New College Grad Job Outlook Looks Promising for Class of 2021

Mike Segar | Reuters
  • Employers project hiring 7.2% more new college graduates from the Class of 2021 than they did from the Class of 2020, according to a report.
  • But job hunting is never easy, especially for students with little to no experience.
  • Here are some tips to help navigate a now nearly entirely virtual process.

Those armed with a newly minted diploma are entering a job market that suddenly looks a lot more promising than it did a year ago.

Employers project hiring 7.2% more new college graduates from the Class of 2021 than they did from the Class of 2020, according to a report from the National Association of Colleges and Employers.

While the rebound does not bring college hiring back to pre-pandemic levels, it does suggest some newfound optimism, thanks, in part, to increased coronavirus vaccine distribution, the reopening of businesses and steady improvement in the job market, the association said.

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Early projections also found that the average starting salaries for Class of 2021 graduates earning bachelor's degrees are expected to rise, particularly for computer science majors. 

The average salary projection for these graduates is now $72,173, up 7.1% from last year's $67,411 for the Class of 2020.

"Of course, this is due in large part to the greater need for technology in the new 'virtual world' we live and work in as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic," NACE executive director Shawn VanDerziel said in a statement.

Not only are jobs increasingly remote, but hiring is as well. Interviews set up by chatbots more than tripled in 2020, and 2.7 million people used text messaging to apply to a job, according to iCIMS, a talent acquisition software company.

"It's the new norm to be interviewed virtually," said Amanda Nachman, author of "#Qualified: You Are More Impressive Than You Realize."

Practice virtual interviews with a friend, she suggested, and test out your lighting, sound and background. "If you can, show a little bit of your personality," she said — such as books, art or your music collection — "that can be a conversation piece."

Then, dress as you would for an in-person meeting, she said, right down to the shoes.

When it comes to following up, considering going offline, Nachman advised. "You can still write a handwritten note; you will 100% stand out."

Finding work is never easy, but for students entering an uncertain job market with little to no experience, this process can pose additional challenges, said Kyle Elliott, a career coach who also works with recent college graduates.  

"Job seekers have to look at their job search differently," he said.

Grads who may have missed out on valuable internship experience over the last year should highlight the accomplishments they had in school, Elliott said, such as class projects or research reports.

Accentuate whatever it is that sets you apart, he advised. For example, "if you've done a side hustle or grown a huge social media following."

"That may not be exactly what the organization is looking for, but that's an amazing accomplishment."

There are also more online classes and training programs than ever before. Due to the pandemic, many of these skill development courses are even free or available at a low cost.  

Your resume and LinkedIn profile should include these skills or certifications, as well as any of those other accomplishments that demonstrate success.

Finally, tap your support system, which may be more substantial than you think, Elliott said. Parents, professors, family friends and an extensive alumni network can all provide a leg up.  

"People are willing to help students, you just have to ask," he said.

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