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Fresh graduates prepare to enter a work world in flux

As workplaces transformed by the pandemic negotiate a new normal, college seniors speak what they hope it will look like
(From left) Citlali Blanco, human biology major at Stanford University; Oliver Feuerhahn, business and social science major at Minerva University; Sidney Stull, communications major at Boise State University
(From left) Citlali Blanco, human biology major at Stanford University; Oliver Feuerhahn, business and social science major at Minerva University; Sidney Stull, communications major at Boise State University

Corinne Purtill   |   Published 08.03.22, 01:26 AM

The white-collar workplace has changed a lot over the past two years. Remote work has gone from a quirky perk to a common experience. Workers all the way up to the C-suite have reassessed what they want from a job. And expectations for when and where work must be done have evolved.

As executives scramble to merge remnants of the “before times” with pandemic-propelled work shifts, graduating college seniors are preparing to enter the workforce for the first time. The new normal will be their first normal.


DealBook [a financial news service by The New York Times] spoke to seniors who are graduating from universities across the US about how they envision the trajectory of their careers — where they’ll work, how they’ll work and what factors might influence their choices. Their goals, interests and outlooks vary, but nearly all anticipate careers that are less linear and more dynamic than those of generations prior.

And they’re ready for it. “I don’t care too much about change. It happens,” said Austin Rosas, 23, a Texas A&M University economics major with a minor in mathematics. “Adaptation is what matters.”

Values matter

Salaries and benefits are important. But for a growing number of younger workers, a company’s culture and values are at least as important as individual compensation. Chief among those values are diversity and inclusiveness.

“In addition to values, the impact that an organisation has will make or break my decision to begin and remain working in a particular place,” says Citlali Blanco, 22, human biology major at Stanford University, US. “My workplace will likely be within either a hospital or medical office, where I hope to see even greater equity between men and women in positions of leadership. I also hope that my workplace will be wholly inclusive and represent a diverse array of individuals, both among my colleagues and with the patients we serve each day,” says Selena Zhang, 21, computational biology major at Brown University, US.

Office hours

The sort of knowledge-based tasks referred to as “office work” no longer must be done in an office. What that looks like for every industry, company and team is in flux, often driven by employees who want to continue some of the benefits of the remote schedules imposed at the start of the pandemic. Hybrid schedules, flex schedules and work-where-you-want policies will play a much larger role in this generation’s careers.

“While I am really hoping to work in an office, I want it to be a fun one, an office where they expect me to show up on time and get my work done but allow me the freedom to be creative in my work and workspace,” says Sidney Stull, 21, a communications major at Boise State University, US.

“As someone who works in tech, I’ve largely accepted that most of my work will be done at a desk in front of a screen. On one hand, I’m excited to see all the valuable serendipitous ideas and eureka moments that have long been promised to me. On the other, I find creative work to be quite a vulnerable process, and often appreciate being at home to explore whatever I’m thinking about,” adds Oliver Feuerhahn, 21, a business and social science major at Minerva University, US.

One job vs many gigs

With pay lagging behind inflation, making ends meet is harder today than it was a generation ago. Some industries — notably finance — still put early-career employees on schedules that leave hardly enough time to shower and sleep, let alone to clock in somewhere else. “I see myself maybe doing consulting on the side. It is increasingly difficult nowadays to sustain one’s desired lifestyle without multiple streams of income,” says Stull.

Multiple careers

The accelerating pace of technological change gives birth to new fields and industries as fast as it demolishes old ones. A company or industry that’s thriving at graduation time may barely exist 20 years later. Couple that with longer life spans, and the likelihood that a current graduate will go through multiple careers in a lifetime is even higher. “I really hope to have multiple careers,” says Feuerhahn. He continues, “Realistically, I know I’ll work in a traditional-ish job until 30. Hopefully, I can shift my meaning of ‘work’ into something more project-based by 40. And by 50, start focusing on other enjoyable things in life.”

Surprises ahead

This year’s new hires have seen firsthand how quickly the world can change. It’s no surprise that most of them expect to see major shifts in companies during their careers.

Some of these are already underway. As burnout and exhaustion have pushed workers to resign in droves, more companies are accelerating efforts to factor employee well-being into organisational productivity. “I’m excited for employees to be viewed more holistically, with mental, social and physical needs that affect performance. It would be great to see workplaces promote community-building, adequate nutrition, environmental sustainability, fitness and stress reduction,” says Blanco. “I hope a four-day workweek becomes standard,” adds Wylie Greeson.


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