There is no denying that COVID has affected everyone in the whole world, and there aren’t many things that do that. Health, jobs, the economy, and our social lives have all taken a hit.
Now give a thought for the people at the start of their careers. The step from full-time education to the real working world is hard enough as it is but during a pandemic? Not great timing to say the least.
Although I’m not a ‘fresh’ graduate, because I graduated in 2019, I haven’t been in full-time work because I have been gaining my journalism qualification. I’ve been doing this through distance learning, so essentially working from home towards my qualification. For this reason, I would argue that this year I have still been a student, so can definitely relate to what graduates are going through.
Thankfully I got to take exams remotely. This worked by either being on a zoom call with the examiner, or our computers were monitored whilst we sat the exam. All these steps resulted in exam results that actually meant something because there was no way of cheating.
Long story short, I got to take my exams and complete my qualification, so that wasn’t disrupted too much. However, the opportunities that I was applying for were definitely altered by COVID, like many others.
Journalism is fiercely competitive to get into anyway, so to have the small number of opportunities being cancelled was very depressing. Schemes I was in the final stages for were pushed to 2021, the number of jobs out there were reduced even more, and all of a sudden, exams were done and I didn’t have a clue of what was going to happen next.
I spend summer managing a local maze attraction and working at the restaurant a few shifts a week (luckily I was on furlough for this too).
Summer flew by because of working two jobs. However, whenever I wasn’t working I was applying to jobs. This is no small task either – hours of tailoring CVs and cover letters, filling out application forms, and all for nothing a lot of the time.
Something to add is that I was applying to jobs other than journalism too because, shock horror – there weren’t many (if any) trainee journalist roles out there. I used my copywriting experience to apply for roles in marketing.
Fast-forward through weeks of applications with not a lot back, and finally, something went my way – a trainee reporter role came up down south. I applied, and two interviews later, I got the job!
Not only that, but the job offer also came in on the same day the certificate for my journalism qualification came through – Finally some good news!
As I type this I am still working two summer jobs, but I am prepping for the big move in a few weeks, and finally starting the job I’ve been aiming for all this time.
My point with this isn’t to brag, it is to stress that I went through a lot of rejection to get to where I am now. COVID put a stop to things I was working towards and reduced the number of opportunities out there for me, but I had to just keep applying and hope for the best. Eventually, something will come through, as long as you’re putting the time and effort in with applications of course.
Things are far from being back to normal, but with some plans in place, I can start to feel like I’ll be moving forward again.
I am not the only one in this boat, so I spoke to a view other graduates about their experience through COVID and how plans were put on hold for them too.
Ellie was set to complete her master’s and then travel to Uganda for volunteer work, before returning to find a job in the humanitarian sector.
“My plan for the year had to completely change and realistically none of my goals for the next year are achievable at the moment. I was also unable to work during the lockdown which has put pressure on me financially.”
The worry for Ellie wasn’t only her master’s, but also the practical learning she had missed out on: “I was worried that lockdown would massively impact my performance in my master’s degree and would affect my grades, meaning it wouldn’t be a true reflection of my capabilities. I also worry that it may not be as valuable for future employers as I was unable to carry out any fieldwork.”
Now she is working in a restaurant, a job that she was lucky enough to receive furlough from whilst the hospitality industry was shut down. She plans to continue working there until she can re-evaluate plans for 2021.
Just like Ellie, Christy completed her Master’s this summer and was set to get into a graduate scheme, but COVID caused the scheme to be cancelled, and so she was back to square one.
Luckily, she has income through the retail industry: “I am pretty much now doing full-time hours in retail whereas I was only part-time whilst I was studying. Summer has been stressful trying to balance exams, doing a lot more hours at work, and looking for new opportunities (with many rejections). Although I realise that I am lucky to still have an income at the moment.”
Despite the difficult circumstances, she remains positive for the future: “If people are in the same position as me I would tell them that the right thing will come along and to not rush into anything (even though it is a stressful situation and you feel like taking any job) as we have our whole working career to figure it out.”
Megan is working too, although it wasn’t a straight-forward journey to get there. Graduating with an English degree last year, she had been working in a marketing agency until COVID disrupted things.
“First I was furloughed for a period, and then I was made redundant. Although I wanted to move on from my first job, being faced with the reality of unemployment during a pandemic was not great. My first reaction was that I’d hold on to my job whilst I could and move on when things had calmed down, but that obviously didn’t happen.”
Megan didn’t let the grass grow though, as she freelanced for a couple of months whilst hunting for her next job and is now working for a different marketing agency. The motivation she’s shown doesn’t mean she’s been without her worries though: “I felt guilty about living at home rent-free after paying rent whilst I was in work and was anxious and frustrated about the work situation. I just wanted to find something so that I didn’t feel like I was failing – a fear I had when I graduated.”
In terms of the future, Megan is aware of the potential struggles: “I haven’t been thinking too far ahead because it makes me anxious to think about what will happen to the world. Personally, I don’t feel like my journey has been delayed too much, but if I think about the intricacies of it, it’s easy to spiral and believe that this is going to make progression much harder.”
Graduating this summer, James is set to start his master’s in September. Whilst his education timeline hasn’t been altered, he has struggled to find a part-time job over summer, and this has had a big impact on his motivation.
“Being stuck indoors for such a prolonged amount of time, especially after I completed my exams, really took my motivation out of me. Summer has been long. It’s been a tiresome process of failed job applications.
“What I’m looking forward to most is getting into a good routine again and having something that I want to do. Just having a sense of purpose again will lift me up massively, rather than being stuck with not much to do.
“It’s not something that lasts forever, so if you’re struggling, just know that there will be an end and try to reach out to other people as it is always worse if you are alone.”
Whilst James’s master’s plans have remained intact, Charlotte’s were cancelled.
“On 4th August I had an email letting me know that my taught master’s had been cancelled, leaving me without a course and with a student house that I had already paid the first instalment for. Eventually, they offered me a place on a special one-year full-time distance learning master’s, which is what I will be doing despite still living in Leicester!”
Charlotte’s education plans have significantly changed, something that causes her to worry for the future: “In terms of prospects, I have been concerned about my future – my master’s now, and getting a job once I am done.
“As cliché as it sounds, if there is one positive thing I have learnt from this year that I’m going to carry with me forever, it’s to seize the day and make the most of every available moment. You never know what is ahead so grab every opportunity that arises!”
Similarly to Charlotte, Imogen’s education plans have seriously changed due to the pandemic. The plan was to start her PhD in September, but her university failed to fund any of them due to COVID, meaning that she has had to defer her offer until 2021.
“My original backup plan was to work as a researcher on campus for the year and reapply for funding, but the crisis means the university is not offering any research positions either.”
Adding to the problems, Imogen was shielding in the family home, limiting her options further: “I can’t go to any in-person interviews, and have been rejected on this basis alone. Moving out without a job was terrifying because I don’t have many savings, but it was the only way I could go to interviews without risking my Dad’s health. Hopefully, I find something quickly for the year, just to be able to live in a non-shielding household.
“This coming year feels a bit of a throwaway. I had so many plans on how to advance my life and have had to pause them all. I desperately don’t want to live at home because it is massively restrictive and I need to be able to live my own life, but finding any job currently is very difficult.
“Although I do think things will be okay, the uncertainty of when this will be is difficult to cope with. Trying to carve a path through this pandemic is difficult, and right now I’m just aiming to be able to live independently, and that will be enough of a success for the time being.”
To finish on a positive note, Lacey finished her Master’s this summer and has moved to Reading for a graduate job.
“Many of my friends also graduated this year, and some of their offers/applications fell through due to COVID. This was hard as it was a shame to see my friends so disappointed and, at the start of the pandemic, I was also worried that the same would happen to me.
“I was very fortunate that my company was determined to honour their offer, regardless of what the circumstances may be upon my start date. The biggest change of plan that I’ve personally encountered is that I’m due to work from home until January 2021.”
Like all the graduates I spoke to, Lacey feels that the end of university has been very anticlimactic due to the lack of graduation ceremony: “I found it hard to accept that my time at university was finished because I felt like I didn’t quite get to see it through. There were no big celebrations, no final farewells. That was hard.”
One thing Lacey would take away from this is that is it okay to be upset and disappointed that you’ve missed out on things: “We’re all grieving different losses; just because somebody has had it worse than you doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be upset. There is nothing any one of us could have done to change this, so we just need to try and ride it out. Be kind to yourself!”