After a Tumultuous Year, New HR Grads Look to the Future

Andrew Deichler By Andrew Deichler June 7, 2021
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After a Tumultuous Year, New HR Grads Look to the Future

​After three semesters that took place mostly online for many college students, graduation in 2021 looks a little different from previous years. But even after a very unusual final year, young human resource professionals are optimistic as they take the next step in their careers.

Graduating in the COVID-19 Era

The COVID-19 pandemic forced many colleges to hold classes virtually. As a result, many students felt disconnected and isolated. According to a fall 2020 study by researchers at Boston University, 83 percent of college students said the pandemic had impacted their mental health in a negative way.  

Overall, HR graduates' perceptions of the past year are varied. Most of them appear excited about their prospects but found their final year to be somewhat bittersweet.

Jalen King
Jalen King

Jalen King, who just earned his master's degree in HR from Goldey-Beacom College in Wilmington, Del., found taking classes online to be a bit of a shakeup but understood the necessity of it. "I can definitely say that I'm someone who loves the human interaction," he said. "But at the time, it was the safest thing to do to interact with people virtually. So it was the best thing. It was a little bit of an adjustment process, but I definitely was able to get the hang of it and made it to the end."

Alana Wilson, who earned her bachelor's degree in business administration with an HR concentration at Marian University Indianapolis, also missed the human interaction. "My senior year, I got to be the chapter president of SHRM [Society for Human Resource Management] on campus, which was a lot of fun but a little bit disappointing, just because this past year, a lot of classes at Marian were hybrid or online," she said. "I personally took all of my HR classes my senior year online."

Alana Wilson
Alana Wilson

In particular, Wilson missed in-person networking where she could learn from alumni who have moved on to HR roles. "I'm really big on networking," she said. "At the beginning of my junior year, I started going on what I called 'networking dates.' I would connect with a couple different professionals on LinkedIn who were in HR here in Indianapolis, or I would get contacts from my professor for previous alumni who had graduated and just pick their brain on why they're in HR and what HR looks like in their particular company."

Other students had more of a hybrid experience. Tyler Thompson, SHRM-CP, recent graduate of the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, explained that nearly all his classes were online during the fall 2020 semester. But during the spring 2021 semester, in-person classes had largely resumed and he had only one virtual course. When working virtually, he longed to be in a classroom. But once in-person classes resumed, he missed not having to commute. Still, he prefers in-person learning. "I'd rather have that face-to-face connection," he said.

Alexandra Cafferty, SHRM-CP
Alexandra Cafferty, SHRM-CP

Yet for some students, switching to an online or hybrid model wasn't a dramatic change at all. Alexandra Cafferty, SHRM-CP, who just earned her master's degree in strategic human resource management at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Conn., explained that her school uses a "tri-modal delivery system" for its classes. Even before the pandemic, students were able to choose how they wanted to attend classes. "Having that tri-modal delivery system really appealed to me," she said. "I was able to choose, so if traffic was bad one day, I could just watch the class at home. So I liked having that flexibility from the beginning."

Next Steps

Even with 2020 and early 2021 being a period of great uncertainty, the future looks bright for many recent HR graduates. Cafferty began her professional HR career in 2019 when she took on the role of human resource specialist at Alliant, a provider of audience-targeting services based in Brewster, N.Y. King has also started his HR career, working as a human resource administrator for Herr Foods in Nottingham, Pa.

Wilson just started a job as a development assistant at Pedcor Investments, a developer of affordable housing in Carmel, Ind. Although it's not a formal HR role, she expects it to eventually transition into one as she takes on more responsibilities. "Within my role, there are a lot of things that touch on HR," she said. "My vision and hope for growth within this company would be to move into an HR role, since they do not have a formal HR department."

Tyler Thompson, SHRM-CP
Tyler Thompson, SHRM-CP

Thompson is set to take up a role as senior HR assistant at Amazon in Memphis, Tenn. As Memphis is a city where he doesn't know anyone, he's thankful that he'll be in the office instead of working virtually. "I feel like being in person is how you make connections and start building your network in your new city," he said.  

Thompson also just earned his SHRM-CP credential immediately after graduation. He sees it as a great time for students to do so, given that they still have that student mindset that might be difficult to revert to later on in a career. "I thought, 'I'm still in the test-taking mode right now. I'm still in my school train of thought.' And so, I did it just a couple days after graduation," he said.

Alternatively, young professionals who are planning to go to graduate school may benefit from waiting to take the exam until after they've taken some classes at that level. Cafferty earned the certification in the final year of her master's program and has advised classmates to do the same. "I've been advocating to everyone in my class to take the SHRM-CP exam now because all that knowledge is so fresh in your mind and you can pass it with flying colors," she said.

A Little Help from SHRM

Many HR graduates credit their involvement with their SHRM chapters for helping them truly understand the HR profession and propelling their careers forward. "Getting into SHRM on campus and learning more about the different opportunities there was really the catalyst for how I got into HR," King said. "I saw the different opportunities that [SHRM] can bring."

Recent HR graduates encourage students to be proactive to get the most out of SHRM while they're in school. For example, Wilson advises students to network as much as possible because it can pay off in the end. "Join your SHRM chapter, join any SHRM group on social media and go to the different events," she said. "I found my current position through networking. Don't be afraid to reach out to people, because you never know what doors somebody could open for you."

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