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Job hunting under coronavirus

Job hunting during the coronavirus pandemic: what you need to know

Find out how to deal with – and plan for – applications and interviews when the coronavirus pandemic has thrown so many things up in the air.

Many employers will be taking on a ‘blended approach’, too, meaning they will use a mix of virtual and in person for the recruitment process.

Although graduate recruitment hasn’t bounced back to pre-pandemic levels, it’s positive that the tide is turning on the trend for decline: a survey by the Institute of Student Employers (ISE) shows that most of the UK’s largest graduate employers have either stabilised or increased their recruitment this year. Of course, this isn’t a reason to be complacent. It does, however, show that your chance of securing a job with an employer that suits you is still very much present.

There are some changes caused by the pandemic that are ongoing, however – both to the approach of employers when it comes to recruitment and to the best way for you to go about your job hunt. So, this article shed lights on these coronavirus-related changes, and helps you to take these into account when making decisions and plans for your career.

The recruitment process: adapting to a blended approach

When it comes to preparing for interviews and assessment centres, it’s a good idea to be ready for both virtual and in-person versions. This is because employers vary in terms the extent to which they’re in favour of continuing to use online platforms or comfortable with moving back to the office. Many will be taking on a ‘blended approach’, too, meaning they will use a mix of virtual and in person for the recruitment process. The majority of employers surveyed by the ISE are planning to use this approach. So, you might have an in-person interview and an online assessment centre – or vice versa.

When you’ve applied to a few jobs, it might be a good idea to practise interviews both in front of people (perhaps your housemates) and using a virtual platform. This could be particularly useful if you know you’re more confident with one than another, to ensure you can portray your strengths equally in both. However, remembering that the skills and understanding that will be assessed – along with the kinds of questions you’ll be asked – are likely to be similar might help you to focus more on your answers to questions and less on where you’re answering them from.

Once you know how you will be assessed during the recruitment process for a position (this will often be found in the careers section of the employer’s website and it should be confirmed as the next steps once your application has been successful), use this to influence your planning. For virtual interviews or assessment centres, for instance, you will want to try to make sure your internet connection is stable, check out your technology set up and let those you live with know the hours between which you’d like them to keep quiet.

For in-person versions, ensuring you plan your trip accounting for potential delays and have read through any guidelines to maintain safety and social distance will be important. Perhaps you’ll also need to think about safe alternatives to your initial handshake – such as knocking elbows. Your interviewer might have a preference, however, so during interviews it might be best to give them the chance to take the lead.

If you aren’t comfortable with an in-person meeting for any reason, you should not be afraid to request a video interview or alternative arrangements. It’s likely that employers will consider your request carefully, especially if you or someone in your immediate circle is classed as vulnerable. There is a high level of understanding among employers in relation to these types of requests.

Career choices: considering widening your net

Depending on the sector you are interested in, you may find that Covid-19 has made a level of compromise in your career choices more likely. This is a personal decision: you may decide to carry out a part-time job or volunteering while you wait a little longer for your ‘perfect’ job. Alternatively, a desire to gain experience and money might lead you to broaden your search.

The survey by the ISE suggests that retail and fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) are the areas in which graduate recruitment is being cut by most – at least among some of the most popular employers of graduates. This article on the sectors that are surviving and suffering during the pandemic should also help you to think about where you might be more or less likely to find a position. However, don’t just rule out a sector or role you’re enthusiastic about. Make sure you find out what vacancies are out there, along with carrying out further research to find out how employers in that sector are being impacted by the pandemic.

It might suit you to spend the first few months of job hunting focusing only on those roles you’re extremely enthusiastic about and setting a time period after which you’ll ‘widen your net’. If you do end up moving away from the ‘perfect’ position, consider your priorities to help you to decide what you’d be comfortable compromising on. Would you be happy with a similar role in a different sector (eg you’d like to work in marketing but not necessarily in the hospitality industry) or vice versa? Are you happy to compromise a little on your working environment as long as the pay meets your needs? Just like job descriptions list the ‘essential’ and ‘desirable’ requirements for candidates, you could perhaps do this for positions and choose where to apply accordingly.

CVs and applications: continuing to improve your skills set

If you want to give your CV a boost while you apply for roles, the pandemic shouldn’t get in the way of you gaining some skills and experience.

Although it might be difficult to continue with certain extracurricular activities due to social distancing measures, there are so many opportunities that have moved online as a result of the pandemic. Our articles on the career-friendly activities you can do while social distancing and learning a language during lockdown and beyond might help to give you an idea of where to start.

You could also search for part-time positions; the opening of non-essential retailers and pubs has increased the number of opportunities in many areas. If you’d prefer, though, you might take a look for positions you can carry out remotely – such as online tutoring.

Volunteering will also build up your skills and look good on your CV. You could always get involved with opportunities related to the pandemic, such as by getting involved with one of the opportunities to support others during the pandemic offered by the Red Cross (eg as a vaccine volunteer) or supporting someone suffering from loneliness through the opportunities offered by Omega.

Rent and benefits: knowing your rights

We know that, while searching for work during these challenging times, you may need to keep on top of any developments regarding the benefits you can receive and your rights when renting. Below is the most up-to-date information we know.

Benefits

Full-time students are not entitled to job seeker’s allowance (JSA). However, there are circumstances in which some students can apply for universal credit, such as if parental support is limited or if you are responsible for a child. For more information, take a look at the information about eligibility requirements for JSA and universal credit, provided by GOV.UK.

If you have finished your university course and are unemployed, you may be able to apply for financial support from the moment you graduate. In order to receive the ‘new style’ JSA you will need to have worked and, generally, to have paid class one National Insurance contributions in the last two to three years.

If you are not in this position, the chances are you will be eligible for universal credit. It might be useful to note that if you’re furloughed from a role in which you typically worked less than 16 hours a week (so, you’re technically employed) and you meet the other requirements, you can claim JSA.

If you are concerned about your finances while job hunting under social distancing measures, the Debt Advice Foundation provides advice on its website, as well as a free helpline for advice and information about debt during the week.

Rent

In England, landlords cannot legally start repossession proceedings without having given tenants six months’ notice. This is except for in some specific cases, such as if tenants have been engaging in antisocial behaviour or accrued rent arrears to the value of over six months’ rent. Similarly, in Wales you should be given six months’ notice before the landlord can start court proceedings to evict you (that is, unless antisocial behaviour or domestic violence is involved). Some further guidance is provided by GOV.UK for England and GOV.WALES for Wales.

If you are a private renter in Northern Ireland, you should be given 12 weeks’ notice before you can be evicted. There is also extra financial help that you may be eligible for if you rent in Northern Ireland: for more information and the option of calling for advice, take a look at the Housing Advice NI website.

In Scotland, the six months’ notice rule also stands. There is also further support. For example, a tenant hardship loan fund has been established to help tenants who are struggling with rent due to changes to their finances and/or employment during the pandemic. If eligible, you may be able to use this to clear up to nine months’ rent arrears or borrow up to three months’ future payments (this would be part of the nine month total – for example, you could potentially clear six months of rent arrears and borrow three months of future payments).

Landlords in Scotland are also required by law to engage positively with tenants who are having difficulties paying rent – so you can work together to manage arrears. For more information, read the guidance provided by the Scottish government.

Talking to and working to come to a compromise with your landlord could be a good approach, no matter where in the UK you live. If you have concerns about your accommodation, try to work out an agreement with your landlord for late payment or a payment plan and check the above section to see if you are eligible for benefits. The law is different when it comes to lodgers, but homeless support charity Shelter has published a good guide on its website. The Citizens Advice Bureau also provides information about benefits and renting during a pandemic.

Some students are facing difficulties with renting. This might be because they are paying for accommodation they are not living in. Alternatively, many have returned to campus but feel that this shouldn't have been encouraged by the university (eg as their accommodation is in lockdown), and so are unhappy with paying full rent. The Citizens Advice Bureau has information on your rights and responsibilities as a student in both university accommodation and private rented accommodation.

Last updated: 5 May 2021.

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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.

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