5 job hunting tips during Covid

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Written by Jenny Sloan, Careers Consultant at The Careers Service

You may have had travel plans that have fallen through due to the pandemic. Maybe you secured a graduate scheme only for it to be rescinded as organisations try to mitigate the effects of a recession. Perhaps you’ve spent your university years preparing for a career in a sector that isn’t hiring now. There’s no denying that it’s a tough time to be a new graduate.

However, there are glimmers of hope. We’re seeing gradual improvements to the economy, albeit slow-moving. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) have noted a rise in the number of online job adverts across all categories, increasing from 55% to 59% of their 2019 average (18-25 September 2020).

While it’s painfully obvious that the graduate labour market has suffered significant damage across all industries (in particular retail, hospitality and the arts), there are some sectors that haven’t been as badly hit, such as transport and logistics, health and social care, education, IT, digital communications and finance. It’s important to remember that some sectors are regenerating more rapidly than others. In fact, the ONS have reported that healthcare vacancies now stand at 96% of the 2019 average, with education at 70%.

As a recent graduate it’s important to remember that we will come out of this recession, and while it’s crucial that you don’t lose sight of your longer term goals and ambitions, it’s okay to give yourself permission to focus on the short term for now.

Here are our 5 top tips for job hunting during Covid.

  1. Think about the next 12 months, not the rest of your life

Your first job is not a job for life (or at least it’s very unlikely to be). Even pre-Covid, it was very uncommon for a graduate to remain in the same role or company for the duration of their working lives. Many graduates will work in a variety of professions and industries over the course of their career. Your skills, interests and motivations will change as you progress throughout your professional life. What you want from a job in three years’ time may be very different to what you want now. 

This means that for all graduates, but 2020 graduates in particular, thinking about what you want to do for the rest of your life is not only overwhelming, but it’s also unnecessary.

Instead, concentrate on your first year out of university. Think about your first role as an opportunity to boost your CV, skills and network. What do you want to achieve over the course of the next year?

If you’re not sure, why not focus on developing greater self-awareness about what you want out of a job? Start by thinking about what you enjoy, and what you’re good at. Then explore your options. Look for graduate roles that will give you the chance to exercise and strengthen your skillset, while also allowing you to develop new skills and gain new experiences. Our I Don’t Know What I Want To Do pages can help you get started, and you can also book a careers guidance appointment.

2. Be flexible and open-minded

The effects of Covid on the labour market may mean that you have to expand your graduate job search to include sectors you may not have previously considered. As mentioned above, every experience can be helpful in boosting your employability by providing transferable skills and learning experiences.

However, while adopting flexible mindset to job hunting at the moment is essential, it can be difficult if you have had a clear idea of the area you want to work in throughout your time as a student.

If you’re struggling to find graduate work in your dream sector, ask yourself how you can gain relevant experience that will put you at an advantage when your preferred industry starts hiring again. This could be through working in a related sector; our Which Career pages can help you to identify different roles and industries that are closely connected.  You may not be able to get a job with your dream employer right now, but every organisation needs managers, HR and finance professionals, marketing experts, and IT and tech staff.

If you can’t find work in a closely related area, shift your attention to the skills you need for your dream job. If you’re not sure, have a look at the job profiles on Prospects to find out more about skills needed for different professions. Network with relevant employers in the industries you’re interested in to find out what they’re looking for, through our regular online employer events. Connect with alumni on LinkedIn or via Meet the Professionals and ask them what skills they’ve cultivated to forge successful careers in their industry.

Once you’ve done your research, consider what you can do right now to gain the skills you need to break into your preferred sector.

To do all this, you’ll need to be flexible in your approach to job-hunting. Instead of focussing on the industry or employer, consider the job role itself. Look at the job description. What responsibilities and activities will you undertake on a day-to-day basis? What transferable skills will these enable you to develop that can be applied to other sectors? Will the role enable you to gain some office-based or lab-based experience that could be useful when it comes to applying for jobs in your preferred sector in the future? Keep a record of activities and projects you’re involved in throughout your first graduate job, and make a note of relevant skills that you’re acquiring and strengthening. This means that you’ll be ready to submit a strong application when your preferred industry starts hiring again.

3. …But don’t cast your net too wide

If you apply for every single job that you see, you will soon start to run out of energy. While it’s essential to be flexible and adopt an open-minded approach to finding your first graduate job, the quality of your applications is much more important than the quantity.

Remember to research the organisation you’re applying to. Look at the company’s mission, strategy and values and ask yourself what you agree with, how your values and ambitions align with the company’s, and why. Perhaps they’re working on a particular project that excites you, or you’ve read something about them on the news. Why do you want to be a part of what they’re doing?

As well as company research, it’s paramount that you tailor your application to each role. Make sure you not only mention that you have the essential skills they’re looking for (and desirable, if possible) but give demonstratable evidence as to how you’ve acquired, strengthened or utilised those skills. We offer 20 minute application advice appointments, so you can get feedback on your CV, Cover Letter or application form, before you submit it to the employer.

4. Consider remote experience

The rise in remote working has meant that recent graduates now have access to a range of opportunities outside of their current geographical remit. The recent CBI and LSE report found that 75% of businesses surveyed had moved to remote working. Look out for remote opportunities on graduate job search websites like CareersLink (or the ones featured on our Job Search pages), and remember, virtual volunteering and remote internships are also excellent sources of experience and provide fantastic opportunities to gain valuable transferable skills . You can volunteer online with the United NationsTranslators without Borders, Citizen Science, the NHS Volunteer Responder Scheme, Be My Eyes, Age UK, and many more.  

5. Remember, we’re here for you!

It’s a tough market out there, but you don’t have to navigate it alone. We are here for you! You can continue to access the Careers Service for up to two years after you finish your course. This means you can continue to make use of all of our online resources, get application and CV advice, attend our online events and search for vacancies on CareersLink. Have a look at our graduate careers support pages to find out more, or book a one-to-one graduate careers guidance appointment with one of our Careers Consultants to see how we can support you.

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