What are the difficulties facing new graduates? We asked, you answered
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From impossible application processes to being ghosted by a prospective employer, today’s graduates are entering a jobs market where there are fewer opportunities and increased competition.
The Financial Times wanted to hear from new graduates about how their lives have been affected by the pandemic, so we launched a global callout. We asked people who had recently graduated to share their experiences of finding work after education.
The survey was open for a week and almost 100 people responded, spending an average of 20 minutes each answering our questions in detail. Many hundreds more commented on the article we published on the findings, offering help and tips for recent graduates, as well as recounting their own experiences.
Some called the process of finding a job “a complete grind”, while others talked of “exploring opportunities outside the traditional job market”.
We’ve published some of the most insightful comments from FT readers below. Join the conversation by sharing your views and experiences in the comments section below.
Learn to block out the noise
“The only thing that kept me motivated this year, was knowing that it is nothing more than a numbers game. You need to remember this, expect rejection, and block out the noise.
I ultimately got a dream job offer in January with a great salary for the internship. It was in a remote location so no high costs and great perks etc but it wasn’t easy, in fact, it took over 150 applications.
It’s absolutely a slog, miserable, demotivating and quite upsetting to have to go through several hundred applications, wake up at 4am to prepare for an interview in Hong Kong, play 101 different ‘games’ as part of assessments, all to never even hear back from the company in some cases. It’s a number game, nothing more. But remember, it just takes one yes for success!” — Calum!
Too many graduates
“I had five enjoyable years at universities, left with savings from holiday jobs, and soon bought my first home. But if I was a school-leaver today I would seek a role as an apprentice in law, accountancy, or surveying.
We need to destroy substandard universities, and for young people to wise up and start work earlier.” — Michael Corby
Do your research
“As someone who graduated a few years ago with little to no contacts, I find it staggering that people think simply submitting applications or cold emailing will get you anywhere. Get on LinkedIn and speak to the person in charge of the role and as many people in the company as possible (even if you are asking questions you already know the answer to). If you’re not doing this, you might as well not bother applying.” — great name
Use your initiative
“Call the HR department and ask: ‘any open roles?’ I did this and in four weeks I had five job offers. Below graduate-level, but then you’re in and in a better position for any future applications you make.” — tintin
“These apprenticeships don’t really exist, and those that do are subjected to the same obscene recruiting styles as detailed by many others. (I would know, KPMG gave me 48 hours notice for an assessment centre in London, four hours from me, that included an exam, a presentation and a competency interview).” — Moaning millennial
Contacts are crucial
“The old story of not what you know, but who you know. I doubt whether those who went to Eton, and gained lots of social contacts, have any problems whatsoever — even though, as we see in parliament, many are not the brightest.” — BrentryEd
Some friendly advice
“Reading this takes me back. It was brutal applying to all those companies, spending hours filling out application forms and doing ridiculous online tests (some of which were literally click games), only to receive an automated rejection letter and no feedback.
Companies should reflect on how this affects their brand in the eyes of future consumers or potential business partners. There are some companies I would simply prefer not to work with ever, because of how poorly they treated their potential recruits.
For those who are going through this now — remember that rejections aren’t personal. The vast majority are automated and based on some obscure criteria. It’s a numbers game, keep playing and you will get there. It is worth it!” — FormerSU
“A tradesman entrepreneur can easily earn as much or more than many graduates. It just takes far greater work ethic than getting an accounting or finance degree”. — yourboijl
Blanked by employers
“I will never understand why hiring companies think this is acceptable to blank you instead of sending you a rejection email. Particularly when those same companies send millions of unwanted marketing emails every week. It should be entirely possible with the technology we have to respond to *every* applicant for a job.” — br/
Don’t take it personally
“My previous company also received so many applications for some positions that they literally binned half the CVs without even looking at them. They knew they would find someone to do the job in the more manageable pile remaining. They were far from the only major employer to do this. You won’t receive feedback here either because your name was not even read.
This is why I tell graduates not to take rejections personally. Much of the hiring process these days is by definition impersonal, and luck is a greater factor in securing an interview than at any other point in the recent past.” — Rabiusa
“I applied to 61 graduate schemes for September 2021 and got rejected from 60 (managed to snag a dream role thankfully), and was only offered useful feedback by three companies after a one-way virtual interview or phone interview. And then there are the opaque psychometric tests employed by many City of London firms and a certain Big Four. I’m not sure how clicking on balloons and mashing my space bar measures my competence for a job.
I will always remember very fondly the few companies (Santander, Mazars) that gave me extremely detailed verbal feedback on my application — after getting dozens of virtual interview rejections without feedback. It does not really reflect well on a business when graduates who spend hours on an application are dismissed with an automated email refusing feedback.” — Sucrose Guardian
Take a chance
“Graduating into the financial crisis was not a fun time. It meant taking jobs that weren’t very sexy, often on temporary contracts as companies assessed their headcount requirements.
I certainly couldn’t have waited for the ‘right’ job; my parents didn’t have the money behind them to indulge such whims, nor should they have. Sometimes life isn’t exactly as you think it should be when you’re 21!” — andsoitbegins
Real life experience
“Experience of the ‘world’ outside the academic bubble seems to be a crucial factor. My careers’ service at university offered small internships with small businesses and charities and I found myself using these experiences as the basis of most of my interviews and cover letters.” -PeterFogg
“I was a waiter and barman in a fish restaurant for four years, and I still think it has been the most valuable job I’ve ever had in terms of learning people skills. You see a total cross-section of society, and it teaches you core skills in handling fast-moving, pressure situations (8pm on a Saturday night), big personalities (chefs and ‘VIP customers’), teamwork (from porter to owner), and difficult clients (rude customers).
Give me an articulate graduate with a 2:1 or 2:2 from a red-brick university and years of part-time customer-facing experience, over a grade-eight violin player with a first from Oxford but who has never had a job in his/her life, any day. — Force Majeure 25
‘Harder for kids today’
“Last year I recommended a family friend for the graduate programme via the alumnus network and was genuinely taken aback by the quality of his academics, language skills and work experience, plus a very professional CV. In the past, he would have had a very high chance of being accepted. If I am honest, it really hit how much better skilled he was than I, when I started.
He didn’t even get a first-round interview.
I don’t think us olders appreciate how much harder it is for kids today and how lucky we were . . .” — Nobby
Foot in the door
“After graduation I wanted to work as an analyst at an investment bank (young and foolish, I know), but had to plump for a low-paying office job instead, which I parlayed into a perfectly good career after a couple of years. The key is to just get your foot in the door.” — Bacchus Doggus
“The best advice I can give to graduates or non graduates is to get your foot in the door first and prioritise experience over high salary. If you can get both then great. You then need to leverage that experience for raises or be ruthless and move employers a few times in short succession to bump your salary.
You should have zero loyalty to employers that don’t compensate well and not be afraid to follow this playbook. Finally, getting a job is a numbers game — eventually you’ll find one, but you have to have the will to keep moving forward relentlessly whilst ignoring setbacks and not letting them get to you. Good luck!” — GrowthMindset
Top tips for recent graduates
“1) Expect an entry level position on an entry level salary. Priority number one is gaining experience of corporate life and the salary jumps can start in as little as six months if you use your head. After a year you can look for another job if salaries stagnate in your first company and it will be easier with experience. Most future managers in the short term will just want evidence that you have your life together and you can hold down a job.
2) Demonstrate that you can think for yourself. Have a question or problem you need to speak to your manager about? That’s fine but try and bring a solution you’ have considered to the table — it doesn’t matter if it’s wrong, it matters that you’re not just showing lazy thinking.
3) Handle your scandal. Get as drunk as you like on a work night but the moment you start calling in sick or turning up looking like you have been dragged through a hedge, the perception your colleagues will have of you is that you’re firmly in the junior league.
4) Develop boundaries. Leave your personal drama at home and don’t overshare with everyone in the office and never slate your colleagues unless you really know the person you’re talking to has your back — office gossip has a way of coming back to haunt you.
5) Brush up on Microsoft Office programmes. You will almost definitely use Word, Excel and PowerPoint and you need to know intermediate skills if you want to get your work done efficiently. LinkedIn offer courses and if I see them on a CV it’s definitely a boon as this is a surprisingly neglected skillset for a tech-oriented generation.” — NotQuiteZen
More tips for grads
“Here’s some advice that may help any graduates applying or about to apply next year (this worked well for me):
1) Apply early. This is the most important. Companies tend to start recruiting (graduates or interns) a few weeks after the applications open (in August / September to start the next summer). For competitive institutions such as banks, many divisions fill their spots by Christmas — at which point they won’t need to read any CVs after.
2) Speak to HR or current graduates at career fairs. If you meet HR there, a little chat where you show your interest can get your CV fast-tracked even if it’s distinctly average. Same goes with knowing an employee. Impressions matter more than a sheet of paper where everyone ‘changes’ the truth anyway.
3) Have a template for competency questions. First you really spend time answering the questions in the first few, and then just reiterate most of what you already have down. it’s all about key words: in some companies, algorithms look for them and will discard your application if you don’t have them in.
4) For the interview, do your research, but be honest about what you don’t know. Asking interesting questions is the best way to get employees interested in you, and if you ask the right questions, it can make up for some dodgy answers in the previous phase. Most of us employees in big companies know that you don’t know much about the job you want to go into yet but it doesn’t matter: we’re here to teach you, happy to do so if you’re keen to learn. We just want to work with someone who is easy to work with.
The key in interview process is to manage to sell yourself without coming across as arrogant. Some people on the interviewer side may mistake your modesty and candour about not knowing everything and not pretending to, but they are likely arrogant themselves, and not the type of people you want to work with anyway — you won’t be missing out. Good luck!” — TFCM is Back
Experience the world
“Get a low-paid job abroad and get experience. Tough to do at the moment, but some countries will still let you in. I went to work at a university in Sudan for a year, I got great experience and when I then applied for jobs, I was invited for an interview at every place I applied. There are places across Africa and Asia crying out for English graduates. Go to them.” — Times Tide Will Smother You
*Comments have been edited for length and style
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