Job hunting in a pandemic: advice from a 2020 graduate

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Read advice from our graduate intern who left the university last summer.

Job hunting is always a rough ride. As University students, it’s fair to say that we can often feel like the market owes us a job. We did the “right” thing – did well in school, got a degree, worked hard, applied ourselves… But as the past year has shown, these things never tend to go to plan. Whether you were planning on travelling after university so hadn’t started thinking about careers, you’ve had a placement fall-through, or never had a plan to begin with, we have all been forced to adapt. The uncertainty we’ve all experienced is incredibly disheartening and, certainly for me, left a dark cloud over what should have been an exciting end to university. 

I won’t sugar coat this; it was really hard. I’ve never been someone with a well thought out plan of what career I wanted, but at least if I had graduated under normal circumstances, the pathways would have been more defined and easier to navigate. It’s no surprise that the job market has been completely up-ended and from an emotional point of you, I often found it difficult to accept. But I’m here to remind you that there is hope, and that you will get through this. You have so much to offer and there is a job out there with your name on it. If you’re feeling overwhelmed or disheartened by your next steps, here are just a few positive facts to highlight that things are improving:

  • The Institute of Student Employers (ISE) have released findings stating that 36% of employers are hiring more graduates than last year, with 48% hiring the same numbers.
  • After falling sharply at the start of the crisis, the average amount people earn rose 4.5% in the latest figures
  • The number of job vacancies being advertised rose 16% in March as businesses prepared for life after lockdown

While it’s clear we’re not back to pre-pandemic levels, the numbers are heading in the right direction and it’s certainly something to feel optimistic about. Rather than focusing on the things you can’t control, turn your attention to things that are valuable regardless of the state of the job market. For example, improve your desirable soft skills e.g. self-motivation and time management, as well as your industry-specific knowledge through free online courses. Here is just a sample of advice for you to take on board as you navigate this next chapter.

Be proactive and make use of every resource available to you. This is not the time to go it alone. Reach out to anyone and everyone; family, friends, neighbours, previous employers, lecturers, your LinkedIn network (make an account today!), and strangers in the street – from a safe distance of course. Even if it’s just a casual chat over coffee with a neighbour about their career path and experiences, you should utilise every resource available to you. I managed to get a couple weeks work experience with a woman in my nan’s village book club – make the most of every tenuous link you can find. It may not feel like it, but you will always know someone who knows someone, even if that someone simply works at your local shop and is aware that they’re short staffed. If there’s one piece of advice you take from me, it’s to not be afraid to ask for help or approach professionals. If you don’t, somebody else will.

Use their language. You should always mimic the language of a job description in your application. They’re talking ‘business speak’ and it’s what they’ll be expecting in return. Why make your life harder by re-wording what they’ve set out when you could simply integrate it into your CV to describe your own experiences? This isn’t to say that you should completely take out your character from the process (in fact if you’ve made it to an interview, this will be what gets you the job), but it’s really important to step up to the world of business and start speaking their language.

Be prepared to fail. It’s the worst part of the job-hunting process, but the sooner you get to grips with the idea that you won’t just land the first job you apply for, the easier it will be to pick yourself up and carry on. It sucks, and really took a toll on my self-esteem, but you just need to make sure you don’t take it personally. Use every rejection to improve your CV, interview skills, and the way you write your covering letter. You’ll only improve each time, and get more and more confident with the way the process works. Just because you didn’t get the job, that doesn’t mean it was a waste of your time!

Adjust your expectations. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but it’s time to tear up your well-planned timeline – you should never tie your expectations of a career or ideas of self-worth to meeting specific milestones. Whilst this can often be motivational, under the current circumstances you really can’t get hung up following a specific plan you idealised when sitting your A-Levels. Take any opportunity that comes your way and be practical with your expectations of life after university.

Rethink traditional work and consider other options. It’s fair to say that most industries have experienced drastic transformations within the last year, and the transition to digital platforms and at-home working is most likely here to stay. This has caused a great change to the workforce and so you might consider opting for flexible, part-time or remote contract work – or multiple all at once. There are also new job roles that never existed before that you may want to consider, such as working at a COVID-19 testing centre, as a contact tracer, or as a zoom expert helping to facilitate virtual events. Think outside the box when searching for your first role.

It’s easier to find a job whilst you’re already in work, even if that work is stacking shelves in Sainsbury’s. As well as applying for graduate level positions, you need to be applying to jobs that will help to tide you over before you land your dream role. Not only does it give you experience, something to reference in applications, and financial security, it will also show employers that you’re being proactive and have a willingness to graft. Never think of it as lowering your expectations – you’re expanding your opportunities, skillset, and experience. You may even be introduced to exciting jobs or industries you have never even considered. Being openminded is going to be fundamental in this next chapter.

Become a LinkedIn stalker. If you have absolutely no idea what to do once you’ve finished your degree, you might find it helpful to see what others have done after finishing university. Type in your degree programme and see the various career paths that graduates before you have taken. This is a great way for you to see how someone in your dream role got their start, and can also help to highlight the various routes to employment that are available. Some employers also actively recruit on LinkedIn, so it is definitely useful to set up a profile. See advice from the Careers Service on how to get started here.

There is definitely light at the end of this tunnel. You will find work, and whether it’s a temporary solution or your dream role, every bit of experience matters. It may not happen as quickly as you had always anticipated, or you may be led down a completely new path, but there are plenty of opportunities ahead of you. You can find more careers advice and information on support from the university here.

If you want to learn more about different careers or you’re still looking for a graduate job, sign up to take part in the Final Year Future Week; the new careers event designed for final year students and graduates. The event includes a variety of sessions held across the week, designed to help you learn more about different sectors, meet employers, and ask questions. See what sessions are available and sign up now: see the schedule or search ‘Future Week’ on CareerConnect.

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