If the future for graduate job hunters after Brexit was an essay question, there’d be no one right answer. With Brexit constantly in the news and the stream of updates set to continue for months and years to come, it’s perilous to generalise about the likely impact on graduate careers, let alone to offer any definitive advice. However, here at TARGETjobs we’ve been listening to both students and graduate employers, and have compiled a list of students’ top six frequently asked questions about what Brexit will mean for them as they decide what to do after university, and start applying for jobs.
Two key concerns about Brexit and graduate jobs
Students’ questions about Brexit boil down to two key concerns: prospects and professional etiquette. You may well want to know what Brexit will mean for your career in the long term, but you are also likely to be focused on the immediate next step: applications, interviews and assessment centres. Could a Brexit faux pas mean falling at the first hurdle?
We’ve put together some information and tips to help you forge ahead with your job hunt with confidence, and if there’s one key point to remember from all of this, it’s not to let economic and political uncertainty put you off taking control of your career planning and making decisions about your future.
1. Will Brexit affect the graduate jobs market?
It hasn’t yet – but there are some indicators that it could. You certainly shouldn’t put off applying for graduate jobs based on a mistaken belief that there aren’t any. There are – and, as ever, graduate recruiters are keen to hire the talent they need to succeed in the future.
The Institute of Student Employers (ISE), which represents many big organisations that take on large numbers of graduates, reported in its 2018 annual survey that its members were recruiting 7% more graduates than in the previous year, along with 31% more year-long placement students and 10% more interns. Employers were asked about their main concerns for the year ahead and only 15% raised Brexit as one of them. It was a very different story back in October 2016, when Brexit took the top spot in the list of topics ISE members were most worried about.
Another report, What do graduates do?, published in October 2017 by the Higher Education Careers Service Unit (HECSU), looks back to the second half of 2016 and 2017 – the EU referendum, followed by the triggering of Article 50 and the general election – and comments that 'this series of destabilising political events has led to a much-increased level of economic uncertainty'. It adds: ‘Nevertheless, this uncertainty has not necessarily fed through to the graduate labour market at present, which remains relatively strong.’
2. Will Brexit affect my long-term career prospects?
There are many factors in the mix when it comes to your career, both in the short and the long term; Brexit is just one of them. Your choice of profession and specialism, and how well suited you are to what you want to do, will have a huge impact on your future. Take charge where you can: the more time you put into exploring your options, deciding what to do and making yourself the best possible candidate, the better placed you will be to succeed.
The What do graduates do? report observes that ‘in the short term, economic indicators point to stalling growth in the labour market’. However, it goes on to highlight the lifelong protection that a degree provides against economic shocks: ‘Long-term trends strongly suggest that if there are setbacks ahead for the economy, they will be less severe for graduates than for workers with lower qualifications, and that any damage to the UK graduate labour market is likely to be temporary.’
3. How will Brexit affect the industry I want to get into?
There are no short cuts here; the only answer is to do your research. We’ve heard a range of views from employers in different industries on the likely impact of Brexit, and there can also be marked variation across specialisms. For example, here’s our take on what Brexit will mean for would-be solicitors and barristers:
- How to talk about Brexit in a law firm interview (partners from law firms discuss the likely impact for 19 different specialisms)
- How to talk about Brexit in a pupillage interview (barristers explain which areas of law are most and least likely to be affected: includes a basic guide to the EU)
If you do your employer research thoroughly, you should be able to find out if any representatives of organisations you want to work for have expressed views on how Brexit is likely to affect particular specialisms, or the business or industry as a whole.
- What’s the outlook for graduate job hunters after the EU referendum? (a snapshot of student and employer views after the vote)
4. Can I raise the subject of Brexit at careers fairs?
Employer research will help here too – if you’re well informed, you’re more likely to ask a good question that will elicit a useful answer. Think about what you really want to find out, and work out your questions and how to phrase them in advance. Careers fairs are your chance to meet employers and ask them what you want to know, but bear in mind that the time you have to talk to graduate recruiters will be limited, so there might be other topics that matter more to you. Don’t feel Brexit is a subject you have to avoid, but focus on gathering information that helps you understand and improve your job prospects.
5. When I’m at an assessment centre, is it OK to talk about Brexit?
If you are given a case study exercise that involves Brexit, or are asked an interview question about it, you’ll have to address the subject, drawing on your employer and industry research and understanding of current affairs. If Brexit is likely to have a direct effect on the industry you want to join, understanding the relevant issues will help you show your commercial awareness.
What about making small talk with recruiters at social times such as meal breaks? If you’re thinking about raising Brexit in a social context, be aware that you might end up involved in a disagreement. If Brexit comes up on the day, be careful not to make any assumptions about other people’s views on the subject.
You may find it useful to think about topics of conversation in advance, and your employer research will help you identify a range of possible talking points. For example, you could bring up a project the company has been involved in that particularly interests you.
- Graduate assessment centre etiquette: handling the social side
- How to be your best self at assessment centres
6. If I’m asked a commercial awareness question, can I use Brexit in my answer?
Is Brexit directly relevant to the commercial performance of the area you want to work in? If it is, this could be a good opportunity to show you’ve done your research into your preferred specialism, the employer and the industry. Again, this is where it will help you to be aware of any statements that representatives of the employer have made on the subject. Could key projects or industry regulations be affected in specific ways, or is the impact still uncertain? Again, make sure you’ve done your research. You’re more likely to impress an employer with a clear, fact-based example of your commercial awareness than with vague observations or apparently baseless opinions.
It’s not just about Brexit: other trends that could shape your future
Here are some other key points from the What do graduates do? report about the graduate jobs market at the end of 2017, and the outlook for the years ahead.
- The graduate unemployment rate for 2016 graduates six months after graduation was exceptionally low, at 5.3% – the lowest it has been since 1989. Meanwhile, just under three-quarters (71.4%) of 2016 graduates who were in employment six months after graduation were working in professional-level positions, an increase on the previous year.
- There were particularly large rises in the number of graduates entering roles in nursing, graphic design, marketing, art, sports, cinematography and photography, finance and accounting, and coding and software development.
- There was a sharp rise in the proportion of graduates going on to further study across a broad range of subjects, and masters courses were particularly popular. This is probably at least in part down to the success of the postgraduate loans scheme.
- The number of 18-year-olds in the UK is set to fall year-on-year until well into the next decade, so employers are going to be competing for a shrinking pool of young job applicants. Meanwhile, there has been particularly strong growth in professional-level jobs in science and engineering, and business and financial services positions. As the What do graduates do? report observes, ‘The UK still has a strong and increasing demand for graduates’.