For Felix, trying to find a job is a “complete milling process”. The London-based graduate, who prefers to give his first name only, says he neglects university work in order to write cover letters and complete assessments. “Lack of feedback from (too many) rejections leads to a very vicious cycle. Often companies simply scrap your data instead of disapproved emails.”
Finding traditional methods cumbersome and unsuccessful, he focused on cold email and eventually received an offer. “[It] It looks like a numbers game and luck.” “The graduate job market is completely overwhelmed, as are postgraduate applications.”
Like other graduates of 2021, Felix is entering a global job market where there are fewer opportunities and increased competition. He was one of more than 70 people who provided detailed responses to a Financial Times survey about graduation in this pandemic.
Several respondents, including those who graduated from such institutions as the London School of Economics, University of Cambridge and University College Dublin, described their struggles in obtaining entry-level jobs. They also highlighted that they are competing with the 2020 graduates who lost when Postgraduate programs suspended.
The vast majority of respondents felt that there are fewer job opportunities for graduates. Many of their personal experiences have highlighted the existence of a highly competitive job market, which can be frustrating and disheartening.
Many also felt that they had not found a job that met their career aspirations, and had to take a job with a lower salary than expected. About half felt that the pandemic had hampered their early career prospects.
However, while more than a third felt they had been forced to change the direction of their career as a result of the pandemic, they believed the outcome was not necessarily negative.
competitive job market
A graduate of the London School of Economics, who preferred not to be named, said finding a job was a “struggle”. “Even though you are highly qualified, you are competing with people who graduated a few years ago but are still applying to [do] Same jobs as you because they couldn’t find better. And you can’t really compete because they have experience that you didn’t have as a young graduate.”
In the UK, of those who graduated during the pandemic, 29% of final year students lost their jobs, 26% lost their internships, 28% had a graduate job offer postponed or canceled, According to research from prospects, which is a specialized graduate jobs organization.
Meanwhile, those who run large alumni schemes have reported significant increases in the number of applicants for this year’s admissions.
Hewel Poole, head of UK professional services firm EY, says graduate applications are up 60 per cent compared to 2019, and 12 per cent compared to 2020. It has grown by 38 per cent this year, with annual growth in the past three application cycles.
Unilever, the consumer goods company, is employing graduates in 53 countries and has seen a 27 percent increase in orders from 2019 to 2020.
Compounding the problem is the growing number of entry-level jobs that require work experience. Even before the pandemic, 61 percent of entry-level jobs in the United States required three or more years of work experience, According to a 2018 analysis by TalentWorksJob matching software company.
Some students feel that the application process for some companies has become increasingly arduous. “When the power dynamics skew against you with hundreds of applications per role, the recruitment process can become abusive,” says James Bevington, who recently finished his PhD in chemical engineering at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia.
He describes how when he applied he was given two days for a 24-hour evaluation in which he had to drop everything. He had no opportunity to ask basic questions about the company and only received an automatic rejection after receiving a perfect score in the evaluation. “Why do you care?” He says.
“So far I have more than 230 failed applications for entry-level jobs,” says a London-based engineering graduate who preferred not to be named. After graduating [in] In computer science, I now add income to my family as a delivery driver between applying for different jobs and trying to muster the motivation to keep going. I feel left behind, not just by the job market, but by the institutions that have provided my education – my academic achievements are something I am most proud of, yet the job market seems to be completely ignoring them.”
Security vs. Curiosity
Another recurring theme was that some of those who got work are actually curious to explore other opportunities, but the uncertainty means they are reluctant to leave their current employer and try a different role at another company. Finding a safe job was more important than finding a satisfactory job.
Another London-based graduate, who preferred not to be named, got a job at an investment bank but quickly decided it wasn’t for him and wanted to change his job. But “it’s hard to find different opportunities . . . and it’s easier to stick to the safer, more rewarding path than to take the risk and end up being redundant,” they said.
“The pandemic has affected all our anxiety levels, but its really disproportionate effects on workers,” says a law graduate from University College Dublin, currently based in Leuven, Belgium, after obtaining his master’s degree at KU Leuven, who did not want to be named. He made job security a priority for me, before finding satisfying and enjoyable work.”
Elliot Keane, a civil engineering graduate from the University of Birmingham who is now based in London, said new entrants to the labor market could return to a “lifetime job” rather than commuting: “I think people are going to stay in their position for five, maybe 10 years or more”.
Among those graduates who felt compelled to take another direction, some results were positive.
Alex Morgan, who earned a master’s degree in political economy at King’s College London after earning a bachelor’s degree in Leeds, says the pandemic has “helped me badly”. He decided to pursue his education after graduation “because the graduate job market felt so dysfunctional” last year. After receiving his master’s degree, he got a job in the civil service. He wasn’t planning on doing a master’s assessment and adds, “I don’t think I would have been able to secure this kind of work without her.”
It appears that many other students have also chosen the graduate options. An analysis of the FT’s business school rankings shows, for example, how applications are increasing for graduate programs, such as MBAs or Masters in Finance.
He also believes that a forced shift in work habits can level the playing field and enable faster progress – especially for those not based in London.
Nathaniel Freed, a geography graduate from King’s College London, was working part-time on setting up an information security company. Anticipating less job opportunities, he decided to pursue it full time. “We did really well,” he says. While he feels forced by circumstances, exploring opportunities outside the traditional job market “bolstered my early career prospects by forcing me to innovate,” he says.
Likewise, doctoral student Bevington — who took advantage of his college tutoring during the 2011 recession — also decided to start his own company, a space research nonprofit. “When I reach out to potential employers about my company’s offer, they can’t partner up fast enough.”
Brian Massaro, an MA graduate of applied economics from Marquette University in Milwaukee, US, accepted a full-time job after an internship while he was studying, but he and a friend were applying to join start-up incubators and accelerators to grow a website publishing company he had been working for for the past few years.
While the students felt that the pandemic was having an indirect effect on their immediate career prospects, the sentiments of many participants were cautiously optimistic about the long-term. But some felt that governments and companies should provide more support and invest in graduates.
Morgan adds that companies may need more incentives to provide high-quality roles for graduates. “We highly encourage young people to go to good universities, as they are in a lot of debt to do so,” he says. “It seems, in my group, that there is a large group of graduates (from top universities) who are unable to find roles that challenge them. This does not mean that they deserve one, but I think there is a clear gap between the promise of the university and the reality on the other side.”
Fried adds: “I think companies and the government should take steps to invest in graduates. Social mobility is very low and the most affected by the lack of opportunities are the marginalized groups.”
Rahul, an MBA graduate from India who did not want his last name to be used, says companies need to improve the hiring process and pay graduates based on skills: “Don’t cut wages just because people need.” He also says that the time it takes to hire should be reduced to 30 days. “[Some] It takes approximately 100 days for a single recruitment process. It is inactive.”
Despite the challenges, some participants are optimistic. “It’s tough for us graduates,” adds a Brighton graduate. “We’ll be stronger though!”
Chelsea Bruce Lockhart drawings