Thousands of college graduates will cross the stage to get their degrees this month.
They'll also be crossing into a job market that looks a lot more promising than it did a year ago.
Gavin Mitchell graduated with the class of 2020 from UT Arlington. He’s sharing his story to help the class of 2021 understand what it can be like to apply for a job during a pandemic.
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“It’s hard. It’s really hard,” he said.
Just a year ago, he went from enjoying spring break, to virtual classes, to virtual graduation all in the span of a few months.
Pretty soon, the job search was testing his patience.
“I have a list. I counted 126 jobs that I applied for over the course of two to three months. Maybe two to three percent call back rate,” Mitchell said. “I even got an email from a company that was saying normally I’d be qualified but they’re just not hiring right now."
The denials were tough to endure while applying for a job during a global pandemic but he says giving himself grace helped him through it.
“It was really hard but I tried my best to – on the day of the interview – I would wake up and say ‘OK, these are the moments that count and I’ve got to be positive for this time span,’” Mitchell said. "That’s kind of how I dealt with the sadness and frustration of the pandemic."
He said students looking for a job right now should not underestimate themselves.
“So even if you think you're maybe slightly unqualified or maybe unqualified just in general, chances are you are qualified and you should just apply for it and go for it. Because what’s the worst they can say?” Mitchell said.
Hopeful Jobs Data
Despite the hardships in the past year, there is hopeful news on the jobs front this year compared to last year.
“I think back then with the unknowns, many of the companies either canceled or delayed the internships or full-time offers. So that was really difficult to deal with. We had to talk to a lot of students through that," said Tom Kim, assistant dean and director of the Career Management Center at UT Dallas’ Naveen Jindal School of Management.
Right now, he said the job market is looking a lot better as more businesses and industries return to normal operations.
"So as we continue to start opening up businesses, we’re starting to go back to the pre-pandemic needs for goods and products and services. We are really trying to catch up from a year of missing out,” he said.
In fact, employers project hiring 7.2% more new college graduates this year than last year, according to a report from the National Association of Colleges and Employers.
"I think the DFW area is in great shape, as of all the companies that have moved into this area from other states,” said Kim.
That same report states the rebound is due in part to optimism by employers, fueled by expectations around the reopening of shuttered businesses, COVID-19 vaccine distribution, and the addition of jobs to the economy. The report said while not at the pre-pandemic hiring levels seen in 2019, the overall increase does signal strong movement in a positive direction.
Kim added that the tech industry is poised to hire more college grads, especially those in IT, data analytics and computer software programming. Other industries hiring more, in general, include health care, consulting, financial services and construction/manufacturing.
“And I think as we continue to open up, you’ll see other industries just catch on," said Kim.
Data is also showing that the average starting salaries for the class of 2021 earning bachelor's degrees are expected to rise, particularly for computer science majors.
But why college graduates?
“I think with college grads, they are going to come in with fresh ideas. They’re going to have that passion to really get into the business and learn the business. I think that’s part of it -- part of what you want as a company is to be able to teach your brand and really be passionate about what you’re doing," said Kim. "So I think that’s one of the really good qualities that you’ll see in employees who are recent college graduates."
Even after getting the job, Kim stressed the importance for new graduates not to get complacent, especially in work from home settings that are still ongoing at many companies.
“One of the things we teach our students how to manage up. How to manage up to your manager," he said. "If you’re working remote and you don’t have access to see your manager daily by walking through the hallways, then you need to create that communication to your manager so that they’re aware that you’re working diligently for the company. And making them feel confident that you are doing that work at home."
While many jobs are staying remote, students need to prepare for the interview process to stay virtual, too.
“You got to think about how competitive it is out there. You got that one chance and you want to shine in that one chance. That can’t be your practice time. So you need to do all that preparation before,” said Kim.
That includes your background, Wi-fi connection and general set up for virtual interviews.
“As a student you have to be aware of that. I think you have to be prepared to understand how remote works. You have to be ready and prepared to be on camera, have a good background set up, good lighting and good audio. And if you don’t have that the communication is not there," explained Kim. "You don’t want to go into this interview and you can’t see the face or you’re hearing every third or fourth word."
Lolin Martins-Crane, director of UT Arlington's Lockheed Martin Career Development Center, said students should also prepare for certain questions to be asked during the interview.
“I think a big question -- and I hear this from employers -- is the need for those students that are entering the job market to be able to actually have a story about what they learned, what they developed in which skills he developed in this past year," she said. "So really kind of working on that story -- this is what I gained. Yes, it was a difficult time but through it, I learned this I was able to do this. I was able to understand my tenacity, my persistence, my engagement, my high initiative, and my time management skills."
Mitchell said what helped him was dressing the part for a job interview, even if it was virtual.
“I think dressing up can affect the way you think about yourself," he said. "So if you dress up, you might feel like you’re more fit for the job or more confident for your interview."
Mitchell was able to land a great job at a local law firm thanks to his information systems degree. He will also be able to find some closure by physically crossing the graduation stage this month in make-up ceremonies for the Class of 2020 at Globe Life Field in Arlington.
“I think it will feel a little more official for my family, who is really looking forward to me graduating," he said. "My brother and I are first generation college students so it means a little more for them to see me walk the stage."
He said he wants the class of 2021 to keep applying and keep pushing. He knows how much it's worth in the end.
“You get tougher through all of it. I got tougher at least. And that’s something I think I’ll take with me the rest of my life," he said. "If I can survive a pandemic and find a job during the pandemic, hopefully I can do anything."