Written by:Eru Osia BAGraduate Business Psychology Intern
Note: As part of this piece, I interview a number of graduates to help provide further insight into their experiences and how their concerns may best be remedied going forwards.
There is no doubt that COVID-19 was an impactful experience for all graduates. As a graduate, you often have little time to process the situation of being a new grad and often need to move quick to the next stage of securing a job. This changed with the pandemic.
In my experience, those in their final years, whether undergraduate or postgraduate, were fearful. One can only empathise with how scary the prospect was of uncertainty around your safety and security in both health and in working life. As cases continued to increase, so too did the feeling that the whole covid pandemic would never reduce or eradicate.
Following a spike in cases towards the start of the pandemic, things turned around pretty quickly for students, with most ceasing to come onto campus. At the first sign of the virus, many talked about superstitious beliefs about the virus and struggled to find accurate information. Some ideas included 5G, and how this leads to the virus in addition to ways of curing the illness. Many students relied less so on the news, but increasingly relied on social media where often they found a myriad of conflicting ideas.
After the government issued the lockdown, a lot changed. All students were told to switch to online classes. Some placement students were told to stop working, many were told to finish their placements early, and only some had previous experience working from home. The hardest part of it all was that some students could not go to their families because of the restrictions, and they had no other choice but to stay by themselves because they had no one around. While so many other students lost some of their loved ones to the virus, they were not permitted to see them or say their goodbyes.
It was a difficult time. Graduates (myself included) must now find a way to overcome the stress and uncertainty left about by the pandemic. The country has bounced back well with things returning to normal. Students and graduates now have the opportunity to meet up with their friends and families again. Nevertheless, everyone has a story to tell about how this virus has affected them. I interviewed some graduates to tell us more about their experience and how things have changed for them as graduates of 2020 and 2021.
A lot of frustration came out from interviewing graduates across different universities. I thank them for voicing their concerns.
He felt a lot of his interest in things had waned given the pandemic. A primary concern he raised was how the pandemic has affected his job search as a fresh graduate.
The graduate had applied to over 200 jobs with no success. He expresses his pain by saying he is not looking for a rewarding career but a stable job that can help him build his experience over time and pay for his bills. When asked to describe the application process, he says that the procedures of constantly drafting a personal statement and needing to complete an online assessment were complicated, and that submitting his application became exhausting.
Furthermore, not getting feedback didn’t help as he feels he is not too confident speaking on camera. The whole process has been nothing but time-consuming and very challenging for him. He mentioned that sometimes he asks, “What’s the whole point of applying?” when you only receive an automated rejection after trying your best.
In the end, he decided to do a Master’s (MSc) to give himself a break from applying.
She explains that this experience will stick with her, as it became exhausting to motivate herself to attend online classes, which she found far less engaging than the face-to-face experience. It was particularly difficult as she could not make new friends and communicate with her peers.
Additionally, she highlighted that everyone became more reserved given the pandemic, and kept to themselves. Studying became harder as she had to use her face covering in the library, which was uncomfortable for longer periods. She could not focus, so she borrowed books and studied at home instead.
Before the pandemic, she had the freedom to walk into her lecturer’s office. During the pandemic, there was no option but to wait for drop-in sessions online, and it was uncomfortable to voice concerns and ask questions with everyone else present.
With regards to the job search, she had received roughly 20 rejection letters for entry-level positions. To her, it felt like “the coronavirus pandemic has had both beneficial and negative effects on the economy and social mobility“. Even though it was an exhausting experience, she has still managed to secure a job and is pleased that the hard work has paid off.
An international student with a lot to say about the process of being in the UK and experiencing the lockdown.
He explains that this was a tough experience as he had no family around him. His parents panicked, and he could not go home as the borders were closed for a while. He was troubled when he would go to the supermarket. Everyone was panic buying, and he feared going out because he did not know what he could touch given safety concerns. Thankfully, he managed to overcome this by getting used to the best supermarkets to visit for his needs. Indeed, it was a stressful period for him.
With regard to studies, he finished his Master’s in the first few months of the pandemic, so he did not experience much online learning. However, like many, he experienced issues in applying for jobs. The issue worsened as he needed a company that would sponsor his visa.
In the end, he decided the best route was to seek a Doctorate (PhD) as he had a bit more time to process his admission. When asked if he felt forced because of the circumstance, he said Covid-19 made things hard, but he discovered a desire to expand his knowledge in Economics and getting a postgraduate could help him improve his job search and advance his career. “I had a unique perspective on what education and research entailed, and as a result, I discovered my job path and life objective. I would never have pursued a doctorate and found my true purpose in life” he says, adding that he had not meant to do a PhD, but the whole pandemic helped him discover his true passion.
From conversing with these individuals and considering my own experiences, it seems Covid has had a lasting impact on the lives of some graduates.
It is inspiring to hear how these graduates continue to find ways to motivate themselves and overcome the situation, whether it be securing a role or progressing to further education.
Educational institutions have a role to play in continuing to educate students about their future prospects and provide tools for how to apply for jobs. Perhaps through online workshops where they can practice, train, and prepare for online tests and video interviews.
Ultimately, we need to recognise the influence covid has on graduates and their career development prospects. Improving access to university tools and resources is essential, and should help graduates develop their employability and related skills further.
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