‘My entire life’s on hold’: Six months on, 2020 grads are still struggling to find jobs

‘I’ve lost a lot of opportunities just because of lockdown’

This has undoubtedly been the worst year ever to be a student. I am certainly not here to argue that it isn’t. Students are isolated, lacking mental health support, and absolutely no one is listening to them.

For the class of 2020, these feelings were similar last year. We finished final year and our dissertations in the midst of the first national lockdown, paralysed by the effects the pandemic had on our mental health. The government ignored us then as it continues to do with students now, with The Tab reporting Boris Johnson has mentioned students exactly zero times in all his televised addresses to the nation.

Some of us were lucky enough to get a job during the worst recession on record, but are still grappling with feelings of loneliness, isolated from both our university mates and new colleagues.

But many students who graduated last year are still struggling to find work. Six months after graduating with no ceremony, they’re “in limbo”, struggling with their mental health, and have no student loan left. Back sleeping in their childhood beds, the only thing to distract them from the third national lockdown is applying for endless grad jobs. The Tab spoke some of these 2020 graduates, who have applied for up to 50 jobs only to get “ghosted”:

‘My entire life’s on hold’

Tilda gradated from Exeter in 2020. “It’s super hard at the minute,” she says. “Barely anyone’s hiring, and what little jobs are out there are even harder to get – everyone’s going for them.” Tilda got down to the final stage for one job, but the company told her they chose the other candidate as they had more experience. “That’s not something you can really help, especially now. I can’t go out and get that experience.”

Tilda applied for internships before, and says the process has been very different this time around. By this time in the year, she’d heard back from all the companies and had multiple stages of interviews, but this year, she’s only heard back from one. “The whole process has been slowed”, Tilda says, “which makes it scarier for everyone. But one positive is that you know the companies hiring at the moment have made it through lockdown and are relatively more secure” – unlike many of her friends, who had grad schemes lined up at the start of last year, only to have their offers cancelled during the pandemic.

Graduating in 2020 was, as Tilda puts it, “shit”. “It was more annoying than anything, you’d spent three or four years at uni, making friends and putting in all this hard work ready for graduation to prove ‘I did it’, but never getting that opportunity. There are a lot of uni friends I never got the chance to say goodbye to, with lockdown after lockdown people just disappeared from your life with no closure. I still don’t feel like I finished university. I had four years, leading up to just an email saying I’d got my degree.”

March was “stressful” for Tilda, having to change her whole dissertation due to lockdown, as well as finishing off assignments and sitting exams. The lockdowns in November and now have been “tough but in a different way”.

“In lockdown you’re more miserable than usual”, she said. “So many people gloat online about what they’ve managed to do during lockdown. There’s that pressure having all this time and not knowing what to do with it

“Job hunting is a lot of pressure as it is, but lockdown makes it worse.”

She’s helping look after her younger siblings, so has less time to apply for jobs, and when she does get a chance “the motivation isn’t there. I felt like I wasn’t good enough in comparison to everyone else, making themselves look better on social media. Job hunting’s a lot of pressure as it is, and lockdown on top of that is just an added thing.”

Tilda’s original “dream” was to move to Australia after graduation, but now she says “I’ve had to rethink my whole life. I’ve lost a lot of opportunities just because of lockdown.” As well as this, with no other income Tilda’s been forced to start spending the money she’d saved up to fund Australia.

“My whole life is on hold,” she says. “Lockdown and this whole situation has been traumatising for everyone. People have lost loved ones, everyone is scared. I wake up every morning more panicked than usual. There’s so much uncertainty, there are so many trade-offs you have to choose between. It’s so hard to make plans for the long term when you don’t even know what’s happening in the short term. ”

‘There’s only so many jobs you can apply for before you go stir-crazy’

Rachel graduated from Soton last year. She started working part-time in retail last January, a job intended to “tide me over” for the last months of uni until graduation. Then she was furloughed several times, and is on furlough now. She’s applied for around 25 jobs, internships and grad schemes, but “it’s not exactly the prime time” for people to be hiring graduates right now, she says.

Rachel talks about how “surreal and anti-climactic” it was to finish university during lockdown in 2020. She submitted her dissertation from her sofa, and never got the “celebration” all students spend their university years imagining.

This lockdown, all Rachel has to keep her busy is “job hunting”.

“Uni gave me something to do during the day, rather than sitting around watching Netflix and wallowing in self-pity”, she says. “The first lockdown was way easier. I have nothing to keep me occupied. There’s only so many jobs you can apply for in a day before you go stir crazy. I keep finding random tasks around the house to keep busy.”

‘Every day feels repetitive’

When Soton grad Ronaldo returned home in July after his student house contract ended, he was “lucky” to go back to a job in the pub where he’d worked over uni holidays. But then the pub had to let go of some staff, and using the “last in, first out” policy, Ronaldo lost his job.

March lockdown was far easier for Ronaldo. He stayed in Southampton with his uni mates and they were able to “make the most of the situation”, even with all the end of uni celebrations being cancelled. “Living with other people definitely kept me focussed on my dissertation and helped with my mental wellbeing. I had people I could confide in,” he says.

He’s “struggling with this lockdown a lot more”. Being at home he has less independence, and he has seasonal affective disorder, so the weather and long nights aren’t helping his energy or motivation – and he’s away from his mates, who he could talk about it with. “Every day just feels repetitive,” Ronaldo says.

Now, he’s applying for “any job” – grad schemes, internships, working in retail. “Loads of grad schemes are closed, internships aren’t accepting applications any more. There’s a lot of rejections,” Ronaldo says. He got told he was rejected from a job in a supermarket because he was “overqualified”, and has been “ghosted” by several of the places he’s applied for. “There’s such a large candidate pool,” he says. “It’s put me in limbo, I don’t know where to look or what resources there are for me. In the middle of a pandemic things are always gonna work 10 times slower.”

Ronaldo says he keeps telling his mates to “stop putting so much pressure on themselves, as much as it’s so irritating you can’t get a job we’re in the midst of a global pandemic. It’s so unpredictable. Especially as graduates, I compare myself to a lot of people who graduated before us, people in job roles I want to be in. But it’s lockdown, don’t kick yourself too much – just take it day by day.”

He’s working on trying to improve his CV and make his applications more competitive against other candidates. As well as this, Ronaldo has started a podcast called Straight Outta Uni with his mate Sophia. Both 2020 grads, their podcast talks about the “joys, struggles and realities” people our age are facing, and shares their experiences of what it’s like to graduate and job hunt during a pandemic. Ronaldo and Sophia both tell me they enjoy doing something “productive” that feels like it will help their future careers – Ronaldo’s keen to use it to help build his “creative portfolio”.

‘I applied for 50 jobs’

Leeds grad Sophia, Ronaldo’s mate and Straight Outta Uni podcast co-host, “finally” started a new job last week. She applied for “around 50 grad schemes and other jobs”, at one point getting “rejection after rejection” which was “very disheartening”.

Starting a new job from home feels “anti-climactic”, but luckily she was able to meet some of her new colleagues before lockdown began. “It’s been alright, but it’s keeping me busy and I’m really grateful I’m able to start at the moment, especially when it’s such a hard job market out there.”

Even though Sophia gets on with her parents, living back in the family home is hard. “You have all the independence [at uni] it’s such a massive change coming home,” she says. “It would be hard enough even if corona wasn’t a thing. Starting work I’ve been like ‘is this life?’, we don’t even have anything to look forward to. This lockdown has affected me the most, I really feel for all my friends who are students or still looking for jobs. You can’t socialise, social interaction is what we thrive off at our age.”

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