Graduating To What?

Phot courtesy of BigStock:JonoErasmus

Graduating college is a big deal. Typically accompanied by a celebration, a red-inked bank statement, and shiny new career. Right?

Recent grads and students poised to graduate in the coming months are charting new territory—they’re heading into a volatile workforce like never before seen. With little or no experience, entering the workforce in a strong economy can be tricky. I can’t imagine what it’s like today.

Virtual interviews, working from home—and that’s if you can land a position. By now, plenty of people have been prospected, hired, and settled into a position, without ever meeting their colleagues in person. Zoom-dressing a corner of your shared apartment and wearing a nice shirt paired with your (off-camera) basketball shorts must be a strange way to start a career.

The Harvard Business Review dug deeper. Beyond the pandemic and the common entitlement stereotype that follows millennials (their words), Harvard wanted to see what recent grads are up against.

After interviewing a number of recent graduates, The Harvard Business Review found that the main cause for struggle isn’t generational, but rather cultural. “In particular: the very significant, but typically underemphasized, cultural transition between college to the professional world. We find in our research that this culture shift plays out along at least three key dimensions: feedback, relationships, and accountability,” according to the study.

The study cites the clear, concise nature of understanding and maintaining performance metrics in college. Those expectations and metrics go out the window when students enter the professional world.

“As you might imagine, the feedback paradigm shifts entirely once a student enters the professional world. For starters, the feedback you receive at work is often less consistent and less easily decipherable than in college. Depending on your manager and your organization, you might receive very clear, detailed and consistent feedback on assignments; or you might receive feedback in an intermittent and difficult-to-decipher manner, through a quick comment here or there until you have that rare official performance review,” the study says.

As a result, according to HBR, “young professionals can experience a feedback vacuum in the professional world.” The lack of communication leaves students wondering how they can improve, or how to develop the skills they need to stay relevant.

Adding to the culture shock of joining the workforce is the fact that we’re 14 months into a global pandemic. Many employers are still facing the effects of the coronavirus pandemic; the vaccine has shed a light on the situation but we’re not out of the woods. The hiring climate across many industries remains shy. lists a number of steps graduates could use to help calibrate their expectations, at least for the short-term. From debt management, to deciding if now is the time to continue your education/professional training both make appearances on Indeed’s list, as do a few other standouts:

For one, they recommend that recent grads consider short-term, or unexpected work—at least while we wait out the pandemic. “Depending on your financial situation, it may be necessary to consider short-term work or work outside your area of expertise while employers adjust to the coronavirus spread. These jobs may not be the type of work you may have anticipated but having an extra income can help you navigate this uncertainty after graduation with more confidence. Remote and in-person jobs actively hiring right now could include customer service representatives, warehouse distribution, grocery inventory and stocking and food delivery,” according to the job finding site.

“Showing employers that you were able to adjust to this challenging situation could make your [future] application more competitive…When looking for job opportunities, prioritize transferable skills and soft skills that could support you in your chosen career path. Even if a job is not in your ideal industry, there may be opportunities to develop skills that you can leverage later when applying for future jobs. For example, complex problem solving, remote software use, defusing conflict and communication are experiences that could be added to your resume in the future.”

Another gem of advice from’s list covers the fact that the even if you can find a position, hiring is likely to be a sluggish process. “You may want to prepare yourself for slower-than-normal hiring and onboarding as employers adjust how they hire candidates for jobs. Tempering your expectations as you graduate and enter the workforce could help you as employers adjust to this new environment.”

Perhaps most interesting is the last “step.” This is where Indeed reminds recent graduates to “be proud of yourself for facing challenges that many people will never experience.” They continue, “No matter what you decide to do, it is important to acknowledge that you are facing challenges as a new graduate entering the workforce that many people will never experience. Above all, take care of yourself and the people around you as we navigate this situation together.”

And it’s not all bad news. Among the shrinking industries are those that have remained strong. Forbes points out that the tech and healthcare industries have thrived during the current conditions. The article also mentions some short-term or supplementary type work—sales and tutoring services top the list of roles that students can jump into.

As we enter the second graduation season of the pandemic, hopeful, credentialed young adults will again flood the workforce market with talent. And employers are seeing a talent pool like never before—let’s hope those two factors can come together in a meaningful way, in the short term.

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