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Post-College Career Advice for the Class of 2020

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Congratulations on earning your bachelor’s degree! Your hard work and persistence propelled you to this milestone and prepared you well for your next step. Unfortunately, for so many recent bachelor’s graduates, that next step may have been significantly affected by the emergence of the pandemic. A recent survey found that 3 in 4 graduating students had their post-grad work or internship plans cancelled or shifted to remote work because of COVID-19. In these challenging times, what’s the best post-college career advice for the class of 2020?

Historically, many college students who graduated into a recession have had to settle for lower paying jobs at less prestigious companies than people who graduated even just a year earlier. And the truth is, how you start your career can have a lasting impact on your long-term career trajectory. Research on graduates of the last recession shows that the impact of graduating into an economic downturn—including higher unemployment, lower pay, and worse job prospects—can linger for as long as 10 or 15 years.

What should you do? First, don’t despair—despite the headlines, there are work opportunities for you out there, as well as opportunities to improve your employability that don’t include looking for a job right now. Rest assured, there are things you can choose to do now to begin your career on the right foot and set yourself up for long-term success.

Here are three paths forward for you to consider:

Dive in and commit wholeheartedly to the job search

Searching for a job right out of college is never easy, but it’s going to be especially tricky right now. Here are some things you can do in your job search to improve your chances of success:

  • Engage with (and listen to) your university’s career services office. Especially in this time of crisis, it is not uncommon to feel a sense of paralysis about even getting started. If you feel like this, a great place to turn to is your school’s career services office, which generally extends resources to recent graduates. They can counsel you and help you access tools to develop a game plan.
  • Adjust your goals and reset your expectations. Job searching in times like these means widening your net a bit. Think beyond your major or any one industry, type of company, or location. Be open minded about short-term opportunities; they’ll give you much needed experience and could potentially lead to a full-time position.
  • Network to make the dream work. Use this time to make contacts. Leverage your university network and engage with alumni who are open to networking conversations and informational interviews. Connect with your former classmates from earlier graduation years. Remember to be a generous networker: effective networking is not just about finding ways people can help you but also about how you can assist others.
  • Find volunteer activities to add experience and depth to your resume. Committing time to a worthwhile volunteer activity is a great way to add experience and skills to your resume while also demonstrating what you care about. Volunteering also expands your network and will give you something positive to focus on during what could be a prolonged job search.

Learn an in-demand skill through an online short course

Another positive, proactive thing you can do while job searching is take an online short course, commonly known as a MOOC (massive open online course). MOOCs are an accessible, affordable, and flexible way to learn new skills online; available through providers like edX and Coursera, they are often delivered in partnership with a university. They typically enroll hundreds or thousands of students at a time, have open enrollment, and are self-paced.

MOOC options vary considerably, so you’ll need to do your homework before picking one. You can take a single course or potentially take a series of courses that results in some form of credential. MOOCs are available on a wide variety of subjects, especially in-demand professional skills like data analysis, computer programming, and leadership.

MOOCs can be valuable skill building tools, but keep in mind that you’ll get out of it what you put into it. The average completion rate for MOOCs is just 5-15 percent, meaning the vast majority of people who start one don’t finish it. If self-motivation and accountability aren’t your strong suits, consider realistically whether this is a good option for you.

Can taking a MOOC increase your employability? Survey data suggests that while employers see MOOCs as a skill builder, they don’t view MOOCs as a substitute for a degree program. The Graduate Management Admission Council’s (GMAC) annual Corporate Recruiters Survey found that when evaluating talent, just six percent say they’d characterize short courses, micro-credentials, and MOOCs as a substitute for a graduate business degree. More often, recruiters see MOOCs as a professional development tool (45% of corporate recruiters), a tool to explore a personal interest (39%), or a method to gauge interest in a topic or subject area (38%).

Stay in school for a year and earn a business master’s degree

A proven path to improving your employability is to invest in a graduate business school degree. That same recent survey of corporate recruiters found that 9 in 10 are confident in business schools’ ability to prepare students to be successful employees in their organization.

And the employability of graduate degree holders is holding fast during COVID-19 crisis, according to a new survey by the Strada Education Network. Among people who have lost jobs, hours, or income as a result of the pandemic, graduate or professional degree holders are more likely to have started a new job in the past month (51%) than people with a bachelor’s degree (30%), associate’s degree (28%), some college education (26%), or a high school diploma or less (29%).

Pre-experience business master’s programs are designed specifically for recent bachelor’s graduates like you. In just a year, you can earn a Master in Management degree and learn a broad-based, general management curriculum; or you can opt for a specialized program like a Master in Finance, Master in Accounting, or Master in Data Analytics and develop your expertise in a specific field or function.

Pursuing a business master’s immediately would allow you to skip the fierce competition and heartache of the current job market; instead you will spend the next year in school and begin your job search in a hopefully more favorable market—in an even stronger position with a master’s degree in hand.

How you start your career has a lasting impact. Earning a business master’s degree enables your strong start by giving you the skills, resources, and connections to land a great position and be a contributor very quickly. What’s more: business master’s graduates rise the ranks faster than their peers. The majority of corporate recruiters in Europe (69%), Asia Pacific (67%), and the United States (60%) agree that business school graduates tend to have a fast-track to upper level positions in their organization.

How much do business master’s graduates earn? See their average starting salaries here!

Career advice for the class of 2020

Only you can determine what’s truly the best way forward for your career from this point forward. But given all the uncertainty right now, your safest bet may be to sit out the current job market and spend the next year boosting your employability with a business master’s degree. Taking this time to invest in yourself through a reputable, in-demand business master’s degree will enable you to start your career strong and on your own terms. 

Above all, don’t panic. Though times may seem stressful now, you will get through this. Plus, coping with a recession will make you more resilient in the long run—a quality that is essential for success in any field.

There are more than 3,500 business master’s programs in Program Finder here on mba.com. Start your journey to business school now!

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