By Kass Williams
Career Services Coordinator
Unemployment rates for recent graduates have been relatively low over the last two years. But when COVID-19 hit, this rate jumped from 3.9% in March 2020 to 7.7% in April, climbing to a whopping 13.2% in June. This percentage is beginning to decrease, but it’s still higher than the normal unemployment rate for all workers.
If you’re a student with a graduation date in 2021, you might feel apprehensive about your future. The good news is that industries — even ones like hospitality and retail, which suffered immensely from the pandemic’s effects — are adding more jobs and adapting to the crisis. But the number of jobs added to payroll this fall don’t make up for the number of jobs we lost in March and April (22 million).
According to the New York Times, it would take 17 months for the job market to return to normal if the rate of September 2020 job creation continues steadily. Whether job creation slows, booms or sustains the same pace for the next year or so, college students will need to plan for the future.
Because the job market and economy are highly variable, career planning for 2021 will be difficult. But developing or modifying your career plan is an important step in preparing for next year. This preparation includes performing industry research, planning ahead and staying on your toes.
Make Plans for Where You’ll Live in 2021
It takes most college graduates months to find a job, even in a normal economy. I didn’t begin my first full-time position until five months after graduation, and I began applying to jobs two months ahead of time.
I never imagined I would have to live with my parents after college. But with nowhere else to stay and no plan in place, that’s exactly what I ended up doing.
There’s nothing wrong with living with family or relatives. In fact, if you can’t find a full-time position after graduation in 2021, staying with someone you know is an excellent plan. Rather than draining your bank account trying to support yourself with a survival job, you can save your money and search for a better position.
Ensuring you have a place to stay after graduation is the first thing you should investigate. You should also have backup living arrangements in case your plans change.
Consider Furthering Your Education
Unemployment rates are high, but that isn’t the only issue job seekers face. Many employers are offering lower starting salaries, combining or getting rid of positions, and advertising “open positions” that they can’t currently fill due to a lack of funds. This problem isn’t true for all industries, but could apply to industries whose employment rates have declined, such as government and private education.
For these reasons, many students have decided to postpone their 2021 graduation in favor of furthering their education. If it’s financially feasible, consider obtaining a minor or certification to pair with your degree and make yourself more marketable. By postponing your graduation date, you’ll not only acquire more education, but you’ll also have more time to find volunteer work, take an internship, or develop your skillset.
Now might also be a good time to think about grad school. If you can afford to and it would benefit your career, consider obtaining a master’s degree. It could mean a higher salary and more job opportunities down the line.
Develop a Career Plan, But Be Prepared for It to Change in 2021
If you decide not to further your education, ensure you have a career plan in place. Ideally, you should develop a career plan during your freshman year of college. But if you haven’t developed one yet, it’s not too late to do so.
While you’re planning your career, aim to set goals that are SMART: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and timely. Write your goals down on paper, then research whether your education and experience will align with them. Map out the steps you’ll need to take to reach your goals, and set deadlines to keep yourself on track and measure your progress.
If it’s more helpful, think about your career plan as a highway with roadblocks and exits. The road you’re traveling leads to your career destination, the goal you’ve worked toward over the last few years.
You might need to take extra steps after graduation to reach your career goal. These extra steps could involve volunteer work, an in-person or virtual internship, further education or certifications, or simply entry-level, work-based experience. Research your career thoroughly to know what steps you’ll have to take to reach your goal.
These opportunities might be harder to obtain during the COVID-19 pandemic. If you need to put a pause on your career plan, you might have to take an exit or detour.
For instance, if there are no positions available in your industry upon graduation in 2021, you might need to find a survival job to get by while you examine the job market. Try to find a position that will help you cultivate marketable skills as you determine what steps you’ll need to take to reach your career goal.
Remember: There is no shame in taking a part-time job or one that requires no degree. The first thing you should do is find a steady source of income. Then, you can work on:
- Turning your hobbies into income streams
- Finding side gigs that work with your schedule
- Developing your skillset in your free time, focusing on transferable skills
- Completing a micro-internship or volunteering virtually or in person
- Taking free courses, like these ones from Princeton
- Growing your network
- Researching the job market and working on your career plan
Keep Calm and Don’t Lose Hope
No one can predict how the job market will look in 2021, especially with a new presidency looming. Unemployment rates are falling, but whether we’ll be able to create enough jobs to replace the ones slashed in spring is unknown. Keep this fact in mind as you plan for the future.
To help you get an idea, take a look at what occupations are projected to grow in the United States, then determine whether your skills and education could help you land a job in one of those positions. If you’re having trouble developing a plan or performing research on your own, speak with a Career Coach. Our industry-aligned coaches can help you develop a plan for 2021 and beyond, pinpoint transferable skills, and polish your resume and interviewing skills.
About the Author
Kass Williams serves as the Career Services Coordinator, employing her communication, editing and project management skills to support the Career Services Department with content creation. She holds a B.A. in English with a Writing Concentration from Davis & Elkins College.