickly, you might have to accept one that relies heavily on proven skill sets. You can fall back on those established skills while you get creative about expanding the skills that will allow you to pivot your trajectory. Do a skills gap analysis now to know what you need to build on, using that information to strategically select projects or roles that will allow you to expand those skills that will make you a great candidate for your target role. 

Resilience and creativity will help you get through the current situation and benefit you professionally once the crisis has passed.

You don’t need a whole new degree, Diebel-Wilson advised. Pick up skills through online classes, gigging, volunteering or taking on new projects at your current job. 

“Send out fewer applications, but make each one significantly better than if you were pushing out 20 a week,” she said. “Make each one the best you can put out. And a purpose-written cover letter. I’m seeing movement in the job search for the students I’ve been working with. People are still getting interviews and getting jobs. That makes me hopeful there will be movement for everybody’s job search.”

Experts tend to look to previous recessions when forecasting market movement during this time and in advice regarding best practices for the current job search. The advice was to carefully tailor applications. While that’s sound advice in any job search, it is crucial now as competition for jobs increases.

A big change since the 2008 recession is the growth in online professional networking sites and online job sites. Students can improve their chances by being findable on professional presence sites such as LinkedIn, Handshake, and even field-specific sites such as GitHub or academic collaboration and research sites like ResearchGate.

The good news, according to Career Services, is that the Colorado economy was very strong going into this recession, and the market contraction was imposed in response to the pandemic. Experts anticipate that the economic recovery will be quicker than in previous recessions that stemmed from economic weakness. The Federal Reserve is bolstering the economy through stimulus packages, small-business aid and extremely low interest rates. These moves help job opportunities rebound, as well. 

For more information about searching for jobs, visit Career Services