College students are facing a job market unseen since perhaps the Great Recession of 2008. To take that successful first step into their professional lives, career services at universities in the Upstate are focusing on the skills that will allow graduates to be adaptable.
“The kinds of things that employers are looking for in a qualified candidate is obviously their technical skills, but really the soft skills are huge,” says Natalie Smith, assistant director of career services at Bob Jones University in Greenville.
COVID, Smith says, has provided a learning opportunity for some graduates to articulate skills such as communication, problem-solving and critical thinking that they can take forward into their careers.
That’s echoed by Hannah Terpack, director of career management at the University of South Carolina Upstate. Learning to communicate across time zones and across cultures is important as well, she says.
“Anything that our students can do to glean a better understanding of diversity, equity and inclusion … so opportunities to become more educated and socially responsible with regard to that would be exceptional, too,” says Terpack.
Back in April, employment fell by more than 22 million, when many graduates were in their last month of school and preparing for job interviews once the summer started. A survey from Axios-Harris found that 31% of respondents between 18-34 had been laid off or put on temporary leave due to the pandemic, Vice reported.
And due to the outbreak, career centers have had to take most things virtual, but that directly provides experience for students and graduates participating. A virtual interview with a career center can be extremely useful when the graduate is called for an actual virtual interview for a job. Terpack says she’s had employers also provide tips on working remotely and best practices on interviewing.
An unexpected byproduct of the pandemic allowing for so much remote work is that companies are now looking for talent outside their cities and regions, according to Smith.
Smith says a recent Bob Jones grad told her recently they had been hired for a job in a northern state. However, due to the company having to switch to remote work, they’re able to stay local in Greenville.
In the end, Smith says to “stay curious and never plateau” and focus on developing soft skills to remain attractive to future employers.
Terpack says it’s been impressive the number of students that have sought assistance from career management.
“Students aren’t as checked out, I think, as the world would have us to believe,” Terpack says. “They’re aggressive to get this knowledge.”