College grads seek remote tech jobs, but are their expectations realistic?
It’s graduation season, which means a wave of new graduates will enter the workforce over the next few weeks.
But 2023 may prove a rocky entry for graduates. This particular cohort studied during a pandemic and are entering the workplace at a time when businesses are grappling with the arrival of artificial intelligence and hybrid work setups.
These graduates started college in 2019, mere months before the Covid-19 pandemic hit. So most of their college time has been spent in a hybrid capacity, until their senior year when restrictions were relaxed. However, studying remotely or in a hybrid capacity has meant that in-person interaction has fallen to the wayside. Plus, during their college years, the tech industry was at its peak, making students keen to join it and benefit from the industry’s fast growth and impressive salaries.
Today, it’s a different picture. There has been a layoff bloodbath across the tech industry for most of 2023, which is the time college students usually apply for jobs. That, paired with the generation’s loss of soft skills, could potentially set them up for a harder transition into the workforce than previous classes.
Yet, they are still eager to find roles that work for them. Between January 2021 and March 2023, searches for “entry-level jobs with little human interaction” have surged by 3,800%, while searches for “how to find legitimate remote jobs” grew by 1,600%, keyword research company Semrush found in a recent study.
“This aligns with shifts in workplace preferences we have been witnessing over the last several years, which the next generation of professionals is certainly contributing to,” said Eugene Levin, president of Semrush.
Reyhan Ayas, a senior economist with workforce analytics company Revelio Labs, agrees. “We have seen our data over and over again, no matter how we dissect it or look at it, workers do like remote jobs,” said Ayas.
It’s no secret that remote work is attractive to the newest workers. There has been rapid growth of remote job sites like justremote.co and collegerecruiter.com, which claim to have grown by 685% and 886%, respectively, from January 2021 to March 2023.
And yet, many believe that a person’s first job is the best time to take advantage of mentorship and collaboration face-to-face. “It’s a really tough dichotomy between the freedom that remote work allows and the need for mentorship and guidance, not just from a supervisor, but from your peers and business stakeholders,” said Conor Jensen, field chief data officer at AI platform Dataiku. “It’s a real struggle. When I look at my formative years, I was on site everyday.”
However, Gen Z isn’t like previous generations. For starters, this cohort is used to working remotely after years of remote school and so may prefer to stick with what they know. And they’re not likely to compromise as much as previous generations when it comes to picking the right employer for them.
“Some likely want to work independently, while others are fine to interact with people, but only wish to do so virtually or on their own terms,” said Levin.
Some jobs in tech could fit the bill for having little human interaction. When it comes to popular college majors, computer and data science have seen huge growth in recent years. Research from Revelio Labs found that enrollment in computer science increased by over 140% in the past decade. This general trend suggests that universities are focusing more on subjects with a direct path to an occupation, and less on generally academic subjects such as liberal arts and humanities.
“Tech jobs are definitely appealing for students, because of the opportunities and flexibility these roles provide, and how good it looks on a young professional’s resume,” said Levin. “These types of roles, typically higher paying than other industries, would also be desirable amidst soaring interest rates, high inflation and other global uncertainties, which are impacting all job searchers right now.”
However, Ayas says a new graduates checklist might not be checked off as quickly as they’d hope during the job search. Their latest research found that the job market is tougher right now than it was two years ago.
“Two years ago, if you were graduating, it was an excellent time to get a job and really good pay,” said Ayas. “2023 graduates are actually facing a more challenging job market. In terms of sectors that are hiring, tech has slightly fallen, which means there are less jobs this year than last year. There’s the job demand side where people thought they’d graduate with a degree in computer science and get a job at Google. All the graduates are looking for AI and remote jobs, but it’s a tough labor market.”
That’s why Jensen says that graduates trying to enter the field of tech need to be diligent about putting their best foot forward and managing their expectations.
“Grads can be overly idealistic about what they’re looking for,” said Jensen. “There’s a disconnect here. There’s a certain amount of realism that coming into that first job, you need to build the foundational skills and the foundational understanding of what the business does, how it works, all of those sorts of things. That takes time. Sometimes new grads come in and have a picture of what it’s going to look like and reality will always disappoint us no matter what we thought.”
While some folks might want a remote job with little human interaction, Jensen says that data science requires more collaboration than you might think. Soft skills still need to be cultivated, even in these types of roles.
For most workplaces, a positive attitude and a hunger to learn are prized attributes in all new hires, across all industries. And in tech, that willingness to learn is critical given the industry’s fast pace.
“Having the willingness to put in the time to understand what the business is trying to do pays more dividends than any of the technical skills,” said Jensen. “That little bit of being willing to learn and work and knowing you’re not going to spend 80% of your time sitting there writing Python functions of fun algorithms is a dose of reality that I don’t think the university programs do a good job of imparting.”