Yellow graphic with person on computer in background, headshot of Courtney Arguello and text for Setbacks in Career Development Aren’t a Reflection of Your Capabilities

Setbacks in Career Development Aren’t a Reflection of Your Capabilities

by Courtney Arguello and Marilyn Harris

While recent college graduates face a uniquely challenging job market, the number of job postings on has recently increased by 22%. In addition, 30% of employers indicate they plan to hire more recent college graduates according to survey data from the National Association of Colleges and Employers. In the brightest note, according to a LinkedIn report, some of the top growth industries in 2021 are healthcare, technology, and education – the same three areas that Wave-Makers generally gravitate towards.

In this month’s College Success Institute Q&A, Courtney Arguello, lead career and alumni coach of Making Waves Foundation’s College and Alumni Program, or CAP, discusses the challenges and opportunities for newly degreed Wave-Makers.

It has been over a year since the pandemic turned our world upside down. What changes have you noticed in Wave-Makers’ approach to career development?

While it seems as if the job market is on the rise, we cannot dismiss the uncertainty and challenges that the Class of 2021 faced alongside their fellow college graduates of the Class of 2020. For some, balancing work, school, and other competing responsibilities may have pushed away career development. For others, they have explored opportunities, expanded their networks, enhanced their skillsets, and/or have decided that they are right where they need to be. One thing is for certain, Wave-Makers have remained resilient in balancing work, school, and other responsibilities, while still moving forward in developing a vision for themselves beyond college graduation.

Current college students and recent college graduates have begun to really shift their thinking about how to use the resources and support networks that are available to them to gain the skills needed to be competitive applicants. Whether it is completing a certificate on LinkedIn, reaching out to alumni for informational interviews, or understanding how the skills they already have can be transferable, you can see the change happening where students are no longer thinking about career development as having to be linear, but multidirectional.

What new soft skills have emerged that students and alumni should take into consideration as they enter the job market?

In a job market that sometimes relies heavily on the hard skills needed to be successful in some careers, my hope is that students do not lose sight of the importance of also developing the soft skills: the ones that are transferable, regardless of the job they are in or what their major was in college. In addition to some of the core competencies outlined by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, students should consider the following soft skills:

What has Making Waves been doing to support Wave-Makers in their career development?

Making Waves Foundation’s College and Alumni Program, or CAP, focuses on three areas of college success: timely graduation, minimal debt, and career preparation. In my role as lead career and alumni coach, I focus on career development and am excited to support Wave-Makers in accessing resources, developing skills, and understanding their options in navigating their careers.

We have started to lay the foundation for bridging the career development gap through career exploration, career exposure, and career experience, all of which will be used as a framework to develop a comprehensive career model from college through graduation and beyond, create more opportunities and access to resources, and educate and empower Wave-Makers to have agency in their own career development.

At CAP, career development is not only focused on supporting Wave-Makers in identifying the skills needed to become career-ready, but we are also working on enhancing our programming to meet the needs of underrepresented students through partnership and collaboration of resources in and outside of the Making Waves network.

What advice do you have for recent or upcoming graduates as they enter the job market?

The job search process can feel like a job itself. Have patience and be kind with yourself along your journey and try to avoid comparing yourself to others – everyone’s experience is going to be different! Beyond some of the soft skills mentioned above, it’s important to remember that setbacks or rejections aren’t a reflection of your capabilities! Stay authentic to yourself, reach out for support (there is a whole community of people who want to help you!), and stay persistent – the right opportunity will come, even if it takes a while to recognize it.

What’s your take on the unusual situation of many jobs going unfilled, many people unemployed, and yet the recent lower-than-expected growth in employment numbers?

It’s important to take into consideration the context in which recent college graduates are entering the job market. While employment opportunities are on the rise, the market is still recovering and, in some cases, sending mixed messages. For example, for some positions, requirements include a college degree and three to five or more years of experience. These vacancies are not being filled 1) because they are set up in a way that sometimes feels impossible to achieve based on the requirements, and 2) because the people that may have the qualifications have also been forced to consider other competing life factors.

While this is all happening, recent graduates entering the workforce are learning how to advocate for themselves through managing things like negotiating pay and balancing familial responsibilities, which in turn has played a part in making key decisions when it comes to accepting offers.

What keeps you up at night?

For me, it’s about getting students to see and believe in themselves in the same way that we see them. While we are working to bridge the gap between what employers are looking for and the skills needed to be competitive in the workforce, it is equally important to really listen and learn from our students’ experiences. It isn’t always as simple as “learn the skills, get the experience, and keep it moving.” We know that imposter syndrome exists, and as practitioners, the key is how we can find the balance of understanding it and learning from it so that we can continue to support our students in breaking down systemic barriers.