Students Both Optimistic and Realistic About Job Prospects

Andrew Deichler By Andrew Deichler March 29, 2021

​Despite a pandemic and a recession, most college students appear optimistic about finding jobs after graduation, according to a new survey. However, they are being realistic about the time it will take to land their ideal position and the long-term impacts of the pandemic on their career overall.

Great Expectations

In a survey of over 400 students, College Finance found that 58 percent believe they will land jobs after completing school. More students are aiming for professional-level (intermediate level or above) positions (45 percent) than entry-level roles (41 percent). However, most expect to land entry-level jobs. 

On average, students believe it will take up to six months to find a job after graduating. And only 7 percent believe that attaining their ideal job is very likely, while 23 percent said it is likely and 28 percent said it was somewhat likely. Students also have tempered expectations when it comes to planning their greater career; they believe it will take 7.3 years to obtain their dream jobs.

Nevertheless, students appear focused on achieving their goals. Fully 95 percent of respondents said they've already created a career plan. This matches with research by Tallo, an online platform that connects college students with career opportunities, which found that 94 percent of college students have created a plan.

Casey Welch, CEO of Tallo, noted that Generation Z is incredibly career-focused, at least partially because many observed their parents lose their jobs during the Great Recession that occurred between 2007 and 2009. Additionally, they may have seen older siblings struggling to enter the job market at the time, and it feels very similar to what they face right now in the current pandemic and recession. "I think this has really instilled a go-getter attitude inside them to work harder and focus on it despite the socioeconomic problems that they can't control," Welch said.

Additional Findings

The College Finance survey also revealed the perceived value of graduate school. Sixty-three percent of postgraduate students are more confident that they will land their ideal job after finishing their education, compared with 52 percent of undergraduate students. They are also more confident than their undergraduate counterparts that they will land high-paying jobs.

Breaking out students by gender, the survey found that men feel only slightly more confident than women about attaining professional-level or entry-level positions. When it comes to pay, the disparity is more obvious. Female students expect a starting salary of about $48,000, while male students expect to make $53,000 or more. And over the course of their careers, men expect to average $19,000 more than their female peers.

Family income factored into the survey in a curious way. Students who hail from households making $100,000 or more per year are the most likely to feel that they will obtain entry-level positions. Meanwhile, students from lower-income households ($45,000 or less) were the most likely to expect professional-level jobs. Additionally, students from wealthier households believe career advancement will be more difficult.

That said, 64 percent of students from wealthier backgrounds believe they will land their ideal job after graduation, compared with 57 percent of students whose households make less than $45,000 annually.

Facing Unique Challenges

While students have an overall optimistic outlook about the future, they are not blind to the long-term challenges that the pandemic presents. Asked about their greatest pandemic-related career concern, 85 percent cited damage to the economy.

Most respondents noted that the ongoing crisis could potentially hurt their ability to find a job in their chosen field or find a job at all. Thirty-nine percent even said it could have a negative impact on their long-term career prospects.

Experts say today's HR students must distinguish themselves among their peers so they have a better chance of finding a job after graduation. In addition to making good grades, it's important that students hone their soft/transferrable skills, obtain internships and/or work part-time jobs to show a potential employer that they are reliable.

"I think that ultimately, a part-time job definitely helps show a level of work ethic and commitment to an organization, especially the middle of school when you're doing all these other things," said Jonathan Gonzalez, global immigration and mobility analyst for Neustar Inc. and co-director of college relations and emerging professionals for the Virginia SHRM State Council.

Gonzalez also recommends that students and post-college job seekers expand their skill sets whenever they can; the modern work environment is highly competitive, and the pandemic has only made it more so. To that end, one skill that everyone should be refining right now is communication. Even as the pandemic hopefully nears its end and businesses begin to reopen, virtual meetings will remain and be used in ways that they weren't before the crisis.

"One area that students have to focus on is the ability to communicate over a virtual environment," Gonzalez said. "We all had Zoom and Webex before. But it is so much different to have those kinds of calls in a virtual environment. Some organizations are saying, 'We don't want anyone to put their cameras on.' And there are some organizations that are saying 'Everybody put your cameras on so we can see each other.' And so there may be different expectations depending on the organization, and the ability to communicate will be important."



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