Career Planning in a Pandemic

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

The media is awash with gloomy predictions for the graduate job market. Whilst there is no doubt that coronavirus has impacted on the number of opportunities immediately available, in the south west, there are still interesting and well paid vacancies being advertised. 

Here, we draw on our own experience, as both graduates and directors of a recruitment business, to offer insights and advice to those graduating this year.

#1. Your first job is not your forever job

Lots of graduates won’t secure their dream job this year. This happens every year - but it will happen to more graduates this year. You have several options; you can pursue postgraduate or specialist study, take a paid internship, volunteer position or job that isn’t perfect (and all will develop your skills and demonstrate flexibility and a strong work ethic work ethic) or you can sit it out until the perfect role lands in your lap. We don’t recommend the last option. Be flexible. For example, if you want to be a marketeer for Google, consider an entry level marketing role in a small company. It won’t sound as glamorous but it will show a commitment to your craft, and you will learn a lot to put on your CV when that Google job comes up.

#2. Broaden your job search to include small companies

Small companies (SMEs) are generally defined as those that have fewer than 250 employers. They dominate the SW labour market and offer some terrific opportunities, even during the pandemic. Here’s why…

Smaller businesses don’t employ anyone, let alone graduates, without giving it lots of thought. They will have identified a need for your skills and are likely to have a clear picture about what they want you to achieve.

Working in a small company gives you a great opportunity to manage your own projects. You’re unlikely to have departments dedicated to every aspect of the business so you’ll need to knuckle down and get to grips with a wide range of new tasks. Need to manage a budget? Chances are, you’ll be knocking up your own spreadsheets and dusting off the calculator. Have to collect data? It’s likely you’ll be responsible for finding the best software and checking out the rules on privacy. You get the picture. It may sound daunting but you’ll have others to call on and will develop a fantastic range of transferable skills – not to mention initiative.

The others you have to call on may include the senior management team. It’s not unusual for smaller companies to have flat management structures which give immediate access to experienced senior managers from who you can learn first-hand; a great way to develop your confidence.

Perhaps the biggest advantage to working for a small company is the sense of ownership. You’ll have the satisfaction of seeing that what you are doing makes a difference and this is hugely satisfying. There’s nothing better than working as part of a close knit team to make good stuff happen.

Many graduates believe that smaller companies don’t offer the salary and career progression of their larger counterparts. Whilst this might be true at either ends of the scale, remember that the widely published graduate starting salaries are taken from the big graduate recruiters (who employ just 10% of graduates) and are therefore pretty skewed. 

Similarly, the lack of opportunity for career progression is a bit of a myth. Nowadays, graduates are expected to have two or three different careers within their working life. Working for a large company may give you access to more structured career progression. But it might not. And if you’ve worked in a small company and developed a range of skills, you’re in a good position to apply them in a different environment.

#3. Investigate Lesser Known Opportunities

There are a plethora of lesser known graduate opportunities that are worth investigating:

These include, but aren’t limited to:

All these schemes offer the opportunity to develop your skills and networks, often in highly specialised roles, for a period of 6-12 months, whilst being paid. Some lead to permanent positions and all will help kick start your career. 

#4. Use your time wisely

If you’ve finished your exams and submitted your dissertation but don’t have a job lined up, you now have time to focus on your career planning. Use our partner Occumi to identify and articulate the skills you developed during your degree. Craft a brilliant CV (check out our blog on the #1 CV Error) , and sign up with lots of job boards / recruiters so that you know when opportunities come up. Oh, and check in with your careers service and alumni network; they will be able to give you lots of tips and you may find jobs that aren’t advertised elsewhere. 

#5. Know where to look 

We are focussed on the south west, so these websites are our favourites to look for jobs. 

  1. - graduate jobs & paid internships across SW England
  2. South West Creative Jobs! - lots of freelance contracts and paid jobs in the creative industries, particularly in the Bristol area but sometimes further afield in Devon, Gloucestershire and Wiltshire.
  3. TechSpark Job Board - vacancies with companies and organisations in the technology sector in Bristol and Bath.
  4. Devon Jobs - run by Devon County Council, Devon Jobs advertises around 200 jobs at any one time. Most are with the council or in local schools and there a fair few from the not for profit sector. 
  5. - looking for a job in a university? hosts a huge range of university vacancies ranging from academic posts to management and support roles and studentships. Much easier than trawling all the university websites in turn! 
  6. South West Science Parks - Exeter Science ParkPlymouth Science Park ,Bristol and Bath Science Park & Unit DX Incubator (Bristol)
  7.  South West Jobs - a service provided by South West Councils, South West Jobs advertises a wide range jobs mostly, but not exclusively, in the public sector.
  8.  Charity Job - lots of job in the charity sector, many of which are part time or home working.
  9.  Your University Careers Service (Google is your friend here).

And finally…

We would not want to be new graduates right now. We understand that it’s difficult and overwhelming. However, those that can adjust their expectations, adapt to the new labour market and seize opportunities - even if they are not what they expected - will thrive in the long run. We wish you all every success.