A Working World Altered By COVID-19 Beckons; Is the Class of 2021 Ready?

Forgive the college class of 2021 for feeling a twinge of anxiety as they prepare for their final semester of studies.

2021-graduateThey have arrived at their future, and it’s a hollow image of what they envisioned when they so carefully and excitedly chose colleges and majors just a few short years ago.

With an economy that’s unsettled, many of these young people are left to wonder whether all their preparation will be rewarded when they soon begin a potentially challenging hunt for a job in their chosen field.

Add to that a pandemic that altered the rules and realities of the workplace, and it’s a strange new world indeed.

But rather than despair, these soon-to-be graduates should focus on those things they can control, and try not to worry about those they can’t, says Bob Slater, co-author with his son, Nick Slater, of Look Out Above! The Young Professional’s Guide to Success (www.bobandnickslater.com).

“We often can’t control whether we achieve the outcomes we seek,” he says. “But we always can control the effort and attitude we bring to an opportunity or problem.”

With that said, the Slaters offer a few tips to help the class of 2021 navigate these unusual job-hunting times:

  • Accept that you may not work in a trendy office – or any office. Admit it. In the best of all possible worlds you expected – or at least hoped – to work in an office with gym equipment, ping-pong tables, a coffee bar, and eccentric co-workers who would keep you entertained and motivated.  “You may need to reset your expectations since so much of the workforce has gone remote, and some businesses plan to keep it that way,” Bob Slater says. “You may only on rare occasions see your co-workers in person.”
  • Expect more autonomy. The good news about jobs without offices is you could have more autonomy than you ever dreamt about. Certainly, supervisors will expect production and will check in to nudge – or shove – you along. But with remote work, no one is a mere cubicle away, ready to peer over your shoulder. Of course, with great autonomy comes great responsibility, to tweak a Spider-Man phrase. Make it easy for your manager, Nick Slater says, by monitoring your email, text, and phone messages frequently so a short-tempered boss doesn’t have to wait hours for you to respond to questions or instructions. Also, routinely keep your boss informed. Send an “FYI – No Reply Needed” email saying what you worked on – or will work on – today.
  • Be prepared to get vaccinated. Here’s something your older sisters and brothers didn’t worry about when they graduated – pandemic-prompted inoculations. Perhaps you’re debating whether to get the COVID-19 vaccine. “If so, know that your personal views on needles and vaccines are just part of the equation,” Nick Slater says. “Your employer could require proof of vaccination, especially if you have to go into a physical workplace.” Can employers do that? The short answer is yes, although there are caveats. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission recently updated its COVID-19 guidelines to include vaccination information, and those guidelines do allow for employer-required vaccinations.

Finally, the Slaters caution that it’s not unusual for fresh college graduates to experience some initial workplace disappointment.

You studied for anywhere from four to eight years anticipating the day you would become a doctor, accountant, TV journalist, business professional, graphic artist, teacher, or whatever career you had your sights on.

Suddenly, reality doesn’t mesh with your expectations. Mundane daily tasks no one mentioned in all your classwork become a drain on your energy. The profession seemed a perfect fit for you in theory, but in actuality that fit seems a bit off-kilter. Do you ditch everything or ride it out?

Bob Slater recommends giving your chosen vocation a fair shot. After all, you made quite an investment in getting there.

“No job is likely to be the nirvana you imagined or hoped for,” he says. “Plus, it may be that, as a young professional, you just haven’t yet found your true niche within your chosen career. To find your niche you may have to move laterally, or even downward for a time. Think of your path not as a corporate ladder that only goes up or down, but as a jungle gym where lots of paths lead to your desired destination.”

Bob and Nick Slater

Bob and Nick Slater

Bob Slater and Nick Slater (www.bobandnickslater.com) are the co-authors of Look Out Above! The Young Professional’s Guide to Success. Bob Slater is a former trial lawyer and helped build two national real estate companies. He has taught undergraduate and MBA students for 15 years at the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler School of Business and Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. Nick Slater, an attorney, entrepreneur, and writer, is a graduate of the University of Georgia and holds a law degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Nick currently lives in London with his wife and their English bulldogs.

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