How will Brexit affect your graduate job hunt?

Find out what Brexit could mean for the graduate job market and your future career, and pick up tips for discussing Brexit in applications, interviews and at assessment centres.

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Don't let economic and political uncertainty put you off taking control of your career planning.

It’s not just the coronavirus pandemic that will affect the UK economy and your job hunt; Brexit will continue to have an impact, too. In what way is yet to be known. 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.

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: finding jobs and succeeding at in the recruitment process.

But if there’s one key point to remember, it’s not to let political and economic uncertainty put you off taking control of your career planning and making decisions about your future.

1. Will it be harder for UK students to work in the EU than previously?

The short answer is ‘yes, probably’. The longer answer is more nuanced. Although there are some separate agreements in place for cross-border working in Northern Ireland, in general UK citizens do not have the automatic right to work in an EU country and so will have to apply for an appropriate visa and/or abide by other rules set by their country of destination. This may also affect those who travel for short-term business purposes (such as attending a conference).

However, it is worth noting that if you are expected to work abroad (for example, to go on an international secondment as part of a graduate programme) or to travel abroad for work purposes, your employer usually organises visas for you.

The UK government is also introducing the Turing Scheme to enable students to work and study abroad, as a replacement for the Erasmus+ scheme.

If you are an international student wanting to work in the UK, please see our information and guidance on visas.

2. Will Brexit affect the graduate jobs market?

In the short term at least, the economic turmoil caused by the global pandemic will probably have more impact on the jobs market as a whole. But that's not to say that Brexit won't have any impact.

A survey of members of the Institute of Student Employers (ISE) published in November 2020 explored employers’ predictions about the factors that would lead them to recruit fewer students than they otherwise would have done over the next five years. The prospect of an economic recession topped the list and was mentioned by 45% of employers. Covid-19 was next at 41%, while Brexit was mentioned by 19% (down from 34% in the previous year).

Certainly, Brexit wasn’t deterring employers – on the whole – from taking on graduates in 2019 and early 2020 (in autumn 2019 the graduate jobs market was relatively buoyant). Additionally, now that businesses have more certainty around Brexit, they may be able to better predict how many graduates they will need in coming years (pandemic allowing). Of course, some industry sectors (and specific businesses within sectors) will be affected more than others.

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.

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.

Investigating how the Brexit trade deal (and any separate subsequent agreements) will affect the industries that interest you will not only help you come across as commercially aware in interviews; it could also help you decide which types of jobs to apply for.

4. Can I raise the subject of Brexit at careers fairs?

Careers fairs (now run virtually) are your chance to connect with employers and ask them what you want to know, but bear in mind that the time you have with graduate recruiters will be limited. As a general rule, our advice is not to ask anything that you can easily find out on the employer’s website. If the website states that they do not accept applications from those needing a skilled worker visa, for example, it is a waste of your time to ask them whether they do. Do your employer research beforehand; focus on gathering information that helps you to understand and improve your job prospects; and try to plan the phrasing of your questions in advance.

5. When I’m at an interview or assessment centre, is it OK to talk about Brexit?

If you are given a case study exercise that involves considering the impact of the Brexit agreement on the industry or business, or are asked an interview question about it, take an analytical and factual approach. Draw on thorough employer and industry research and an understanding of current affairs. Your grasp of the relevant issues will help you show your commercial awareness.

What about making small talk with recruiters (such as while you wait for a second interviewer during a video call)? If you’re thinking about raising Brexit, be careful not to make any assumptions about other people’s views and remember that it's wise to avoid getting involved in a disagreement. You may find it useful to think about a range of topics of conversation in advance (other than Brexit).Your employer research will help you identify possible talking points. For example, you could bring up a project the company has been involved in that particularly interests you.

6. If I’m asked a general commercial awareness question, can I use Brexit in my answer?

Yes, if Brexit is directly relevant to the performance of the sector you want to work in and employer you are interviewing for. It could be a good opportunity to show you’ve done your research into your preferred specialism, the employer and the industry. If the impact is as yet unclear or evolving, you could acknowledge this and go on to discuss a range of possible outcomes.

However, if your employer is largely unaffected by Brexit – say they focus on a UK market and their supply chains remain unchanged – then including it in your answer may make you look commercially unaware. Again, this is where it will help you to be aware of any statements that representatives of the employer have made on the subject.

Remember: it is generally best to take a neutral and factual approach when discussing Brexit in an interview.

This article was last updated in January 2021.

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