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

Discover the latest intelligence on how Covid-19 continues to affect the graduate jobs market into 2022 and what you can do to boost your chances of securing employment.

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

There is no doubt that the coronavirus pandemic will have an impact on graduate recruitment for some time to come. On the number of vacancies an employer has. On the recruitment process it uses. On the extent to which remote and hybrid working is possible for new graduate hires (depending on the sector).

All of these things are useful to know for a final-year student seeking their first graduate job or an unemployed graduate struggling to find work, which is why we have gathered together the biggest trends from the latest research. But it is also important for you to look past the headline figures and not fall into all-or-nothing thinking. Just because there may be fewer vacancies in a specific sector or location doesn’t mean that you can’t secure one, for example. Use this data to inform your career thinking and prepare for recruitment processes, but don’t let it lead you to miss out on an opportunity.

What is the jobs market and employment outlook like in 2022?

The Institute of Student Employers' (ISE’s) Student Recruitment Survey found that the number of graduate job vacancies has been bouncing back since the darkest days of the pandemic: with the recruitment season not over, the number of graduate hires predicted in the 2021–22 recruitment cycle is c. 15% higher than it was in 2018–19.

The survey also found that IT, technical and analytical, and legal vacancies were most commonly recruited for across all employers in 2020–2021. Looking ahead, the recruiters thought that it would be most difficult to hire people into general IT roles (29%), technical and analytical roles (26%), and programming and dev IT roles (11%) in the future.

However, this survey comprises a small number of large graduate employers (177) and so it should not be taken as a snapshot of the entire graduate employment market, but more indicative of trends among the biggest organisations.

A snapshot look at targetjobs’ job vacancies in November, which include large, small and medium-sized employers, suggests that during 2021–22 the highest numbers of vacancies are in:

  1. technology
  2. management and business
  3. accounting and finance
  4. engineering
  5. construction and property
  6. banking, insurance and financial services
  7. law .

But, as large as our jobs database is, it is worth noting that not all employers have the budget to advertise on national jobs platforms, especially in sectors such as the media and creative arts – so don’t make the mistake of thinking ‘there are no jobs’ if your preferred sector does not feature in this list.

How competitive is the 2022 graduate jobs market?

The ISE survey reported that there were a high number of applicants for each vacancy among its member employers in the 2020–2021 cycle: 91 applicants on average. This trend was seen at targetjobs, too, where some big employers brought forward their deadlines because of the huge amount of applications they received.

What’s happening in 2022? Anecdotally, candidates do not seem to be applying in such huge numbers as early on as they were during the previous year – perhaps because, with the lifting of many coronavirus restrictions, students and graduates have more distractions! Employers are not typically closing their opportunities early and some employers are extending their deadlines for harder-to-fill roles, which is very much a return to the pre-pandemic normal.

This does not mean that you can be complacent, though. The ISE has predicted that there will be increased competition for graduate roles, due to graduates from previous years deferring their job hunt until after the worst of the pandemic. Plus, as the ISE points out, getting a graduate job is always a competitive process. So, give yourself the best chance possible: apply as soon as you can before the closing date, submit a researched and tailored application, and take all the opportunities you can to develop your skills. Part-time jobs , volunteering (digitally instead of in-person if you are concerned) and getting involved with student societies and community groups (remotely if not in person) can all help to develop the top skills that all employers seek, such as communication and teamwork.

Should I put off getting a graduate job?

We would answer ‘… and do what?’. Generally speaking, it is always better to do something (circumstances and future lockdowns allowing) than to allow a gap to develop on your CV . The 2021 Cibyl Graduate Research UK survey of 67,688 students and graduates (Cibyl is a student market research business owned by targetjobs’ parent company) found that:

  • 42% of students and graduates said the pandemic made it more likely that they’d look for a graduate job straight out of university (16% said it would make them less likely and 42% said it didn’t affect their decision)
  • 34% of students and graduates said the pandemic made it more likely that they’d study for a postgraduate degree (18% said it would make them less likely and 47% said it didn’t affect their decision)
  • 22% of students and graduates said the pandemic made it more likely that they’d go travelling (45% said it would make them less likely and 33% said it didn’t affect their decision).

The decision about when to enter employment is always a personal choice. See our advice on when to apply for graduate jobs for advice on working out what’s right for you. You could also view:

Is virtual recruitment here to stay?

Yes – many employers will still be operating the majority, if not all, of their recruitment processes digitally into 2022 and beyond. The ISE reports that 48% of employers say that their recruitment process will be mainly virtual over the next five years (and only 21% say it won’t be).

This means that you can expect to be invited to first-round video interviews and virtual assessment centres instead of in-person ones. Alternatively, particularly at smaller employers that don’t tend to run assessment centres, you may be given the choice between a live interview on Zoom, MS Teams or similar and an ‘in real life’ one.

It is OK to ask about social distancing and Covid-security measures before agreeing to an in-person meeting and to request a video interview or alternative arrangements if you aren’t comfortable. It’s likely that employers will consider your request carefully, especially if you or someone in your immediate circle is classed as vulnerable.

When meeting in person, if you are nervous about the initial handshake, you may want to think about alternatives – such as knocking elbows. Your interviewer might have a preference, however, so it might be best to give them the chance to take the lead.

How has the pandemic affected graduate salaries?

At a top-line level, the amount students and graduates expect to earn is slightly down, while in actuality graduate salaries at the biggest employers appear to be slightly up.

Is hybrid and remote working the future of work?

As social distancing requirements ease, are graduate employers adopting remote and hybrid working (in which you combine working from home and from the office regularly)? Not fully, at least not for the time being.

The ISE found that, for the 2020–21 recruitment cycle, only 13% of employers did not require graduate employees to live near to where they work and only 24% of employers recruited on the basis that hires would work from home most of the time. The digital and IT sector was most likely to recruit students who would work mostly from home (52%), perhaps unsurprisingly given the nature of much of the work.

There may be a mismatch here between candidate desires and business needs. According to the Cibyl survey, many students and graduates do want the option to work remotely: 47% of survey respondents said that the pandemic made them more likely to look for a job that allowed them to work from home (and only 13% said it made them less likely). What’s more, 43% said that they would like to work a few days a week from home in their first graduate job. Only 6% said they wanted to work from home all the time and have no days in the office, though, and conversely 11% said that they never wanted to work from home.

If the employer hasn’t made it clear in their job advertisement whether the role is remote, hybrid or office-based and this is important to you, you can contact the employer to check before you apply. You can also ask for further details during an interview to help you decide if this is the right role for you.

An employer, particularly a smaller organisation or one that is not hiring a large graduate intake, may be willing to negotiate a remote working position for the right candidate. But if you feel them out at interview you would need to decide what you would do if the employer is unable to accept your request. Remember that an employer is within its legal rights to specify your normal place of work and you can only put forward a request to work flexibly once you have been an employee for 26 weeks – and that an employer does not have to accept that request.

What if this is all ridiculously stressful?

Job hunting can be stressful and scary – and that’s without the added complication of a pandemic. It’s not unusual to feel a great deal of pressure but trust us: making career decisions while at or just after university is never a one-time-only, irreversible thing. Quite a few graduates get their first role, discover it is not right for them and change roles and sectors. If you find yourself becoming stressed, the most important thing is to look after yourself and seek help if necessary. Our feature on managing stress and your graduate job hunt , cowritten with mental health charity Student Minds, may be a good place to start.

Spotlight organisations

Get inspired

Cherry picked for you

Cherry picked for you

and delivered directly to your feed.