The 2020 Job Market for Students & Grads

Each year as students graduate, we work closely with them to help them prepare for a very competitive job market. It is already hard enough for most graduates to win relevant and desirable jobs in good job market conditions. With the economic fallout of COVID-19, we know it will be even harder this year. It is hard to find another period where the tables have turned against recent graduates so quickly and aggressively. Unfortunately for new grads, in a normal year, most are unprepared to compete effectively in the job market. In fact, most students according to our surveys of recruiters receive a failing grade of on average a 3/10 on their job applications. The current landscape has raised the bar dramatically and therefore students now have to invest even more time and effort to standout and succeed.

My goal is not to be alarmist, but to give you a level-headed sense of the reality graduates will face this year. Being truthful and transparent with graduates has been a recipe for success in motivating and helping students better prepare themselves to win the best jobs. Students don’t want to hear ‘everything will be okay’, and they don’t want to hear ‘don’t worry about it’. That doesn’t drive them to reach deeper to win the top jobs. If you are preparing for a race, you need to know how fast your competition is running, otherwise you have no context for how much you need to prepare to win. We want to make it clear to students that a bar that was already high, is now substantially higher.  And as a fresh graduate entering this challenging job market, you need to make adjustments to compete effectively in a rapidly deteriorating job market.

The competitiveness of the job market is often difficult to determine from an individual’s point-of-view, but the simplest way to calculate your personal competitive odds in the job market is the equation: the number of qualified job applicants divided by the number of relevant job opportunities. So if the number of qualified applicants goes up, your odds go down, and if the number of job opportunities goes down, your odds go down even further. Unfortunately, the economic fallout of COVID-19 means both sides of the equation have been impacted for the worst.

Luckily, there are things you can do to offset these deteriorating odds. But first, lets look at the numbers will be impacted further.

Increasing Number of Qualified Applicants

The first major influx to the number of qualified applicants comes from massive layoffs because of the pandemic – and unfortunately the first casualties of mass layoffs are usually junior employees. These are disproportionately the people who graduated in the last 5 years. What this means for recent graduates is they will have to compete with an influx of individuals who have similar educational backgrounds and have several years of real-world experience. With that said, some job boards report that applicant volume is down. This is most likely because of reduced job postings with the stay-at-home orders, but there are other factors to consider. Many people who have qualified for unemployment insurance may not yet feel safe to re-enter the job market. It may also be because individuals are in a mental state of paralysis and feel that applying for jobs during this time is a pointless exercise and are waiting for the economy to bounce back before seriously applying to jobs.

Decreased Number of Job Opportunities

The reaction to COVID-19 has hit small businesses particularly hard. According to the US Census Bureau, small businesses make up 49.2% of private-sector employment. A Goldman Sachs survey of more than 1,500 small business owners found that over 50% of them believe they cannot stay in business for longer than 3 months amid the current conditions. While it’s difficult to predict the exact damage, it is easy to see that there will be a period of dramatic decline in the number of job opportunities coming out of this pandemic.

The story is not much better for larger businesses, many of these businesses have already laid off thousands of workers and have cut salaries of the remaining employees. Many other businesses, like Disney have furloughed employees, a process where they temporarily lay off workers and promise to rehire these workers later when demand returns. Unfortunately, this is just the beginning, larger businesses will continue to see degrading revenues as the trickle-down effect of more unemployment  and that will undoubtedly reduce their willingness to engage in hiring.

Small and large businesses will think about how to safeguard their core businesses until they can see a semblance of normalcy returning. Make no mistake, it will be far more difficult to land a relevant job but it is not impossible. To be seen as top talent and a desirable candidate coming out of this pandemic, you will need to embrace new strategies that makes you and your talents standout so you can separate yourself from other job applicants.

Expand your Job Search from Traditional Public Job Boards

Since there are fewer jobs, it means students now have to consider more novel means of finding opportunities in places they are not used to searching. Job seekers need to continue to search the public job boards like Monster, Linkedin, Google, and Indeed to find jobs, but not to get discouraged by the lack of opportunities available. The silver lining here is that there are many job opportunities that are not posted to public job boards. To find these jobs, you will need to go directly to employer websites and be prepared to network your way into the hidden job market. This is a much less convenient way of finding jobs in comparison with public job boards, but because these opportunities have less exposure, it means they have fewer applicants which increases your odds for success.

According to PayScale, 70-80% of jobs are not advertised. Employers fill many of these jobs through networks and referrals. For you this means you need to ensure that your personal network clearly understands your value and brand. You also need to make it easier for them to get you in front of decision makers if the opportunity arises. Having an Acadiate Showcase or Short Bio accessible to your network at all times is a great way to achieve this. Employers find filling jobs by referral is a safer bet, but their timing often don’t fit their hiring timelines.  That is why it’s sometimes effective to do your own outreach. Connect with professionals in the field. Try calling local businesses and speak to someone in the career field you are targeting. Most people are unwilling to do this, but it can be a great way to build bridges. The key is maintaining an well-targeted online presence that is easily accessed and shared.

Another place to look is within forums and community sites relevant to your profession. Many employers have found substantial success going to these niche corners of the web because industry insiders and good candidates congregate in these forums. These can be Reddit groups, professional association groups, Facebook groups, Google groups and more. As a beginner in any field it is important to identify where and how people within it communicate online. You can a do a search and research on it, but it also helpful to ask around, talk to mentors, professors, or professionals. You’ll often find there are hidden circles and niches outside of the mainstream visibility. Once you figure that out, get involved and active in these groups. You never know who could be in these spaces looking for high potential candidates. It will also keep you highly engaged and up to date on the pulse of the industry.

Double Down on Your Personal Marketing

Now that I’ve given you some ideas on where you can find additional job opportunities, it becomes even more important that you do not waste these opportunities by under marketing yourself. Building up your ability to market yourself more effectively so you can separate yourself from your peers is what will make the difference in landing a job you love and a job you settle for.

Don’t see personal marketing as a process, see it as a skill you need to invest in.

Personal marketing is one of the most important life skills you can develop. It is an investment in a skill set that will pay off time and time again.  Not only when trying to find a job but also in fast tracking your career through promotions. The ability to effectively market yourself is a skill. And like any other skill, you will start off by sucking at it and over time you will improve with practice. Practice is the key. Don‘t psych yourself out by trying to create the perfect resume, or the perfect website. Bring a growth mindset (seeing failure as a springboard for self improvement) to your personal marketing. You are going to fail repeatedly, it is part of the journey. Embrace this by leveraging fresh approaches, tactics, and strategies to see what works and doesn’t. There are many great resources you can find online to help you with this. To save yourself a lot of time, within Acadiate we have curated the best practices that we have seen make the biggest differences for new graduates. You can access these resources within your Acadiate account, under ‘Learn’. We recommend you leverage these resources because people that have adopted our best-practice foundations have seen a doubling or tripling of their appeal to recruiters out the gates.

Get Feedback

Next is getting feedback from others. We all have blinders in self-criticism. It is hard to catch our own mistakes and our own biases. When marketing yourself, you know yourself; you know all your skills, and your mind will subconsciously fill in a lot of blanks that others can’t see when reviewing your self-marketing documents. Having someone review how you are marketing yourself is essential, whether they are a friend, a parent, a mentor, or a professor. Unfortunately, in the job market you will not get that kind of feedback from employers and that leads to candidates making the same mistakes over and over for often months at a time. You need take it upon yourself to ensure you have a steady stream of feedback. Like any other skill, the more feedback you get, and the more iterations you make to your applications, the better you get.

Make your applications evidence-based

Recruiters expect that many candidates embellish or overstate their abilities on their resumes. No matter how honest your job application is, expect recruiters to be cynical. Recruiters will take most of your claims with a grain of salt. They know not everyone is hardworking, punctual, excellent communicators, trustworthy, or whatever other positive personal characteristic you claim to have on a resume. As a candidate you should think of how to get ahead of their cynicism by providing proof your competency, while others are only speaking about it. This means taking a deeper look at your resume and starting to ask yourself how can I prove this? For example, if you say you are an excellent communicator, innovative, or trustworthy, how can you provide evidence to a prospective employer? Those are all soft skills that can be demonstrated more effectively by providing a short 1-minute self-introduction video in your applications. What if you say you are an incredible graphic designer – showing an example of your work will leave a far more powerful impression. Online portfolio’s like Acadiate’s Showcase is an ideal vehicle for you to include these difference-makers in all your job applications.

The current job market for students is not optimal, but there is no competitive advantage in dwelling on it. The key message for all students is that there are still opportunities out there for those willing to put in the work to secure them. Don’t feel defeated by the current climate. Take control of your situation and seek new strategies that can provide competitive advantage. You can find a competitive advantage even in this job market by widening your job search and by taking advantage of those opportunities by making meaningful improvements to the way you market yourself for every job. Stay safe and best of luck to everyone in their job search!