Class of 2020, you’ve seen it all. Your graduating year will forever be defined by the vague threat of World War III, Australian wildfires, Trump’s impeachment, mass global unemployment and of course, a little thing we call Covid-19 (and this was all within the first three months.) But you didn’t let anything stop you. I’ve never seen more innovation, creativity and initiative from our young people than I did over the few months of lockdown, from Etsy and Depop shops to TikTok recipes and blogs. Faced with the cancellation of internships, work placements, working abroad plans or the loss of a summer job, so many students had to power through gross disappointment to find other ways to make money or pad out their CV over the summer.
While a tremendous effort has been made by students to make the most of their situations, there’s no doubt that the effect of the pandemic has left so many uncertain of their career paths, feeling as though Covid-19 is making their career decisions for them. But what is the exact impact of Covid-19 on the graduate job market? And how does the recruitment process this year differ from previous years?
I chatted with Emma McConville, a graduate recruitment and marketing executive from First Derivatives as part of my journey to get to the bottom of these questions. First Derivatives is a leading consultation and software company which is currently hiring across their three distinct Graduate Programmes: Options, Futures and Explorers, catering to those interested in data science, software engineering, FinTech, business, marketing and more. Emma joined First Derivatives following her graduation from Ulster University with a degree in Communication, Advertising and Marketing in 2019. Emma’s role involves recruiting technical and finance orientated graduates for First Derivatives on a global scale, including the UK, US, Canada and APAC region.
Emma told me a little bit about First Derivatives’ response to the pandemic and their move to the world of remote working,“The safety and well-being of our team, customers and partners has been our priority during this pandemic. We have put measures in place to allow our employees to work from home, enabling them to continue delivering services and support to our clients across the globe. We are also leveraging virtual and digital communication methods as much as possible to keep the lines open and teamwork internally and externally going forward. We are proud of the speed, agility and commitment demonstrated by our team despite the disruptions to our lives and work routines.”
On the question of whether recruitment has been affected by the onslaught of Covid-19 Emma informed me that “the company made the decision to slow our levels of recruitment during the summer of 2020 while we readjusted our plans to account for the effects of COVID-19. We are delighted to advise that we still have a huge level of demand from our clients for our consultants, so we have a large recruitment drive planned for 2021.”
The pandemic also prompted FD to revise their graduate recruitment process, which now takes place online;“The recruitment process now involves three key stages – the telephone interview, online problem-solving assessment and video interview. Pre-COVID-19, our problem-solving assessments and final interviews were conducted in person at our global headquarters in Newry, Northern Ireland. We are now using an online testing platform for our problem-solving assessments and the video platform Zoom in place of face-to-face interviews” Emma tells me.
I know many students are worried about the prospect of an online interview and are keen to make themselves stand out. Emma advises students to “demonstrate to employers how you have used this time productively. Candidates who have used this uncertain period to their advantage by completing online courses and internships, learning new skills and being active on LinkedIn will stand out above those who have not channelled their energy into making themselves more employable.”
Emma recommends using any additional time you have on account of Lockdown 2.0 to optimise your CV or complete an online course. Now is an excellent opportunity to research the employers you might like to work for-take a look at their websites and social media accounts and peruse their employee reviews. In preparation for future interviews, you could also spend some time improving your knowledge of the industry you’d like to enter-what are the current trends and challenges and who are the major players? Emma and FD really advocate for getting active on LinkedIn! Give companies you’re interested in a follow and make sure you regularly engage with them.
Every cloud does indeed have a silver lining. Dr Yseult Freeney, Associate Dean for Teaching and Learning in the Business School at Dublin City University spoke to the Irish Times about the experience gained by students during this turbulent time, saying: “Students can say so much about how they were resilient and agile in how they met these new demands, particularly as they were approaching their finals which was a significant milestone in their lives.” As well as this, the move to remote working means that more and more employers will be seeking to employ candidates with highly developed computer skills. Who better to address this need than the Class of 2020? “Their digital fluency will have gone through the roof. They will have learned in virtual rooms, they will have learned in isolation from the normal support networks that they would have around them when they are on campus” says Dr Freeney.“This equips them so well for working in global virtual teams which are inevitable in the future regardless of what they enter into. We work in a global village now and we have to be able to adapt to work with people. Students will have dealt with that. They will have to have negotiated that and found ways to work together as a team.”
While the Covid-19 crisis is continuing to have a drastic effect on the economy and the labour market in Ireland, graduate recruitment is proving somewhat resilient and many employers, just like First Derivatives, are continuing to run their graduate programmes. Aileen Waterman of UCC Career Services had this positive message for students: “Our UCC jobs portal is still showing large numbers of jobs advertised since the start of the semester and the larger firms while numbers are slightly down, are still recruiting in their usual timelines. The market has slowed a little now but we expect it to pick up again in the New Year as the picture post December becomes clearer.”Although I know that myself and many other students are anxious about navigating the uncharted waters of online graduate recruitment, the benefits of this shift cannot be downplayed. As young people, online graduate recruitment plays to our strengths. We are tech savvy by design, after all. Not to mention, virtual interviews enable you to keep prep material close to hand. When I’m interviewing with a company online, I like to write out each of their values or culture, and parts of the job description on sticky notes and place them behind my laptop. This prompts me to make sure I am gearing all of my answers towards what the company is looking for.
If you are still worried about your career plan, UCC Career Services recommends ‘Skills Panorama’, ‘Indeed Hiring Lab’ and ‘LinkedIn Economic Graph’ for responsive and up to the minute updates on the job market. In these uncertain times, having access to labour market information will hopefully make you feel empowered and informed when you’re assessing your career options. Such updates are particularly useful in these current, unprecedented times; however, Careers has issued guidelines for reviewing this information. For example, Indeed combines Irish and UK data in their stats and Skills Panorama offers a European-wide perspective which may fail to capture a local context for Ireland. It’s important that you keep your critical hat on when digesting these updates.
As always, please do not forget about the suite of resources offered to you as a student of UCC by the Career Services. Career Consultants are available to meet you remotely to assist you with all aspects of the job application process from writing your CV and cover letters, drafting applications and preparing for virtual interviews and assessment centres. I, myself, have availed of the mock interviews over the past few weeks and they’ve worked wonders to boost my confidence.
Don’t feel like you have to plan through this uncertain time alone.
You can book an online consultation at the link below: