“I feel left behind”: Graduates fight for good jobs

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For Felix, the search for a job is a “complete loop”. The London graduate, who prefers to just use his first name, says he neglects university work to write cover letters and reports. The “lack of feedback from the (many) cancellations leads to quite a vicious circle. Often times, companies simply empty them instead of a rejection email. ”

After realizing that conventional routes were proving stressful and unsuccessful, he focused on cold emailing and eventually received an offer. “[It] appears to be a game of chance and numbers, ”he says. “The job market for graduates is absolutely flooded, as is that of postgraduate applications.”

Like other 2021 graduates, Felix is ​​entering a global job market where there are fewer opportunities and increased competition. He was one of more than 70 who provided detailed responses to a Financial Times poll about the conclusion in the pandemic.

Many respondents, including graduates from top institutions such as the London School of Economics, the University of Cambridge and University College Dublin, described their difficulties in finding entry-level positions. They also highlighted that they are competing with 2020 graduates who lost on the suspension of graduate programs.

The vast majority of respondents felt that there are fewer job opportunities for graduates. Many of their personal experiences have shown a hypercompetitive job market that can be demoralizing and demotivating.

Many also felt that they had not found a job that matched their career aspirations and had to accept a position with a lower salary than expected. About half thought the pandemic had affected their early career prospects.

However, while more than a third were forced to change the direction of their careers due to the pandemic, they felt the outcome wasn’t necessarily negative.

Competitive labor market

One LSE graduate who preferred not to be named said finding a job was “a struggle”. “Despite high qualifications, you compete with people who graduated a few years ago but are still applying [do] the same jobs as you because they couldn’t find better ones. And you can’t really keep up because they have experience that you don’t have as a young graduate. “

In the UK, 29 percent of college students who graduated during the pandemic lost their jobs, 26 percent lost their internship and 28 percent had their graduate job postponed or canceled. according to research by Prospects, a specialized career organization for college graduates.

Meanwhile, those running extensive graduate programs have reported a significant increase in the number of applicants for this year’s intake.

Hywel Ball, UK chairman of EY, the professional services firm, says graduate applications are up 60 percent compared to 2019 and up 12 percent compared to 2020. Allen & Overy, the international law firm, says applications for their UK graduate program grew 38 percent this year, with year-over-year growth over the last three application cycles.

Consumer goods company Unilever is recruiting graduates in 53 countries and saw applications increase by 27 percent from 2019 to 2020.

The problem is made worse by the increasing number of entry-level jobs that require work experience. Even before the pandemic, 61 percent of entry-level positions in the US required three or more years of professional experience. according to a 2018 analysis by TalentWorks, a job matching software company.

Some students think that the application process is becoming more and more arduous for some companies. James Bevington, who recently completed his PhD in Chemical Engineering from the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia, says, “When the power dynamic is so against you, with hundreds of applications per position, the recruiting process can become abusive. ”

He describes how when he submitted the application he was given two days to complete a 24-hour assessment, for which he had to drop everything. He did not have the opportunity to ask fundamental questions about the company and only received an automated rejection after a perfect rating in the assessment. “Why bother?” he says.

A graduate engineer living in London, who preferred not to be named, says: “So far I have had over 230+ failed applications for career starters. After graduation [in] Computer science, I now earn an income as a delivery driver for my family, between applying for different jobs and trying to find the motivation to keep going. I feel left behind, not just on the job market, but also on the institutions that offered my education – my academic achievements are something I’m proud of, but the job market seems to completely disregard them.

Security versus curiosity

Another recurring theme has been that some who have found a job are actually curious to explore other options, but the uncertainty means they are reluctant to leave their current employer and try a different role at another company. Finding secure work was more important than finding a fulfilling job.

Another London graduate who preferred not to be named had secured a job with an investment bank but quickly decided it wasn’t for her and wanted to change careers. But “it’s hard to come up with different options … and it’s easier to take the safer, well-paid pathway than to take a risk and end up obsolete,” they said.

Portrait of Elliot Keen, a civil engineering graduate from Birmingham University

Elliot Keen believes that new entrants are more likely to seek long-term positions than move

A law graduate from University College Dublin, based in Leuven, Belgium, after a Masters at KU Leuven who refused to reveal his name, says: “The pandemic has affected all of our anxiety, but its disproportionate impact on workers have “really made job security a priority for me before finding a fulfilling and enjoyable job.”

Elliot Keen, a civil engineering graduate from Birmingham University who is now based in London, said that newcomers to the job market may return to a “job for life” instead of moving: “I assume that the people will remain in their roles for five, maybe 10 years or more. “

Unexpected success

Among the graduates who were forced to move in a different direction, some results were positive.

Alex Morgan, who did an MA in political economy at King’s College London after completing his bachelor’s degree in Leeds, says the pandemic “helped me perversely”. He opted for postgraduate training “because the job market for university graduates felt so dysfunctional in the past year”. After completing his MA, he secured a position in the public service. He hadn’t planned an MA and added: “Without it, I would probably not have gotten a job like this.”

It seems that many other students have chosen postgraduate options as well. An analysis of the FT Business School Ranking shows, for example, how much the number of applications for postgraduate courses such as MBA or Masters in Finance has increased.

Bar graph of annual change in enrollments * (%) shows an increase in interest in MBAs

He also believes the forced change in work habits could set the stage and allow faster progress – especially for those who are not based in London.

Nathaniel Fried, a geography graduate from King’s College London, worked part-time building an information security company. Anticipating the lack of job opportunities, he decided to pursue him full-time. “We’re fine,” he says. He feels compelled by circumstances, but looking for opportunities outside of the traditional job market “has improved my early career prospects by forcing me to innovate,” he says.

PhD student Bevington, who had learned from the lessons of his bachelor’s degree during a recession in 2011, also decided to start his own company, a not-for-profit organization in the space exploration field. “When I approach potential employers about what my company has to offer, they can’t work together quickly enough.”

Portrait of Alex Morgan who received an MA in Political Economy from King's College London after completing his Bachelor's degree in Leeds

Alex Morgan believes the pandemic helped him pursue various goals © Tolga Akmen / FT

Brian Massaro, a Masters graduate from Marquette University in Milwaukee, U.S.A. in applied economics, accepted a full-time position after interning while undergraduate, but he and a friend applied to start-up incubators and accelerators for an online -Building company publishing house that he has worked on for the past few years.

While students felt the pandemic had affected their immediate career prospects, many of those surveyed were cautiously optimistic over the long term. However, some felt that governments and companies should offer more support and invest in graduates.

Morgan adds that companies may need more incentives to provide high quality graduate positions. “We strongly encourage young people to go to good universities and we take on a lot of debt in return,” he says. “In my peer group there seem to be a number of graduates (from top universities) who cannot find roles that challenge them. That doesn’t mean they are entitled to it, but I think there is a clear gap between the university’s promise and the reality on the other side.

Fried added, “I believe that both companies and governments should take steps to invest in graduates. Social mobility is very low and those most affected by the lack of opportunities are marginalized.

Rahul, an India-based MBA graduate who refused to give his last name, says companies need to improve the recruiting process and pay graduates by skill: “Don’t capsize salaries just because people are in need.” He also says the hiring time should be reduced to 30 days. “[Some] take almost 100 days to complete a recruiting process. It’s inefficient. “

Despite the challenges, some respondents are optimistic. “It’s tough for us graduates,” added a Brighton University graduate. “But we will be all the stronger for it!”

Artwork by Chelsea Bruce-Lockhart