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Graduating into a pandemic: the impact on university finalists

May 2020

Nearly two-thirds of university finalists feel negative about their career prospects and many have lost job offers or placements as a result of the COVID-19 crisis - but others say they now have more time to plan their future

Post-university life should be filled with excitement and exciting job offers, but for the 2020 cohort of graduates the reality is far more uncertain. Many of those who had secured a job or received an offer have seen them withdrawn or deferred as the coronavirus pandemic has caused significant economic disruption.  

A survey by Prospects on the effects of COVID-19 on graduate recruitment has revealed that out of the 1,202 final-year university students who responded:

  • 26.1% lost their work placement/internship
  • 29.2% lost their job
  • 28.2% had their job offer deferred or cancelled.

It's understandable that students feel upset at the current situation. For many, these job offers represented a return on their investment in higher education and were to pave the way for their future career. The fact that, according to the survey, 64.6% of finalists now feel negative about their job prospects signifies the effect this pandemic has had on their outlook.

All of this highlights the need for employers to work with university careers teams and develop their online outreach strategies to ensure they are communicating with students and dispelling any false beliefs that employers are no longer hiring.

Making job adverts visible and sharing reassuring messages about recruitment will help ease anxiety among university finalists - especially as 92% said they would like this kind of information from employers.

Further information on how companies are changing their recruitment process (requested by 83% of respondents), advice on virtual recruitment methods (72%), whether they can work/train from home (64%) and what support is available for homeworkers (44%) are all in demand.

Lack of jobs is biggest worry for finalists

Prospects also questioned its users about their biggest concerns for their career prospects at this time, and the findings emphasise the need for employers to engage with students and careers services to keep them informed about any changes to their hiring strategy.

Concerns,Percentage of respondents who said this was a concern
Fewer job vacancies in their industry,78.5
Fewer work placement/internship opportunities in my industry,72.3
Fewer apprenticeships/training schemes in their industry,60.6
How to approach virtual recruitment e.g. video interviews/ online assessment centres ,59.8
Employer wanting to see them in person ,43.3

The Institute of Student Employers (ISE) found that employers have responded to the lockdown measures by moving their assessment centres (60%) and face-to-face interviews (71%) to an online or telephone format. It could be beneficial for careers teams to hold virtual interview practice sessions and distribute any information on the virtual hiring process to help those who are concerned about approaching virtual recruitment.1

Although a number of industries have been severely affected by the crisis, demand is apparent in healthcare, some forms of logistics and supermarket retail and hardware/networking.2 It is evident that the hospitality and leisure industry, and entertainment and corporate services are adversely impacted, which has led to a reduction in roles advertised.3 It could be worth inspiring students to explore those industries that are thriving and identify how their skills can be transferred into other roles so they can build up their work experience and secure their desired job once the economy improves.

It's also important to remind students that the fragile economic state is temporary, and some large businesses especially are putting plans in place - such as PwC, which cancelled its summer internships but has offered alternatives, potentially including automatic entry onto its graduate programme in 2021.4 In addition, PwC's summer work experience programme is being delivered online so students don't miss out entirely. Although there are fewer job vacancies on the market it is essential that graduates remain motivated and keep their eye out for opportunities like these.

18.3% of university finalists are feeling positive about their career prospects

Males more likely to feel positive about career

It's encouraging to see that 18.3% of university finalists are feeling positive about their career prospects, and it's hopeful that careers intervention will ensure that once graduation approaches they will be resilient and prepared to enter the labour market. When asked to elaborate on why they feel positive, survey respondents often mentioned that they can dedicate more time to job research and planning:

  • 'I can spend more time finding job placements in line with the career I want to go down'.
  • 'I am optimistic that more opportunities would come up post covid era, hence i am preparing myself'.
  • 'More time to do my research and get myself fully organised for approaching companies'.

Interestingly, the data showed that males are more likely to feel positive about their career prospects during this time (29%) than females (14%).

The possibility that this cohort will graduate into a global recession is becoming more likely, and it is crucial that they receive the necessary support and guidance to help them navigate the jobs market during this challenging time. University careers services and graduate recruiters can keep track of the impact of COVID-19 on the UK graduate labour market with Luminate's weekly updates.

Also in this series


  1. COVID-19: Challenges for student recruitment and development, Institute of Student Employers, 2020.
  2. Week five of lockdown - news from the graduate labour market, Luminate, 2020.
  3. Impact of COVID-19 on industries in the UK, LinkedIn, 2020.
  4. UK youth employment prospects crumbling' in coronavirus crisis, The Guardian, 2020

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