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Why can’t I get a job? Graduate recruitment during Covid

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An Exeter graduate talks with Wiser Academy associate Jodie Voss to provide a student perspective on graduate recruitment during Covid-19.

Knowing your target audience is essential in any industry, and the early careers market is no exception. But what happens when your target audience members get their lives flipped upsidedown by a global pandemic and all your research goes out of the window?

I caught up with Alex, a French and Spanish graduate from Exeter’s class of 2020, to find out what it has been like to navigate a suddenly bleak job market as a recent graduate.

Tell me about your journey over the past year.

Like everyone else who graduated in 2020, my university experience ended on a random Friday in March. We were told to vacate campus for the initial three-week lockdown – which, as we all know, turned into a much longer period. This left me wondering what my next move would be much sooner than I had originally anticipated.

I wasn’t one of those people who already had a graduate scheme secured by the end of the first term of final year – instead, I was planning to travel after university and find an immediate start role after the summer. However, I found that these were few and far between in practice and dealt with many rejections or, even worse, straight ghosting. For the best part of a year, I was job hunting and getting nowhere, during which I had also moved back home away from my friends and main support network.

I was lucky enough to secure a role in January which I’ve just started, but the journey was certainly not smooth. A lot of my friends were and still are in very similar positions, so it’s definitely not just me.

You mentioned being ghosted by recruiters – what do you mean by this?

I’d estimate that I didn’t hear back from around 70% of the jobs I applied to throughout the year. I do understand that hiring managers are busy, but in a world where you can send a blanket rejection email in 10 seconds, I thought this was shocking. I’ve even had interviews and then been ghosted afterwards, despite multiple follow-ups on my application.

Even if I did manage to get a ‘no’ from a company, I was very rarely offered any feedback on my application. This would have been a real game-changer for me and would’ve helped me secure a job sooner if I just knew where I was going wrong.

If you could be in front of a hiring manager who ghosted you, what would you say?

I’d ask them to be more transparent and open about what they actually want in a candidate. Many job applications are very generic, so when you get rejected without feedback, it can be very frustrating if you think you’ve ticked all the boxes.

I would also love to ask for feedback, even if it’s just a few lines of text or a five-minute phone call. I’d want to ask, ‘What gave other candidates the edge over me?’

From the outside, it feels like employers are thinking about how to optimise the process for themselves and cut corners to save time. I don’t think companies realise that they’re burning future bridges when they ghost applicants.

Did you have much support from your university or their careers service?

Personally, I didn’t find that my university was supportive in helping me on the job search. It couldn’t even give us an update on accommodation refunds and final exam mitigation, let alone help us define our career paths in a global pandemic.

Also, my university was one where a lot of people left with a job already lined up. This made me feel inadequate and added a lot of pressure to my situation. I felt so out of control over the situation – Covid and the job market – which made me feel really powerless and out of control of my own life as a result. It’s not an emotional place I’d like to revisit.

When you did manage to get through to an interview, how was it to do this virtually?

It’s so much harder to make a good first impression over Zoom – I really think I would have secured a job sooner if interviews weren’t virtual. You underestimate the power of a handshake, of body language and small talk as you enter the room, until it’s not there. It was so hard to read the interviewers’ body language, gauge what they were thinking and adjust to that, which is something I’m usually very good at.

On top of this, the tech issues were just an added stress on top of what was already a daunting time. My laptop camera doesn’t work for video calls, so I did most of my interviews using my phone, which might have given a bad impression to some interviewers.

Did you come across any resources that helped you?

Unpopular opinion, but I actually found LinkedIn so unhelpful – it was so daunting to see the number of applications on a job listing. If I saw that this number was over 1,000, I would just skip applying to that job, even if it was perfect for my skill set, as I knew there would be candidates with more experience than me.

I got creative with where to look for jobs, using smaller job boards and joining communities of similar people, such as Pretty Little Marketer and Gals who Graduate. These groups were a brilliant support network and made me realise how many people were in the same situation.

There was a lot of pressure to use the time in lockdown productively and to do online learning courses while searching for a job. However, I found that it was a full-time job to find a job, and it was so important to give myself downtime too. The company I’ve ended up with hired me based on my attitude and personality rather than any skill I could have learned during lockdown, so I’m glad I didn’t put too much on my plate by trying to learn a new skill.

What advice would you give to someone who’s still in the situation you were in?

Don’t give up on your dreams because you’re craving security – it’s so easy to widen your search and apply for everything and anything, but don’t go into something you’re not passionate about. Don’t be afraid to take on part-time work to earn money while you’re waiting for your perfect job – I started nannying and it got me into a good routine and got me out of the house, even if sometimes just for one day a week.

Try not to be intimidated by people your age who seem like they’ve got it all figured out. There’s no deadline that we need to work to, especially at such an uncertain time in everyone’s lives. Along with this, don’t set yourself internal deadlines. I told myself I had to get a job by September and then it felt like I had failed when I didn’t meet this.

Have downtime and remember you’re not a machine – you can’t apply for five jobs a day during a global pandemic. When you’re in such a vulnerable position it’s so important to be kind to your mental health – if you make your whole life and identity about job hunting then you’ll get into a deep hole. Make job hunting a part of your day rather than your whole life.

Jodie Voss is a Wiser Academy associate. You can contact her at jodie.voss@wearewiser.com to learn more. Wiser is running a webinar revealing what’s inside graduates’ minds post lockdown on Wednesday 31 March 2021 at 12:00 BST. Listen in by saving your place here.