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Breakfast News December recap: the last big question of 2020

16 / 12 / 2020Siobhan Middleton


How has the pandemic changed the needs, expectations and behaviours of graduate recruits? In true 2020 fashion, this important question is one laced with uncertainty. However, as Linda Papadopoulos, leading psychologist and human behaviour expert who regularly appeared on Channel 4’s Big Brother, rounded off this month’s Breakfast News by making clear, it’s important to take control where you can when faced with the level of uncertainty caused by Covid-19. For recruiters, this surely involves adapting recruitment processes and approaches to take into account what we do know about graduates. 

In the final Breakfast News of the year, we combined the latest data from graduate studies with the expert view of leading psychologists to provide an insight into how graduates are continuing to respond to the pandemic. In this recap, we consider some of the key points employers can take with them into 2021.  

Many thanks to our guest speakers: Declan Curry, business and economics journalist and broadcaster; Stephen Isherwood, chief executive of the Institute of Student Employers; Nick Shaw, occupational psychologist and founder of Spotted Zebra; Mike Hanbidge, senior consultant at Blackbridge Communications; Dasha Karzunina, head of research at Trendence UK and Ireland; and Dr Linda Papadopoulos, a leading psychologist, human behaviour expert, broadcaster, author and columnist.  


Young people are particularly impacted by Covid-19 

In her talk Are they OK? The impact of the pandemic on young people, Dr Linda Papadopoulos demonstrated why this should be such a big consideration for graduate recruiters. 18-to-24-year-olds are moving into adulthood by building their connections, relationships, emotional stability and careers, all of which require a level of stability and certainty that the pandemic has pulled away. Many young people can’t secure a job, and a high proportion of those with jobs face furlough and the possibility of future unemployment.  

One of the prevailing takeaways of Linda’s talk was the importance of being able to view change as inevitable and to adapt. Students and graduates searching for work are certainly learning a lesson in this right now. However, the ability to adapt effectively to a new workplace requires people to feel supported – particularly after having struggled with knock backs during the pandemic/recession job hunt. Linda highlighted the importance of helping recruits to feel in control where they can, and there’s more on this below.  


Students are feeling less confident  

Dasha Karzunina, in her talk alongside Mike Hanbridge, Unrecognisable: the class of 2021, discussed the data collected already in the ongoing Trendence UK Graduate Study 2021 – a survey of over 41,500 students (so far) from different year groups and diverse backgrounds. This data points to an increase of 12% since last year in the proportion of students agreeing with the statement, ‘It will be tough to get a good job in the following year’ (79% this year). Furthermore, just 54% of students feel their universities are doing everything they can to support them during these times. 

Evidently, it’s crucial for both the mental health and the motivation of students and graduates that they feel supported not just by their universities but by the employers they’re applying to and may well receive a job offer from. Keeping them informed, both of changes made to the business and across every stage of the recruitment process for candidates (including making expectations apparent and giving clear and honest feedback), is one thing to focus on. Not only is this helpful for their career progression but (as Linda Papadopoulos pinpointed as crucial) it will also help young people to feel that they have some level of control. 


Students want engagement across a variety of media 

Dasha also pointed to the increase in students using and valuing engagement with employers via media such as webinars, employer videos, podcasts and career-related apps. It’s a good idea for recruiters to respond to this increasingly proactive response by ensuring they provide a variety of high-quality virtual means of engagement. 

However, this doesn’t necessarily mean a total shift away from face to face contact during the recruitment process in the long term. Mike suggested that potential recruits who are somewhat intrigued might benefit from virtual engagement, while those who are actively interested often want the chance to meet face-to-face. When deciding on the different points of engagement for candidates in 2021 and beyond, mixing virtual with in-person could be the best bet for many employers.  


Employers are already adapting 

Having homed in on the graduate response to the pandemic, taking a look at how other employers are both adapting and continuing their recruitment processes to ensure they aren’t weakened by Covid-19 should inspire recruiters to think about the best approaches for them. 

In his talk The employer response to Covid-19 – so far, Stephen Isherwood discussed the range of tools employers are now using to assess talent – particularly when compared to before the 2007–2008 financial crisis. This demonstrates a shift in focus from competency-based assessment to a hybrid form that incorporates skills- and values-based assessments as well. And it’s an approach that has continued in spite of the pandemic: while in-person recruitment – ie face-to-face assessment centres (87% of which have been stopped by Covid-19) and face-to-face interviews (61% of which have been stopped by Covid-19) – has inevitably become less common, nearly all other forms of recruitment activity have only declined in use by 0–2%.  


Employers will require more agile recruits 

As a result of the pandemic, innovation (particularly technological innovation) is becoming more important for companies, and this requires fast and creative workers. Furthermore, remote working has led to a focus on worker output rather than input. As Nick Shaw suggested in his talk ‘work’ is changing fast: new skills, new roles, new culture. These shifts have led to an increase in agile organisations – those that use small, multi-disciplinary teams with a clear purpose and close customer alignment. 

So, what might this mean for recruitment? As new employees are brought in to respond to strategic needs, hiring will become more frequent and urgent. These recruits will also be expected to ‘hit the ground running’ in order to make a valuable contribution to small teams. They will therefore be assessed according to the soft skills that enable them to adapt to new teams and tasks. Nick highlighted communication, negotiation, empathy, continuous learning, problem solving and critical thinking as priorities.  


There’s more than one way for an employer to be flexible 

The Trendence UK survey showed that the most likely approach to job hunting from students and graduates as a result of the pandemic is to look for a position that allows flexible working (45% indicated that they would want this from a future employer). However, this doesn’t necessarily mean working from home; a smaller proportion (32%) said they would look for an employer that allowed this. 

Employers have options, as Mike emphasised, and there is no need to automatically move every stage of the recruitment process and working life online. Their ‘normal’ has changed rapidly, and so graduates may be more receptive to or understanding of changes in recruitment and working practices. Employers can market themselves by talking about how they have supported and valued their current workforce during this turbulent time. Crucially, they can promote their own idea of flexible working – whether that’s by highlighting a focus on employees’ wellbeing, work/life balance or the trust they place in their workforce. 

To view the slides from the morning click here.