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How the pandemic influenced career choices of recent MSU graduates

Posted at 4:21 PM, May 25, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-25 16:21:37-04

EAST LANSING, Mich. — The labor market has stayed surprisingly strong during the pandemic and workers were able to move careers like we have never seen before.

However, not all of the are going to higher pay and better perks. Some are looking for just the right fit.

"The pandemic just really changed the dynamics in the labor market by allowing a lot of people to move that we would have never expected to move," said Phil Gardner, the executive director of the Collegiate Employment Research Institute at Michigan State University.

MSU graduates Stacy Dear and Matthew Dennis graduated with their bachelor's degrees in 2019. Both of them took their first jobs out of state but decided to come back to Michigan during the pandemic.

“I always thought, in undergrad, that I wanted to do the high pace (emergency room, ICU), exciting jobs," said Dear, a registered nurse and graduate student at the University of Michigan. "I thought I wanted to live out of state and all this stuff. But after COVID hit, I personally wanted something with more of like a nine to five schedule."

Dear said the pandemic made her want to be closer to home.

"Being in the hospital was hard. It was a really sad time," she said. "I'd say I definitely tried to transition to my outside life and what I prioritized versus the job.”

Dennis started to work as a software engineer at a Fortune 500 company right out of college, but decided to change his path.

"I didn't want to work at a company out of state and kind of like working from home and being able to have a little bit more of a flexible schedule," said Dennis, the founding software engineer at Tandem Inc. "So that became much more important to me in my decision to leave the big tech company and move to like a super, super small startup where I'm at now.”

Finding the right career path seems to have become a priority to many. Even if that meant taking an initial pay cut.

“My first job really showed me what I wanted to do," Dear said, "and that is that I did not want to be in the hospital... That is what pushed me towards applying to graduate school to go back to get my degree to do outpatient primary care. That's what I really like.”

Dennis took the leap of faith and joined a young start up, developing the app "Tandem," an app for couples to budget and share expenses.

“My parents were very supportive of me, but they were definitely more wary than the people my age who I talked to you about going to a three-person startup," Dennis said.

But those sort of changes can be good for one's career, too.

"That's the nice thing about being young: much more willing to experiment and much more willing to try things," Gardner said. "And that does pay off at some time. It doesn't often start out with salaries and things, so, if you're facing student loans and stuff that may be a precarious way to go.”

Gardner said that even though the labor market is holding up and that employers are still hiring, he predicted people will be more cautious about changing jobs and moving as we see more uncertainties in the economy.

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