Well-prepared, value-driven grads are entering a dynamic job market

Attendees interact at a recent job fair hosted by the University of Miami's Toppel Career Center.
By Michael R. Malone

Attendees interact at a recent job fair hosted by the University of Miami's Toppel Career Center.

Well-prepared, value-driven grads are entering a dynamic job market

By Michael R. Malone
Graduates looking to enter the workforce can tap resources at the University’s Toppel Career Center, along with the academic skills they have honed, to help them find that first job.

Students graduating this spring are entering one of the brightest job markets in recent memory, according to University of Miami career specialists Christian Garcia, associate dean and executive director of the Toppel Career Center, and Virginia “Ginger” Baxter, assistant dean of Graduate Career Advancement and Engagement at the Miami Herbert Business School. 

“Companies are hiring, and there is a lot of hiring going on,” Garcia said. 

Toppel celebrated the outlook for grads and cited first-year career outcome statistics for the 2021 class that documented 98 percent of students—the highest in University history—met their goals, whether securing a job, entering graduate school, starting a Peace Corps stint, or entering military service. 

Yet Garcia—who has weathered several recessions, the 9/11 terrorist attack, and waves of market ups and downs during his 21-year tenure at Toppel—emphasized that, while there are always challenges, regardless of the economic scenario, one progression holds true: “The students who are proactive and diligent, always find work. That doesn’t change.” 

He highlighted the unique challenge for this next generation of students—finding work with employers that are socially conscious and that respect the issues they care about. 

“Students today, and this started with the millennial generation, are really about work-life balance,” Garcia said. “They want to make sure that they’re going to fit. That there is a place for them to belong in the organization, that they will be supported, mentored, and connected to people who are like them and who share their values for identity, equity, and inclusion. 

“With this generation, it’s trying to help them figure out what they want to do and also to get them to understand and recognize that your first job is not the end-all, be-all,” Garcia said. 

Baxter also highlighted the rosy outlook for new college graduates and outlined several key industry trends that include virtual interviewing, flexible time arrangements, and work-life integration that are being utilized and prioritized by students. 

“While many students prefer an in-person recruiting experience, the shift to virtual interviewing is here to stay,” the assistant dean said. The virtual options lead to more interviews before a student receives the offer and more career coaching touch points. 

Prior to the pandemic, employers might have had three rounds of interviews—a phone screen with human resources, a panel interview with key stakeholders, and an individual interview with a hiring manager, Baxter noted. 

“Now with the ease of virtual interviewing and a fear that the new hire might have a short-term mindset, we’re seeing five and seven rounds of interviews before offers are extended to ensure that both sides align on fit,” she said. “Since the interviews are on the students’ time and not in-person in a career center during a specified time frame, the student is being asked to manage their own appointment calendar, which for many is challenging.” 

Another trend that employers and new college graduates are grappling with is how to offer flexible work arrangements while maintaining team connectivity, training, and growth, according to Baxter. 

“The story on in-person, remote, hybrid is still being written,” she said. “We’re in the realignment phase where employers are learning how to attract and retain new college graduates, and students are learning the language of work and how to engage across the generations in a work environment.” 

Garcia said that Toppel has made excellent headway in communicating to students that they should engage early with the center for help in sorting out their goals and interests and then maintain that connection. He credited the center’s model—explore, prepare, and connect—with fostering that success. 

“We do a lot of exploration around career assessment, some personality based, some more aptitude or interest based,” he explained. “We’re trying to expand their world view of what a career can be.” 

Garcia cited that oftentimes, students don’t recognize that their major field of study can be applied to a variety of industries and settings. The staff at Toppel can help students expand their view of the workforce, which ultimately increases the number of opportunities available to them. 

The preparation segment provides the nuts and bolts for a student’s career search—cover letters, personal statements for graduate school, and developing and critiquing their online presence. 

And a big part of Toppel’s efforts, he pointed out, is helping students connect. 

“Not just to potential employers, but to other people who can open doors for them—alumni, other peers, such as through ’Cane2Cane, an online platform,” Garcia said. The center offers two major career fairs, one in September, the other in February, but also niche career fairs—for accounting, marine atmospheric sciences, architecture, communication, STEM—throughout the year. 

Any or all of these might turn into an internship, a facet of the workplace that has become essentially invaluable for student careers. 

“Any work experience is beneficial, but the beauty of internships—when done right—is that students would be doing meaningful, team-based and project-driven work where they have a supervisor who acts more as a mentor guiding them,” Garcia said. 

The notion of an intern being hired to do cheap labor is simply an old idea. 

“Now it’s flipped. An internship is a training ground that lets student workers make mistakes,” said Garcia, adding that it’s important to expand that opportunity beyond just internships. 

Data shows that students who have at least one internship have more offers at the time of graduation and are offered much higher starting salaries, according to Garcia. 

Baxter emphasized that students at the University and other colleges get exceptional training to prepare them to succeed in the workplace, support that includes career coaching, resume reviews, interview preparation, job postings, internship connections, mentoring, and career fairs—in-person and virtual. 

“Seek opportunities that enrich your life and find leaders who inspire you,” Baxter said. “Don’t be distracted by location or pay. Be energized by taking risks, failing forward, reflecting on what went well, and celebrating the journey. The first destination is not the last destination, and as long as you develop a passion for lifelong learning and career acceleration, professional satisfaction and financial and professional rewards will follow.”

Garcia echoed the notion that the first job is, well, a first job. 

“It’s more about gaining experience and building blocks in your career,” he said. “It’s important to recognize that they’re not only going to have multiple jobs, but they are going to have multiple careers.”