As a high schooler enters college, or a college graduate enters the workforce, there is a preconceived blueprint of how one’s life should look. Reality check! As a recent college graduate, I thought I had a definitive timeline of how my professional career would unravel. Unfortunately, a global pandemic, virtual learning, canceled internships, and an absence of social functions were not in my five-year plan. If I were to share one piece of advice for anyone going through a life adjustment during a global pandemic, it would be: adaptation is everything.
The pandemic heightened various benefits of a digital-first world and now there is a clear opportunity for higher education systems to make a change. Today’s college students are fairly tech savvy. College and Universities could better position their students for success by utilizing video features that are used for digital interviews, virtual meetings, and other unforeseen circumstances (such as a global pandemic requiring fully virtual communication). In my personal experience, all interviews I had in 2021 were virtual and prior to those, I had received no guidance on how to succeed in a virtual format. This gap is a clear opportunity for higher education systems to adapt and support their student’s success post-graduation.
The Gap in Today’s Higher Education System
College professors and collegiate courses provide a great deal of applicable and valuable advice and direction. From their personal experiences and knowledge of new approaches, they administer a foundation to help set us, university students, up for success. Despite their valiant efforts to further our education, there is often a divide between required coursework, post-grad preparation and the job application process.
Inside Higher-Ed shared insight from the Professor of History at the University of Texas at Austin, Steven Mintz. In the article, “Better Connecting College and Career”, he discusses this gap, along with strategies to avoid this challenge by implementing collegiate courses to identify strategies and potential obstacles when making this transition. He states, “I suspect that many students could do better if our institutions provided them with more information about employment opportunities and gave them straightforward ways to build their skills.” This course adjustment would reduce the tremor that rejection brings to students while providing useful tools to maximize their future transitions no matter the obstacles they may face. As digital learning and working continues to progress, implementation of virtual processes is the perfect opportunity for higher education to initiate this adjustment.
Self-adaptation: A Necessary Shift
Adapting from all in-person affairs to a fully digital world had a different effect on everyone. Business professionals had to find new ways to handle everyday business, education professors created new teaching material via virtual tools, and student’s undeniably adjusted 180 degrees to fully virtual learning. As a college student who has now completed multiple semesters in person, fully virtual, as well as a hybrid style of learning, I felt quite comfortable with radical adjustments. Despite my confidence in the ability to adapt, as I began my post-graduation job hunt, I quickly saw my initial courage begin to dwindle.
Despite the number of shifts in the higher education system to ease the transition from graduating college to entering the workforce to virtual adjustments, this change became more difficult than I believe instructors originally anticipated. For many 2021 graduates, myself included, the pandemic made it difficult to secure a professional internship before graduating college. Understanding that many students were left in a similar situation surprisingly did not bring any comfort to the situation. As I began seeking a full-time position, not only did I not have corporate work experience, but I also had minimal familiarity working in a virtual setting. Even with my few virtual semesters, I was hesitant to seek out virtual interviews and zoom meetings with unknown professionals and had a fear of conducting day-to-day responsibilities with no in-person preparation.
Virtual Settings Create New Opportunities
I began to have a skeptical, pessimistic outlook on finding a career, but I was determined to make a change. My first step forward was attending a fully virtual job fair and one-on-one informational sessions with different employers. Although these were not interviews that led to job opportunities, the virtual communication practice helped me gain confidence in making connections fully online. I also began speaking up more in my Zoom classes to grow my comfortability in virtual communication. Lastly, I began expanding my job search to in-person, hybrid, as well as fully virtual job opportunities, to boost my chances of securing a position. Fortunately for me, improving my virtual communication and digital confidence paid off as I soon received a hybrid style internship for which I had conducted all interviews virtually.
Higher education systems should better emphasize the importance of job fairs and practice interviews, in both virtual and in-person settings. This adjustment will allow students to regain readiness and gain initial confidence before the job application process begins. Even as the world begins adjusting back to a new “normal”, it is evident that virtual learning, working, and communication will continue to exist in our everyday lives. I am hopeful that the higher education system will better identify these underlying issues and continue to work towards bridging the gap for students entering the unpredictable process of joining the workforce.