“I feel left behind”: graduates struggle to find good jobs


For Félix, trying to find a job is a “complete job”. The London-based graduate, who prefers to give only his first name, says he neglects academic work to write cover letters and complete assessments. The “lack of feedback from (many) rejections leads to a rather vicious circle. Often times, companies simply dump you instead of a rejection email.

After finding out that conventional routes proved stressful and unsuccessful, he focused on cold emails and finally received an offer. “[It] seems like a game of luck and numbers, ”he says. “The job market for graduates is absolutely inundated, as is the job market for graduate studies.”

Like the other 2021 graduates, Felix enters 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 on graduation in the pandemic.

Many respondents, including those who graduated from top institutions such as the London School of Economics, the University of Cambridge and University College Dublin, described their difficulties in securing entry-level positions. They also pointed out that they were in competition with the 2020 graduates who lost when graduate programs have been suspended.

A large majority of respondents felt that there were fewer job opportunities for graduates. Many of their personal experiences have highlighted a hyper-competitive job market, which can be demoralizing and demotivating.

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

However, while more than a third felt they had been forced to change career direction as a result of the pandemic, they believed the outcome was not necessarily negative.

Competitive job market

An LSE graduate, who preferred to remain anonymous, said finding a job was “a struggle”. “Although you are highly qualified, you are competing with people who graduated a few years ago but are still applying for [do] the same jobs as you because they couldn’t get any better. And you can’t really compete because they have experience that you don’t have as a recent graduate.

In the UK, among those who graduated during the pandemic, 29% of final year students lost their jobs, 26% lost their internship and 28% had their job offer deferred or canceled, according to research by Prospects, an organization specializing in graduate careers.

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

Hywel Ball, UK chairman of EY, the professional services firm, said graduate applications increased 60% from 2019 and 12% from 2020. Allen & Overy, the international law firm , said applications to its UK graduate program has grown 38 percent this year, with year-over-year growth for the past three application cycles.

Unilever, the consumer goods company, recruits graduates from 53 countries and saw a 27% increase in applications from 2019 to 2020.

The growing number of entry level jobs that require work experience further compound the problem. Even before the pandemic, 61% of entry-level positions in the United States required three or more years of work experience, according to a 2018 analysis by TalentWorks, a job search software company.

Some students feel that the application process for some companies is getting more and more difficult. James Bevington, who recently completed a PhD in Chemical Engineering at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia, says: “When the power dynamics are so against you with hundreds of applications per position, the process recruitment can become abusive. ”

He describes how, when submitting an application, he had two days to undertake a 24-hour assessment for which he had to give up everything. He was not given the opportunity to ask basic questions about the business and only received an automated rejection after achieving a perfect score on the assessment. “Why bother?” he says.

A London-based engineering graduate, who preferred not to be named, said: “So far I have over 230 unsuccessful applications for entry-level jobs. Having graduated [in] IT, I am now adding income to my family as a delivery driver between my applications for different jobs and trying to muster the motivation to continue. I feel left out, not only by the job market, but by the institutions that offered my education – my school performance is something I’m proud of, but the job market seems to ignore them completely.

Security versus curiosity

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

Another London-based graduate, who preferred not to be named, had gotten a job at an investment bank but quickly decided it wasn’t for them and wanted a career change. But “it’s hard to find different opportunities. . . And it’s easier to stick with the safer, more well-paid route than it is to take a risk and get fired, ”they said.

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

Elliot Keen believes new entrants to the workforce will seek long-term positions rather than relocate

A law graduate from University College Dublin, currently based in Leuven, Belgium, after a master’s degree at KU Leuven, who did not want to give his name, says: “The pandemic has impacted all of our anxiety levels but its disproportionate effects on workers really made job security a priority for me, above finding fulfilling and enjoyable work.

Elliot Keen, a civil engineering graduate from the University of Birmingham and now based in London, said new entrants to the workforce might by default go back to a ‘job for life’ rather than move: ‘I think that people will stay in their roles for five, maybe 10 years or more.

Unexpected success

Among graduates who felt compelled to take a different direction, some results were positive.

Alex Morgan, who did an MA in political economy at King’s College London after his undergraduate degree in Leeds, says the pandemic has me “in a perverse way”. He decided to pursue postgraduate studies “because the graduate job market felt so dysfunctional” last year. After his master’s degree, he got a job in the public service. He hadn’t planned on doing a master’s degree and adds, “I don’t think I could have gotten this kind of job without her.

It seems that many other students have also gone for postgraduate options. An analysis of FT business school rankings, for example, shows how applications for postgraduate programs, such as an MBA or Masters in Finance, have increased.

Bar chart of annual variation in enrollment * (%) showing renewed interest in MBAs

He also believes that the forced change in work habits could level the playing field and allow for faster progression, especially for those who are not based in London.

Nathaniel Fried, a geography graduate from King’s College London, was working part-time on building an information security company. Anticipating the lack of employment opportunities, he decided to pursue it full time. “We’re doing well,” he said. Although he feels constrained by the circumstances, exploring opportunities outside the traditional job market “boosted my early career prospects by forcing me to innovate,” he says.

Likewise, doctoral student Bevington – who learned the lessons from the end of his undergraduate course during a recession in 2011 – also decided to start his own company, a non-profit organization in the field of space research. “When I approach potential employers about my company’s offer, they can’t match up quickly enough. “

Portrait of Alex Morgan, who did an MA in Political Economy at King's College London after undergraduate studies in Leeds

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

Brian Massaro, a graduate with a master’s degree in applied economics from Marquette University in Milwaukee, United States, accepted a full-time position after an internship during his studies, but he and a friend applied to incubators and d ‘start-up accelerators to develop a publishing house on which he has been working for a few years.

While students believed the pandemic had had a ripple effect on their immediate career prospects, many respondents felt cautiously optimistic in the long term. But some felt governments and businesses should provide more support and invest in graduates.

Morgan adds that companies may need additional incentives to offer high-quality graduate positions. “We strongly encourage young people to go to good universities, taking a lot of debt to do so,” he says. “It seems in my peer group that there are a bunch of graduates (from the best universities) who are unable to find roles that challenge them. That’s not to say they’re entitled to one, but I think there’s a clear gap between the university’s promise and the reality on the other side.

Fried adds, “I think business and government should take steps to invest in graduates. Social mobility is very low and those most affected by the lack of opportunities are the marginalized groups.

Rahul, an India-based MBA graduate who declined to give his last name, says companies need to improve the hiring process and pay graduates based on skills: “Don’t cut wages just because people are in need. He also says the time taken to hire should be reduced to 30 days. “[Some] take almost 100 days for a recruiting process. It is ineffective.

Despite the challenges, some respondents are optimistic. “It’s difficult for us graduates,” adds a University of Brighton graduate. “We will only be stronger for it!

Chelsea Bruce-Lockhart Graphics



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