Covid-19 is affecting every area of life, especially the way we work. But what about students who are poised to take their first step onto the career ladder? For those embarking on a graduate job search the challenges and uncertainty might well feel overwhelming. However, in reality there remains a wealth of opportunities out there; internships, graduate schemes and dream jobs still exist, and someone will secure each one.
5 Reasons Why 2020 Can Be a Great Year to Graduate
1. Perspective – time to reassess or reconfirm
Living in such a competitive age, where GCSEs narrow A-level options, and employers scout university students as freshers, it can often feel like you’ve chosen a route and engaged “career autopilot” very early on. When a challenge as unique and all-encompassing as the current pandemic hits, it can provide an opportunity to step back, take stock of the choices you have made to date, and decide consciously whether now is the time to adjust your course.
The 2008/9 recession saw bold reactions from graduates: pursuing opportunities with start-ups and micro-businesses, setting up their own enterprises, moving nimbly between organisations and across sectors. This marks a huge departure from the traditional, well-trodden path of seeking a graduate scheme in a large, stable employer complete with formulaic career development plans spanning a decade or more.
That period also saw students who reconsidered their options and decided further study or specialisation would help them in their longer-term ambitions. Extra time studying meant they emerged with more skills, qualifications and a clearer idea of where they wanted to be – right at the time that the waves of economic uncertainty were calming.
And what if time to reflect makes you double down on your original plans? That’s great too! Even if your ideal job is in an area significantly affected by Covid-19’s repercussions, there will still be vacancies out there. With your renewed focus, take advantage of the host of online resources and virtual networking opportunities that have emerged, combine them with deep, focused research on your target firms and you’ll be best placed and best prepared to be a formidable contender for those select positions.
2. Employability – your success toolkit
There can be no denying there will be at least short-term effects on absolute numbers of graduate and internship opportunities as a result of the economic uncertainty caused by Covid-19. However, analysis of the effect on graduate vacancies after the 2008/9 recession showed a rapid bounce back, particularly versus non-graduate vacancies. On this basis, if we can look even a year or two into the future, it’s possible to focus instead on the wealth of transferable skills this year’s graduates are developing due to the unprecedented challenges they face.
Almost overnight, students were tasked with moving to a radically independent mode of learning, had to adapt to new, rapidly-developing technological platforms for their studies and career endeavours, and in some cases, deal with the disappointment of having hard-won internships or other experiences rescinded or scaled back. Employers seek proactive, resilient, tenacious individuals, able to adapt to change seamlessly and who can do so with an upbeat outlook that focuses on opportunity, not obstacle. This toolkit for success is equally valuable whether you are applying for internships or jobs or stepping out to begin your career.
3. The rise of virtual internships and other online experiences
2020 has seen employers thinking so far outside the box, the box is no longer even in sight. Even 12 months ago, if someone had proposed a law firm or management consultancy moved their entire internship online, engaging with students only over video calls, and assessing their suitability for a long-term career on the basis of their “virtual performance”, it would have sounded outrageous. But here we are! Never in the history of graduate recruitment has there been such opportunity to engage directly with firms in a way that erases geographical and other practical barriers to participation, yet offers the same chance to be offered a full-time role as a result.
Virtual opportunities are not limited to commercial internships. Students can benefit from a host of online skills sessions, mentoring opportunities and other CV- enhancers run by universities, charities, social mobility and diversity organisations and more. Some of these are limited in number (but offer the prestige associated with being accepted on merit through application); others are effectively “open to all”.
If we include the full spectrum of virtual careers events being offered, there are arguably more opportunities this year than ever before, and firms who have invested heavily in the technology to offer such experiences will be keen to build on these platforms for the 2020/21 recruitment season and beyond.
4. Employers who embrace the new normal
While it may feel like a time to be grateful for any job offer you receive, never forget your worth and that, as long as there are graduate jobs out there (i.e. always!) the recruitment process is two-way, and you are assessing a prospective employer as much as the reverse. This is a time in history when the differences in how firms approach the current challenges, and how they treat and support their existing employees and potential future hires like you, will differentiate them from their competitors – for better or for worse. We will see firms which use the Covid-19 crisis as an excuse to take advantage of, and even exploit, keen job seekers. We will also see firms who mark themselves out as showing contempt for customers and clients, or current employees, or both.
However, the crisis will also allow the very best examples to shine. Look out for firms who are truly embracing the radical changes Covid-19 restrictions have led to: extreme flexible working, previously unseen levels and scope of agile working, a redoubled effort to support working parents and employees with caring responsibilities. Even simply observing distinct attitudes to overcoming current challenges can give a unique insight into the leadership and ethos of the firm which might not have been evident were you applying in prior years.
5. Resilience – your opportunity to differentiate
By any definition or measure, being a student or graduate this year has been tough. No amount of looking at the positives can ever change this fact. It’s normal to feel frustrated, even resentful, that your university experience has been impacted in this way. While this impact clearly pales compared to the tragic human cost of Covid-19, it is still absolutely natural and understandable to feel aggrieved. Life is not always fair, and what is happening across the world this year has brought this into sharp focus for students at a time in their life when they might otherwise feel they have the world at their feet.
What is also true, however, is that living through this era, adapting to the most significant changes to education in a generation or more, cannot fail to strengthen your resilience and abilities to face adversity head on.
Resilience is frequently cited as one of the key differentiators of success for graduates entering the world of work. It is something employers seek to assess at the application and interview stage, but also, more crucially, it is something that will mark you out from your peers once you are “on the job”. Not everyone who experiences adversity will derive the same amount of resilience from the experience. By remaining positive, focusing on solutions not problems, and rising to the additional challenges posed by the current climate with tenacity and flair, you stand the best chance of being someone who emerges from this time in history with a potent shot of resilience that has the potential to supercharge your career for decades to come.
So while it would be understandable to assume 2020 could easily top a list of “Worst Years to Graduate”, I am here to tell you why, with a little positivity, and a lens that considers the medium to long-term picture, this year’s graduates can have very bright futures ahead of them, and employers curious about hiring direct from campus can reap the rewards of this uniquely motivated and skilled cohort.
4 Reasons to consider hiring a 2020 graduate or intern.
1. Motivated, driven individuals
This year’s graduates are incredibly keen to work, to learn, to find an employer that is willing to take a chance on them in uncertain times. Times of crisis create strength of character coupled with loyalty, a combination which – alongside the natural enthusiasm and passion of a recent graduate – can inject real energy, innovation and fresh perspective into a workplace.
2. The ideal candidates to embrace the digital future
The impact of Covid-19 in terms of driving things to a digital rather than paper-based or face-to-face model has been unprecedented in scale and speed. Businesses with previously low reliance on technology platforms and social media may now be changing their view looking to the future. Today’s graduates are perfectly placed to help with longer term shifts towards harnessing the “power of online” in whatever that means for your industry. Student interns could also assist with shorter, more immediate projects, showing the great benefits to both sides of a flexible (paid) internship.
3. Proactive, independent, creative thinkers
Not only tenacious and resilient, 2020 graduates have been driven to harness self- direction in a way typically absent from fresh university hires. Students keen to put themselves ahead of their peers will have had to develop creative solutions to challenges such as minimal contact hours, limited access to hard copy resources, group projects delivered “together but apart” and master a whole host of new digital competencies. This proactive and creative approach to problem solving is one that can pay dividends for any company and makes an excellent reason to consider welcoming a 2020 graduate into your business.
4. The perfect time to trial a graduate pathway
If you have been putting off taking on graduates because it seemed like you needed to invest heavily in putting together and marketing a formal graduate scheme, now could be the very best time to take a tentative step into hiring directly from campus. This year’s graduates will still require support and investment, but 2020 has proven that expensive, cookie-cutter approaches to training and induction simply aren’t necessary. All it takes to unleash the value of the incredible graduate talent pool is a willingness to prioritise potential over prior knowledge and experience, and a recruitment process that focuses on assessing the many transferable skills and unique perspectives a graduate candidate can bring.
Kat runs KB Graduate Solutions, a consultancy that helps businesses with all aspects of their student and graduate hiring needs. Any local students worried about the future can get in touch for a totally free and tailored session of tips and advice.