COVID-19’s impact on junior talent

The pandemic – as many would have predicted – has had a large impact on the junior talent market. In the face of lockdown restrictions, we have seen the emergence and entrenching of technological hiring solutions as the recruitment sector had no choice other than to rapidly adapt and utilise tools already on the market.

This is something on which you can trust me; I have just jumped through all the hoops in the two-year process of getting my first job. Since the beginning of my third year of university in 2019, it has taken a total of over 100 applications to receive the offer that truly excited me, and here I am as the new kid on the block at Polestar!

The past two years were a forged-in-fire kind of situation, the more I heard “unfortunately we will not be progressing you to the next stage”, the more I learnt. The lessons may not have been huge: maybe a tweak to my CV here or a slight change to my interview technique there, but in doing so I hope this experience makes me well qualified to discuss this topic in depth.

COVID’s effect on the junior mindset

Alongside all normal the struggles graduates face, of course I was trying to find a role amid a global pandemic. With the country working from home the question quickly became: how can business possibly take on new graduates unless they have an established graduate programme or structure?

This question in particular allowed myself and many others to reassess their career goals, I always wanted to go into an accountancy graduate scheme and follow the path put in front of me by university career days and fairs but, through the hiring experience, my mindset changed and allowed me to explore new avenues. This change in thinking was not felt by just me, in a recent survey performed by a leading industry recruitment business, approximately 56% of 1,554 respondents stated that their priorities had shifted in the past year.

Technology’s role in recruitment

Alongside pandemic-induced change of mind, another factor that led me to where I am is the different technology used for recruitment at the graduate level. Outside of your standard telephone interviews or zoom calls, what many do not realise is that online application forms, recorded video interviews and competency tests are commonplace. Many firms will not even meet you face to face until stage 4 or 5. 

Specialist companies such as Workday analyse job applications through keyword recognition, progressing you automatically if you meet the criteria. This transition to application processers has taken the human element out of recruitment at large firms and, although this may be necessary due to the sheer volume of applications, good candidates slip through the net and rejection can come down to  missing a key word or two. Gone are the days of mailing handwritten CVs and guaranteed interviews for applications like I heard countless times from my mum.

From another perspective, the rise of recruitment technology has allowed candidates from all over the world to apply for positions. A whole new level of access to the job market has been granted to millions bringing increased competition and a higher class of talent from which firms can hire.

Final thoughts

As the world emerges from the pandemic and firms begin filling all the roles left unoccupied for 18 months, technology will have a vital role to play. While the process is far from perfect, the number of juniors not in the professional role they hope for is higher then ever and recruiters will have to utilise every solution possible to welcome them back into the market.

One takeaway from my experience is that this next wave of juniors will be determined and resilient having faced an already saturated job market in the midst of a global health crisis.

It is more important than ever for companies to identify what has changed and evaluate which parts of this new normal in recruitment they will bring forward into the post-COVID world.

By Joe Graham on 20/08/2021