Ben Triggs from the Bright Network on employability post-Covid-19

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Image description: Graduation ceremony and the Bright Network logo in the bottom right

Graduates might be some of the worst-hit by the economic impact of the coronavirus crisis, the Resolution Think Tank predicting that one million under-25s could face unemployment this year. 20% of graduates normally find their first job post-education in sectors that have been the worst affected by the current crisis, such as retail, cafes and bars. And in a fragile market, many graduate employers are cancelling or deferring offers – almost two-thirds of university students approaching graduation have had job applications paused or withdrawn.

The Oxford Student spoke to Ben Triggs from the Bright Network to ask what we students can do to boost employment prospects whilst many industries are far from stable. “The Bright Network is a free-to-join network over 280,000 students. We connect students with the best career opportunities and over 300 leading employers.” And in the current crisis, “We’ve been doing as much as we can to support students.” The Bright Network is offering free virtual ‘upskilling’ events and career workshops delivered by career experts each week. Recent talks have focused on effective networking, excelling in virtual interviews, and delivering a strong professional presentation.”

 What might graduate employment look like in the near future?

“Fortunately, unlike the financial crash of 2008, companies are continuing to recruit graduates. Employers have learned from previous mistakes – many law firms reduced graduate hiring after the 2008 financial crash, and have found that 12 years down the line, they’re lacking certain specialisms and qualities that they would have got from graduates. So many industries want to maintain a flow of graduate employment, because they know the value that graduates can offer companies in the long term.

“However, the future of the graduate employment climate is still unclear. In 6 months time, it could be very much back to normal, or it could be massively changed. What we have seen is a lot of positive messages from employers – the public sector, for example, is fairly “business-as-usual”, whilst there are some industries that are definitely more affected than others. In some industries – law, banking, and consultancy – certain firms are considering delaying or reducing their graduate intake. And it’s going to be interesting to see what happens with SMEs [small and medium-sized enterprises] – only about 20-25% of students go onto formal graduate programmes, whereas the rest will work for SMEs in graduate-level jobs.”

 Be proactive

“With fewer opportunities in certain industries at the moment, it’s more important than ever to stay proactive – students can use this extra time to their advantage. There are opportunities to gain virtual experience, some of which can be gained over a 3 or 4 day period. Increasingly, firms are offering more virtual experience opportunities. These allow students to demonstrate to employers that they’ve used this time proactively.

“Also, attending virtual ‘upskilling’ events is something that can be done remotely. The Bright Network is running weekly workshops including talks on succeeding at an assessment centre, resilience and taking feedback, and breaking into specific industries, such as consulting.”

Don’t panic about cancelled internships or graduate schemes

 “Some of the biggest UK employers have cancelled recruitment schemes and internships. I would say that students who’ve got through the application process and been made an offer clearly have something that employers look for, and that future employers will tend to be understanding in terms of cancellations. It’s still worth finding a clever way to put it on your CV… “accepted onto x internship in summer 2020, unfortunately, cancelled due to COVID-19” – employers will completely understand that.

“Equally, having a grad scheme cancelled is very tough. If your grad scheme has been cancelled or delayed, don’t panic, there are still things to get involved in, even if not directly related to your career. Especially during this time, it might not be the most glamorous work, but it can keep you ticking over and allow students to earn some money as well. For students set to graduate this year, I’d encourage shifting your mind to thinking in the long-term – most people will be working for 40 or 50 years, so it’s worth playing the ‘long game’.”

Use LinkedIn

“I would urge students to make the most of LinkedIn by reaching out to individuals working in careers they hope to pursue, whether that’s journalism, law, banking and so on, to ask for advice on how to get on a specific career path. With more people working at home at the moment, many people have more time on their hands, and there’s also a mood across the country of people helping each other; people are feeling altruistic and supportive in the current climate. Those who are working at home will probably be open to reply to messages and questions. And students can also use this time to strengthen their own LinkedIn profile.”

Become more commercially aware

 “Now is a better time than any to read. Chris Stoakes’ books ‘All You Need To Know About The City’ and ‘All You Need To Know About Commercial Awareness’ are a great place to start to become more commercially aware. Following the news is also important – publications like ‘The Economist’ and ‘The Week’ will challenge your thinking and provide new perspectives on commercial and political developments, without bombarding you with endless worrying news about the current situation. And once again, students can reach out to people online, starting conversations with professionals about how a certain firm in a particular sector works.

“Finally, I would say that securing a summer job working in a supermarket or another service can help build commercial awareness, especially in the current climate. I worked in my university’s student union shop during my student years, and I made sure to ask my boss and those more senior than me plenty of commercial questions that built my commercial awareness.”

Students can sign up to the Bright Network for free at brightnetwork.co.uk

Image Credit: Joshua Hoehne via Unsplash

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