HOW TO GET YOUR CAREER STARTED AMIDST COVID-19
By Tanya de Grunwald
Founder of careers blog Graduate Fog and author of How to get a graduate job now
Well, this is just brilliant. You knew that finding a graduate job wouldn’t be easy — but you didn’t expect to be trying to start your career in the midst of a global pandemic, right?
You’re not alone in feeling bummed that the coronavirus outbreak has scuppered your plans for 2020 — a deadly virus outbreak was in no-one’s schedule. But, first, let’s get a little perspective. Sadly, a lot of people (particularly the elderly and those with pre-existing health issues) are not going to survive the nasty Covid-19 virus, and their loved ones will suffer a great deal of stress, pain and loss in the months to come. They are the real victims of this horrible pandemic.
Having acknowledged this fact, it remains true that these aren’t ideal conditions to find a graduate job. But you (and tens of thousands of your friends) are going to need to do just that, start earning, and get your career started as soon as possible — either during the coronavirus outbreak, or when life starts to return to normal (hopefully in a few months’ time). To help you to do this, here is my list of points to remember if you’re trying to find a graduate job during the coronavirus outbreak:
Don’t panic — but get used to uncertainty
The coronavirus outbreak is no mere ‘blip’ in the economy, or a ‘knock’ to the job market — it is a huge, historic global moment. The Covid-19 pandemic has taken everyone by surprise — and no one has a plan. So, in that respect, your position is no different from anyone else’s. People who already have jobs are worried — as are people who own their own business. We all need to learn to live with a higher level of uncertainty than we’re used to. We’re also going to have to find ways to acknowledge our anxiety, and set it to one side so that we can continue to get on with our to-do list. For you, that means finding a graduate job against this odd new backdrop.
Employers have their hands full, so give them time
Let’s not forget how fast this has happened. Big businesses like to plan months, if not years, ahead — and those plans have been blown apart overnight. Suddenly, every business — particularly the large ones, with lots of staff and big bills to pay — has serious problems to solve, fast. What makes it harder is that they have no idea how long all this will go on for. (Two months? Three months? Six? How soon will life return to ‘normal’ after that?) What they do about their early careers intake (that’s apprenticeships, internships and graduate schemes) is on their list of things to decide on, but it’s not at the top of it. Be patient.
Expect every company to react differently
Already, we’ve seen been a mix of responses to this situation among employers: from freezing all recruitment immediately (and laying off existing staff, like Virgin Atlantic), to ramping up their hiring (hello Morrison’s and Co-op). Others are in the middle — continuing as usual, for now. A company’s strategy will depend on a range of factors, including how healthy the firm was before the coronavirus hit, the size of their overheads, and how immediately their sales have been impacted by what’s happened.
Go where the growth is — and stay flexible
If you had a ‘dream’ career planned out in an industry that’s tanking you may need to park it — just for now — and pick an industry that’s thriving instead. Consider roles that play to your strength within industries that are coping better. For example, this is not a great time to try and start a career in the travel sector or property sector, so pick a different industry for now and return to them in a year’s time. Nobody wanted this pandemic to hit — but it’s a fact that some employers will benefit from it, including supermarkets, delivery services (like Deliveroo), virtual conferencing software (like Zoom), and engineering firms (like JCB and Dyson, who are making ventilators).
Consider smaller companies — at least short term
Perhaps surprisingly, some small businesses are coping better than big ones. They tend to plan less far ahead, and their size makes them more adaptable. Some have found themselves ideally placed to quickly ‘pivot’ their business towards where the need is (think about beer company Brewdog, now making shedloads of hand sanitiser).
Hiring freezes are a last resort
The hardest-hit companies have already started laying off staff, or stopped hiring new people (including graduates). But most big companies have learnt from previous recessions and downturns that swift and drastic cuts to hiring can come back to bite them in the years to come. If they don’t hire any graduates one year, their business will always have a talent gap where those graduates should have been in the years to come, as they would have risen through the ranks. So pulling all early careers recruitment isn’t something they’ll do lightly — although they may reduce the numbers they hire.
Summer graduate careers fairs will move online
With this summer’s graduate careers fairs unlikely to happen, the employers who are still hiring will be looking for ways to reach students and graduates online. To do so, they’re likely to work more closely with universities, the big job boards and student websites. Pay attention — these aren’t just adverts for their company. They don’t just want you to read about them, they really want you to click the link and apply now.
Prepare for virtual recruitment
Online assessments, video CVs, Skype interviews… Big companies have been experimenting with technological solutions to recruitment problems for some time. Expect this to ramp up this spring and summer — but they’ll need time to get things set up. Expect to find virtual assessment centres become common. If video calls aren’t your favourite thing, research online how to improve, and start practising now so you have a head-start. Think about where you could find a suitably quiet place in your home to do an online call or assessment. If you have trouble with the logistics of anything they suggest, explain the situation to them. This is new for them too. They won’t have thought about every potential problem, so they’ll appreciate the feedback, and will work with you to fix any issues.
Keep an eye on your inbox
If you’ve already applied to an employer, they will be busy working out what to do next. There will be a backlog of applications like yours, which they’re unsure how to progress. Expect timescales to be slower than usual, especially once you’re through the initial application stage.The best firms will keep you informed about what’s happening their end, and when they’ll have more information for you. They’re not fobbing you off — they’re in a muddle themselves and are working things out! Resist the urge to bug them with questions they can’t answer. They know you’re anxious and want to know what’s going on. This is your chance to display your maturity and professionalism, not give them another headache.
Summer placements may be cancelled — or move online
Last week I heard talk of ‘virtual internships’, which graduates could do from home. The details ae sketchy, but you can imagine they’ll involved structured learning and supervised projects with regular team and individual feedback. Of course, a virtual internship won’t be the same as the real thing, but if employers go to the trouble of creating one from scratch, it’s a sign they’re likely to work hard to make it beneficial to both you and them. If they’re not sure what demand they’ll have yet for permanent staff in the autumn, these placements may be a good way to keep graduates ‘warm’ in the meantime. As with IRL internships, anything that involves set hours, set responsibilities and real work must be paid at least the national minimum wage (or national living wage, if you’re 25 or over).
Your start date may be delayed
Been offered a job starting soon? If they’re not ready for you just yet, it may get pushed back. Likewise, graduate schemes due to kick off in September may be delayed until January 2021. I’ve heard several employers talking about this already. It’s disappointing, but it’s better than them scrapping the role altogether — and it shows they really want you. Good employers will be apologetic, respectful and keep in touch with you regularly between now and then.
Joining a new company during a lockdown will be weird
‘On-boarding’, as it’s known, is something most employers take seriously — as it’s their chance to make you feel welcome and involved from Day 1. Clearly, on-boarding someone virtually is going to be a bit weird. Also, although some firms have let people WFH (work from home) for a while (for example if they have young children), the practice isn’t widely considered to be so suitable for young staff in their first proper job after graduating, as it’s so much nicer for you to immerse yourself and feel part of a real-life team. All this may help to explain why employers might delay your start date (see above) so they can do it properly then. Also, there simply might not be much work for you to do right now.
Make yourself useful — and beef up your CV
While you’re waiting for employers to make their decisions, roll up your sleeves and take short-term or part-time roles doing something useful for society. Take a job at your local Co-op. Volunteer in your local community. When the warmer weather comes, farms say they’ll be short of fruit and veg pickers (Ooh! You’ll get to be outside all day!). As well as making a useful contribution to society, you’ll have some good stuff to talk about in interviews (Employers are less snobbish about casual work and temp jobs than you might expect — in fact, they recognise that it’s all good experience).
Think positive — and see the big picture
Yes, this is a weird time — but young people have started their careers at all sorts of weird times. Nobody knows what’s going to happen. But if you’re smart enough to get a degree, you’re smart enough to find a way through this. Normality will resume at some point, and employers will still need smart, energetic young people like you to help build their business. Be confident that your contribution is valuable to them. If they aren’t able to take you on right now, have faith that they will want hire you to as soon as they can.
*WHAT ARE YOUR PLANS TO FIND A GRADUATE JOB DURING THE PANDEMIC?
Share your concerns and strategies below. And – if you’re an employer – please chip in with your advice for graduate job seekers. Thank you!