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4 Ways to Support Graduate Recruitment Post-Pandemic

Graduate recruitment in a post-pandemic world is challenging. Learn our thoughts on what employers can do to hire and onboard graduates of 2020/2021

We have all seen the news headlines on the impact of COVID-19 on students. Whether they are struggling to pay their rent or simply questioning if they are receiving their money’s worth of teaching, it seems clear that the students of 2020/2021 are not getting the university experience they were probably expecting. We are also starting to see more research warning us of the impact the pandemic is having on students’ mental health, earnings, and future job prospects.

I spoke to a group of current students and recent graduates to understand the challenges they are currently facing and what employers can do to support this generation of future talent amid the global pandemic.

What is it like being a graduate entering the workplace right now?

For many people, starting new roles in 2020 has meant staying at home and relying on virtual interactions to go through orientation and onboarding. But for people starting their first ever office-based job, this brings its additional challenges. Lukasz, a civil engineer who graduated last year, was delayed starting his graduate job by over 4 months. During this time, he took a job working night shifts in a supermarket, while facing the uncertainty of not knowing when- or if- his new role would start.

Furthermore, he described his first day in the role as being “underwhelming”, but also slightly more relaxing as he “did not feel the pressure that my every move builds a first impression for my co-workers.” While it may seem nice to feel relaxed on the job, it also creates another question of whether graduates are truly being valued and if their potential is considered, especially when they are early talent and do not have much experience.

Let’s dig deeper to the challenges the pandemic has caused in the graduates’ perspectives.

For many people, starting new roles in 2020 has meant staying at home and relying on virtual interactions to go through orientation and onboarding.

The main challenges of 2020/2021 graduate recruitment

On the demand side of graduate recruitment, it is clear that many companies do not have the same volume of job opportunities as before due to closure or hiring freeze. On the supply side, the whole situation brings a different layer of meaning which reflects how students feel about their job prospects, and that creates 3 main challenges:

1. Less job options within the fields of study

Of the students I spoke to, there was clearly concern and anxiety around what options would be available to them after graduating. Lower demand for graduates and fewer open roles has meant that students are worried about how long it will take them to find a job and that they may have to consider roles outside of the specialisms they have studied. Alexandra, a graphic design student, told me “I am worried about finding a job near me in the field of my degree…I will have to look for a job not within graphic design.” Similarly, Ella studying Criminology and Police Studies worries the demand for police officers is “lower than usual” due to closures and budget cuts.

2. Missing opportunities to learn practical skills needed in the job market

They also felt concerned that, due to being taught mostly online during their degrees, they may be missing some of the more practical skills required to enter the job market. Kyle, studying Sport and Exercise Therapy said: “I’m worried if I’m going to have the appropriate knowledge and confidence…as I haven’t had any practical knowledge since halfway through second year”.

3. Early talent is overshadowed

Many of the graduates belong to Generation Z. This generation has so much to offer as they witness many global developments, social transitions, and technology advancements than any previous generations. With that being said, they are often underestimated due to the lack of working experience. Hence, when a pandemic like COVID-19 happened and companies are being even more selective with hiring, they are often cut in the process despite being early talent with enormous potential.

What can employers do in hiring new graduates?

During my conversation with the students and graduates, they had several ideas of what employers can do to support their transition to the workplace:

  • Give more people a chance. The students all felt that they have been somewhat disadvantaged with how they have been taught through 2020/21, with many mentioning that they may be missing some of the more practical skills that employers would normally look for. They suggested relaxing certain selection criteria or broadening the net on initial sifts of applications to consider a wider talent pool.
  • Expect less relevant experience. Due to the pandemic, students have been hugely restricted in finding part-time and placement-based work. This means they may be missing the related experience, knowledge and ‘soft’ skills that might normally give them the competitive edge in graduate selection processes. They felt that employers should be prepared to give new graduates more of a ‘foot-up’ when joining, as they may have more gaps to fill to get up to speed.
  • Hire based on potential. When selecting graduates based on potential, conduct assessments that focus on the kinds of situations or challenges that graduates are likely to face and how they respond to this. By focusing on what they would do, we can remove the reliance on evidence of what they have done in the past and hopefully open the door to a wider range of talent.
  • Provide good quality feedback. Students are expecting the job market to be more competitive than ever upon graduation in 2021. Given that they may not much experience of interviews, assessment centers, etc., they will be placing high value on any feedback they receive from prospective employers. This might include personalized interview feedback, or advice on how to improve performance in online assessments. Feedback can also support the onboarding process by drawing on the information gained throughout the selection process.

The pandemic has affected many professionals, and new graduates are perhaps the ones who suffer the most. We have learned above that the 2020/2021 graduates are being disadvantaged despite bearing many capabilities and promises. Therefore, companies need to stop looking at mere experience and years of work, and instead focus on the potential of developing early talent. Give them a chance to shine and showcase their abilities, and you will see the positive impact they can bring to your business.

SHL’s Graduate Hiring helps you unlock the potential of new graduates and provide a meaningful recruitment journey.

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Abigail Winter

Abigail Winter is a Senior Consultant within the UK&I professional services team. She combines her passion for innovative assessment solutions with a special interest in early talent and women in leadership. She has worked with clients from around the world to provide bespoke selection and talent management solutions throughout the employee lifecycle.

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