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.

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As a job hunter, are you eager to get started or do you belong to the group of students who leave it to the very last minute? Often, it's the early bird that catches the work, but you should focus on the effectiveness of your application, not just how efficiently you get it sent off.

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

The most popular month was October, with 22% of respondents choosing this month. Next came November and January, with 13% applying in both of these months. September and December were the choices for 10% and 9% respectively. February, March and June were each chosen by 5%, while April, May, July and August were all chosen by 4% of respondents.

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, 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 have been 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 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?

6% said their first year, 12% chose their middle year, 60% said their final year and 22% chose after graduation.

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.

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