How To Prepare Yourself For The Job Market In The ‘New Normal’ | Top Universities

How To Prepare Yourself For The Job Market In The ‘New Normal’

By Stephanie Lukins

Updated March 22, 2021 Updated March 22, 2021

Sponsored by The University of Manchester

For the last three years you’ve been studying for your degree, with the hope that all of your hard graft will eventually pay off. But who could have predicted that 2020 would be the year the world would grind to a complete halt?

What happens next for the Class of 2020 and those following? We spoke to Noeleen Hammond Jones, International Career Consultant at The University of Manchester about what graduates can do to boost their career prospects in a post-coronavirus world.

Hi Noeleen, can you tell us what some of the key challenges graduates are currently facing when it comes to the world of work?

The impact of COVID-19 on recent and upcoming graduate employability has been felt globally.

One of the main challenges as lockdown hit the UK in March was employers either cancelling or not offering summer internships and placements. These internships are vital for students to gain work experience and an opportunity for them to apply their academic skills in relation to the world of work.

Some employers adapted quickly and were able continue to offer these, some have pushed internships back to December recruitment and many universities have match-funded online projects or offered internships within their university. For example, The University of Manchester has been able to offer summer internships projects to a number of students.

The reduced amount of opportunities being advertised immediately after lockdown was a real challenge, however many job sites are seeing a reported increase of vacancies for graduate jobs now being placed.

One of the other challenges has been the rescinding of graduate offers by some employers. This is not across all sectors, but it has been upsetting for those affected and we have supported these students with tailored graduate online workshops and guidance appointments.

We do see various employers and sectors embracing remote working and access to the best talent regardless of geographical location is opening up new opportunities that were not available previously. Employers are looking at new ways of engaging graduate talent and this has enabled us to work more closely with graduate employers to identify needs that can be communicated effectively with our graduates.

Most of our students are digitally agile, but embracing technology for professional purposes differs from using it for social reasons, so at the university we are developing and delivering workshops for our students on topics such as ‘How to present yourself in a digitally agile era’. 

Being flexible and resilient are also important graduate attributes to maintain during these difficult times, and we are working closely with our well-being team and Graduate Transitions Careers Consultant to reinforce these messages through online FAQ live sessions and short videos on social media.

Some students raised concerns that they thought finishing their degrees via online lectures and tutorials would be seen negatively by employers, when in fact the opposite is true. Employers are fully aware of the challenging times as they are having to adjust themselves and are very much interested in recruiting high-caliber graduates who have experience of switching and thriving in an online remote environment.  

It’s a credit to the team at Manchester and our graduates that The University of Manchester has been named the most targeted university by the UK’s top 100 graduate employers for the third year in a row, in the High Fliers Research, The Graduate Market in 2020 report. It also ranks fifth in the UK in the QS Graduate Employability Rankings 2020.

In partnership with Warwick University, we recently held an event where a global panel of employers discussed the current climate for graduate employability, and our graduates could ask the employers questions and gain insights into a variety of industries.

Which industries/sectors are struggling to offer recruitment opportunities to graduates? What can graduates do to better their chances of securing a job in these areas?

I would always advise graduates at this time to be agile.

Some sectors have been worse affected than others, but this can change on a weekly basis as some economies recover quicker. We have to acknowledge there is not one graduate labor market, but a very diverse labor market that differs from region to region, and this in turn sees various sectors being affected differently depending on where they are located.

We work globally with employers across all sectors to ensure our students are properly skilled and informed on their options and opportunities.

I think it is an important time to develop your digital skills as these can help you to show a potential employer your flexible skillset. Overnight the skills employers needed changed - never has working remotely, building rapport with people and being part of a team been more important! Ensure that when you get a job interview that you can clearly articulate how you spent your time during the pandemic, such as working on a project, volunteering, learning a new skill, helping out in the family business, or working in your part-time job. All of these are important and relevant to an employer as it can demonstrate how adaptable and motivated you are as a potential employee.

The introduction of the new Graduate Immigration Route together with the existing Start-up Visa Route will open up many more possibilities for students across all sectors. Graduates will have the opportunity to gain experiences across a range of sectors for up to two years on the Graduate Immigration Route with the potential to get sponsored and stay on for longer.

What do you think are the three most important things to keep in mind when it comes to graduate job hunting during the pandemic?

  1. Network as much as you can. There are less jobs being advertised on jobs boards but that isn’t to say they aren’t out there. The most effective form of job hunting during times like these happen in what is known as the ‘Hidden Job Market’. Who you know is important, and raising your visibility through group membership and writing of articles and posts on platforms such as LinkedIn can be a game changer for some graduates. Getting noticed and building professional connections is important and can lead to job opportunities that may otherwise not be available or advertised.
  2. Be able to communicate and clearly articulate to an employer your motivation for wanting to work for them. The graduate market will be more competitive, so your application has to stand out. Research them thoroughly, who they are, what they do, who they work with, how they have adapted during lock down and who are their competition. Are they working on anything new and innovative that you find interesting or aligns with your knowledge and expertise? The level of research you do will demonstrate to an employer your motivation to work for them. Generic applications and answers will lead to disappointment.

  3. Understand what it is you are bringing to the organization in terms of skills and knowledge. At this stage in your career all your experience such as club and society membership, volunteering, part-time jobs, internships, working for your family is important and relevant and you gain skills as a result. Identify these skills and give examples of them in your interviews.

What advice do you have when it comes to job application rejections?

If you aren’t getting a one in 10 response from your job applications, then I would seek help and advice from your university’s careers service in order to get your application, CV and cover letter checked.

Applying to jobs couldn’t be easier in the digital age. But this can lead to complacency and sending the same generic CV to an employer without taking the time to tailor it to what the employer is looking for is a real mistake many graduates make.

It’s important that you read the job description carefully and understand the skills and experience an employer has asked for and make sure to demonstrate this on your CV through recent experiences. This can be as simple as stating you worked as part of a team of 10 people from four countries in your most recent internship, group project, society, club or volunteering experience which shows an employer not only that you can work in a big team, but a diverse team which may demonstrate good communication skills as well.

It doesn’t have to be complicated and time-consuming to tailor a CV, but it is smart. A graduate recruiter can spot a generic CV easily and some companies use AI software to scan applications for keywords which make it even more important to tailor and use the employer’s terminology.

Never assume an employer knows what skills you used in a job. Be specific and highlight your key achievements as opposed to listing tasks. Finally always check with your careers service if you are unsure and need some insight and support.

How has The University of Manchester’s careers service adapted in light of the coronavirus pandemic, and how is it preparing students for the world of work?

The University of Manchester Careers Service has been very proactive in moving to online accessible delivery. We have worked across many areas of the university to ensure our messages and services are accessible and relevant to our students across the globe. We use a variety of platforms to deliver our online workshops, employer events, guidance appointments and web chat so that students can contact us and use the services wherever they are.

We have created a variety of online workshops that are relevant to the current conditions for students and deal with the topics at the forefront of students’ minds such as employability, graduate labor market, employer expectations and skills requirements, accessing jobs, panel events with employers and alumni and building resilience to name a few.

We are also liaising with employers regularly to understand their recruitment needs and ensure students receive this information. We’re looking at market trends and working closely with colleagues across the higher education sector including Universities UK, The Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services and Institute of Student Employers to stay up to date with employer needs and expectations.

We have a dedicated Employer Engagement Team and a team of Career Consultants with expertise across a range of sectors that work alongside each other to communicate and create resources and activities for our students. To see a range of activities we offer, feel free to visit our careers pages which are updated daily.

We have years of experience of successfully delivering large and complex events online with great success for both our employers and students. These events expect to attract some of The Times, Top 100 graduate employers in the UK, internationally covering all sectors for graduate, placement, and internship opportunities.

Along with the Big Careers Fairs, we will be delivering in partnership with the University of Warwick, the Asia Careers Insight Series in March 2021, working with employers from across Asia over a period of four weeks to connect them with our graduate talent. This event expects to attract employers from a variety of sectors and consist of employer recruitment webinars, online workshops, and panel discussions. Delivering our fairs online have helped engage new employers and are in talks at the moment with a variety of employers who are new to working with us for their recruitment needs.


QS spoke to Noeleen Hammond-Jones, International Career Consultant, for this article.

This article was originally published in August 2020 . It was last updated in March 2021

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