The Key to Securing a Placement or Graduate Role: An Interview with Marc Steward

As most students begin the hunt for summer internships, industrial placements and graduate jobs, Georgina Peacock interviews Marc Steward, one of our career’s advisors, to get advice on securing a job during the economic crisis.

An introduction to Marc

Marc has been a careers consultant at the University of Leeds for 5 years, with around 18 years prior experience in careers education. During quarantine, Marc took the opportunity to speak to students about their unique lock down experiences through a podcast series called Life in lockdown: A Students Story. These experiences included starting their own businesses, securing a graduate job and working as a Covid-19 tester. More recently he is collaborating with Leeds Becket University careers service hosting a series of webinars called ‘Leeds Untied (not a typo!)’.

You can make use of the Careers Centre’s webinars and book individual appointments.

Given Covid-19 and the economic crisis, how do I deal with a competitive graduate labour market?

The media often highlight and embellish negative figures regarding the labour market so you must have a positive mindset and look at news stories in a positive light. Marc gave several examples to demonstrate this:

  • Covid-19 has created jobs that were not around a year ago such as a track and trace analyst and Covid-19 support officer. Additionally, some industries have increased employment to keep up with demand such as Zoom, ByteDance (Tik Tok) and Amazon. 
  • In June Rightmove reported its biggest day ever. With more people working from home people are looking to get out of the city and move toward more rural areas, coastal areas, and villages. More building in these areas creates a significant amount of jobs including surveyors, architects and environmental workers. Moreover, local jobs are created as demand rises for local convenience stores and even schools.

There are still schemes available which is evidenced through having 78 employers at out Autumn careers fair. The labour market has always been competitive and requires students to be active rather than passive. Do your own research, be innovative in your approach, think entrepreneurial in how you sell yourself.

Finally, it may be that you don’t get your dream job straight away, so be prepared to pivot. Look for alternative routines into that job, for the time being you may need to look for similar roles in different industries or different roles in the same industry.

Tips for virtual assessment centres?

Previously assessment centres have been as aspect of recruitment that was on the whole conducted in person, however these have recently changed to virtual assessment centres which are new to the employer as well as the applicant.

A virtual assessment centre is likely to take place over Zoom, Microsoft Teams or a similar platform. Individual interviews and group exercises are fairly simple to replicate virtually using breakout rooms with an assessor in each one. Groups will probably be smaller to facilitate the difficulties of technology.

An obvious tip is to ensure that your internet connection is as strong as possible and you’re in a quiet place where you will be uninterrupted. Although in saying this, employers are likely to be sympathetic if connection drops out a few times. Another important tip is to make sure you background is non-offensive, no unmade beds or empty cans or bottles lined up!

Although these assessment centres are different, they replicate work as it is now! Employers will be looking for how well you engage virtually. The same applies virtually as it does for in person assessment centres, treat it like you were there and prepare as usual. Be up to date on the news, research the employer and prepare for the interview.

What are the key employability skills employers are looking for and how do I fill any gaps I have?

Commercial awareness: LinkedIn is a great tool to demonstrate this skill. Posting on LinkedIn, commenting on things you enjoy and keeping up to date with employers. Use other social media platforms but be smart with this as more employers look at candidate’s social media platforms.

Adaptability: Covid-19 has meant employees must be able to adapt to change. Use recent evidence of how you have adapted to the current situation.  

Agile thinking: Linked to adaptability, things are changing quickly, make sure you can listen to instructions and change your thinking to adapt to the way you are required to work.

Motivation: As most people are working from home, employers will be looking for self-motivation. Setting goals, getting up as if you were at work and having regular breaks. Additionally, when working at home compared to in an office, you may have to make an effort to reach out to colleagues to ask questions. Show that you are confident in asking questions.

Resilience: Show that you can bounce back from setbacks. This could be through building things into your day to make you feel more positive and less worried.

Don’t dismiss any evidence you have such as part-time jobs, volunteering and societies. Sell yourself, you can sell anything! Most experiences have transferrable skills, use them as examples. Look for opportunities that can make you stand out and take them.

Final 3 top tips for securing a job?

  1. You can’t write an application if you’re not feeling up to it, stop and do something you love, take a break, get yourself in the right mindset by walking or listening to music.
  2. Commercial awareness is key! You have to know what’s going on, positive and negative stories, research them. Look at stories and think ‘How will this affect me?’.
  3. Connecting! Approach people speculatively. There may be more elements of ad hoc recruitment as company’s recruitment timetables shift to accommodate financial loss. Just because an employer is not advertising now it doesn’t mean they won’t advertise later or that you can’t send in a speculative application.

Photo Credit: Business Insider