TARGETjobs black logo
Someone applying for graduate jobs

When to apply for graduate jobs during a pandemic

Find out when to apply to be in with the best chance of getting a place on a graduate scheme that starts in the autumn after you graduate.

As a job hunter, are you an early bird or do you belong to the group of students who leave it to the very last minute? When it comes to starting applications, 22% of final-year students in 2019 began in October, 13% in November, 9% in December and 13% in January. This is according to the Cibyl Graduate Survey 2020 of almost 72,000 students and graduates.

The Graduate Survey asked final-year students: in which month did you start/will you start applying for graduate careers?

In which month did you start/will you start applying for graduate careers statistics graphic

Usually we would say that students who want a graduate job upon graduation should aim to apply in the first term of their final year. This is because of the deadlines that employers normally set. However, we have found that the coronavirus has shifted things a little.

Graduate job deadlines in a pandemic

Many employers recruiting during the coronavirus pandemic have tried to keep to the recruitment timetable of previous years. This traditional timetable can be summarised as follows:

  • Most employers offering formal graduate programmes open for applications in September/October, with a view to graduates starting work the following September/October. Employers that offer graduate-level individual jobs rather than formal programmes may follow the same timeline or may advertise roles nearer the start date, often stating on the job advertisement that the role has an ‘immediate start’.
  • Many employers set application deadlines for November and December. They may well extend the deadline or reopen the vacancy if they do not receive a sufficient number of quality applications.
  • In some sectors, such as investment banking, deadlines are fixed – although an employer might do a bit of top-up recruitment if their job offers aren’t accepted. Generally speaking, if you miss deadlines in these sectors, you have missed the boat until next year. The law profession typically has fixed deadlines, but works on its own separate recruitment timetable.
  • Some employers do not set a deadline and keep their graduate programmes ‘open’ all year or have ‘ongoing recruitment’ – but they still expect to receive most of their applications by around Christmas. By the spring and summer, typically only the less popular schemes in the less popular locations tend to still have vacancies; more popular programmes will have been filled.

However, the coronavirus has meant that some employers have delayed opening for applications until they have got a clearer picture of what the economy will look like in the coming months, how many graduates they will need for the amount of work they have in the pipeline, and in what areas of the business they require graduates. There may well be more opportunities later in the academic year than there would normally be and there may also be more graduate-level jobs with an immediate start.

On the other hand, we have seen many employers open up their applications, set a deadline and then have to close very shortly after, bringing forward the deadline, because they received more high-quality applications than they knew what to do with! From what we are hearing, many students are applying much earlier than they would normally do.

So, when answering the question ‘when to apply for graduate jobs?’ we say… keep an eye out for vacancies on TARGETjobs and apply without delay when you see one you are interested in. Don’t rush things so that you make mistakes or don’t do the level of research that employers expect, but don’t procrastinate until right before the deadline either.

Internship deadlines and the coronavirus

In a ‘normal’ year, deadlines for internships, placements and spring weeks/days often open and close at the same time as the employer’s graduate programmes, although a few may open later once the deadlines for graduate applications have passed. Similar to graduate programmes, however, we have seen that during the pandemic some employers have delayed their decisions about whether to offer work experience (so again there may well be an increase in vacancies later in the academic year than we would usually expect). Some employers are able to offer virtual internships if in-person internships aren’t possible.

Our advice about when to apply for internships and other work experience opportunities is the same as graduate jobs: search for vacancies on TARGETjobs and apply as promptly as you can after first seeing the vacancy while still putting in a well-researched application.

Find out more about internships and Covid-19.

Should you delay job hunting for another year?

When we asked respondents in the Graduate Survey 2020, which closed just before the pandemic took hold of the UK in a big way, in what university year they were likely to apply for graduate careers, the majority (60%) said their final year – but over a fifth said after they graduated.

The Graduate Survey asked: in what year will you start (or have you started) applying for graduate careers?

In which month did you start/will you start applying for graduate careers statistics graphic

We wouldn’t blame you if you decided not to apply for jobs at all this year and see if the jobs market may be more buoyant in 2021–22 or beyond. This is, of course, a personal choice and there may be good reasons for you to do so, not least the need to focus on your studies to achieve a 2.1 or above.

However, we would recommend that you start applying for jobs in your final year if you can. There may well be even more competition next year as you may well be applying alongside greater numbers of unemployed graduates as well as final-year undergraduate and masters students. Plus, succeeding at graduate recruitment processes takes practice and you’ll get more practice in if you start applying this year! Our article on getting a graduate job in tough economic times can help you get started.

Are you considering doing a masters instead? Again, there may be very good reasons for this, including the desire to pursue a different career path than your undergraduate degree equips you for – but first check out our answers to the five questions to ask yourself before doing a masters in a pandemic.

Supported by

This describes editorially independent and objective content, written and edited by the GTI content team, with which the organisation would like to be associated and has provided some funding in order to be so. Any external contributors featuring in the article are independent from the supporter organisation and contributions are in line with our non-advertorial policy.

Advertising feature by

This describes content that has been written and edited in close collaboration with the organisation, who has funded the feature; it is advertising. We are committed to upholding our ethical values of transparency and honesty when dealing with students and feel that this is the best way not to deceive consumers of our content. The content will be written by GTI editors, but the organisation will have had input into the messaging, provided knowledge and contributors and approved the content.

In Partnership

This content has been written or sourced by AGCAS, the Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services, and edited by TARGETjobs as part of a content partnership. AGCAS provides impartial information and guidance resources for higher education student career development and graduate employment professionals.

Did you know that members with full profiles are more likely to get direct messages from employers?

Don't miss this great opportunity. Register now
Top