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“Plan, prepare, and persist,” MSU career services expert advises students

2020 marks the 50th anniversary of The Collegiate Employment Research Institute at Michigan State University and the 50th addition of its annual trends in campus recruiting survey. It's also the 25th year that Phil Gardner has led the institute and surveyed thousands of employers globally to assess the job market for new graduates and those seeking internship and co-op employment. 

“We started in 1970 with people like Jack Shingleton and Patrick Scheetz,” says Gardner. “They saw that they could add information and understanding to the broader community in college recruiting. The survey has continued to grow and evolve.”

Gardner says the pandemic is having a dramatic impact on the college labor market.

“It’s changing how companies recruit. The virus makes it very difficult for companies to decide on what their hiring needs are. There's a group of employers that have no choice but to hire, and they're hiring. Their businesses are going to go on whether we have a virus or not. Some sectors seem to be weathering this better. Then we have sectors that are completely being crushed by the virus.”

Recruiting on campus is different now. And he explains why associate degrees are faring better. He says some companies of all sizes are hiring.

“Twenty five percent of employers that typically would be on campuses are riding this out. They're not going to hire this year, or they're waiting until January, February, maybe even March before they decide if they're going to hire anyone. About 42 percent say they are going to lower their hiring, which is a significant number. We haven't seen that since we started coming out of the recession in 2008. Another 30-some percent that are increasing hiring are balancing that out. 

“So there's a lot of uncertainty that makes these numbers kind of mucky. 

“Around the country, employers are hiring community college students, particularly those coming out of applied technologies like computer science, IT, and health technicians. It's kind of sad that a lot of the community colleges have taken big enrollment hits at a time when there's probably going to be a demand for those students, depending on the regional economic activities around those community colleges. If there's any bad news in here, it's for MBAs. The market is down quite a bit. It's typical in an economic recession to see MBAs go in a swoon like that. It's a questionable investment if you don't have a lot of work experience to justify that MBA at this time. 

“Students have to be prepared and they have to be ready and they have to be persistent. The job market is going to open and unfold in dramatically different ways over the next nine months. It could go along very well for a while and then all of a sudden shut down. Students have to be prepared. They can't get discouraged.

Employers are active out there. And the students have to be prepared, too, because there's a lot of labor out there that's now displaced, and that it makes it easier for employers to find experienced laborers. They don't have to rely on new college labor as much. So, just to sit there and wait for employers to come to you is not going to work this year. In fact, even the recruiting strategies aren't even suited to that anymore.”

Gardner talks about the new blend of in-person and virtual strategies for recruiting. The use of digital platforms in recruiting isn’t new, but its use is increasing. Employers say there are pros and cons to virtual recruiting.

“Employers and students still like to engage with each other face to face in person. But they know virtual interactions will continue to increase.

“Students have to understand that the pandemic will change how they go about looking for work. It's never been truly a passive activity. Students who are more proactive tend to do better and faster. It's certainly going to be much more proactive on the student's part to reach out and figure out how to use these technologies and how to use the information that they can glean from, say Handshake at Michigan State or Simplicity at their campus, to identify employers and do their research and then make the contacts and be ready and prepared to talk to them in ways that they haven't before. And this is not going to go away the minute the virus is over and everybody's going to happily come back to campus. This is accelerated adoption of technologies that we predicted would happen, but maybe on this soon. Now I think we're going to see it accelerate and happen much faster.”

About half the companies surveyed expect most work to stay virtual at home. And many assignments will be virtual.

“It could be that new hires will come in and spend a couple weeks at a facility. They'll get an assignment that will have them work remotely, and then when they finish that they may come back in and work with the team in-person for six months on a project and then rotate out back out to more remote work. 

“So what it really does now is combines a whole bunch of divergent skills in a new package, in a new way. You've got to be able to work effectively virtually. You have to prioritize your time. You have to prioritize your work assignments because working virtually, it's really hard to all of a sudden pick up something new that just happens to come into the office or something that has to be handled right away. Employers find that doesn't work very well virtually.

“Overlying everything are broad power skills that are more grounded in culture and values and attitudes and behaviors that emerge out of how you approach work, how you work effectively with others, and how you do all that is going to still be critically important. And employers acknowledge that. I think that's going to be their biggest challenge in recruiting as we see more and more students having to do remote work as part of their internship. You lose the opportunity to build relationships and instill the organizational culture.

“We're in this flux period of how we're going to balance this remote work, which more and more of us are going to do. Everybody likes to be in an office and see people every once in a while. I think you're going to see a much more rotational kind of schedule.  

“It's about attitude. It's about being flexible and adaptable. A lot of students may have anticipated that they were going to do certain kind of jobs when they graduate. It may not be possible for them to do that, and so employers are encouraging them to be flexible and open minded about what the opportunities are. These jobs may not be what exactly they wanted, but they may open paths to where they want to go. 

“When it gets down to it, it's a mantra used much during the recessions in 2000 and gain in early 2008. You have to plan. You've got to start early and be prepared. That means you've got to do your research. You've got to think about how you're going to interview differently. You have to persist. That may not be easy. If you're in computer science, you're probably going to have a lot more opportunities than others. Still, every student has to plan for this. It's plan, prepare, and persist. That’s the message right at the moment. 

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