‘So what can I do now?’ – COVID-19, career uncertainty and university students

Sarah Warburton, Lecturer in Career Guidance

To say the last few  weeks and months have been a tad stressful for most, would be a bit of an understatement. As universities have moved their teaching online and students are not able to attend classes on campus and interact with their peers, this has meant an upheaval in the way students live, work and study. Through a recent period of turbulence and adjustment, many students may already have experienced an impact on their current jobs, and many more may be wondering how COVID-19 will impact their future graduate job search and employment. 

There is a lot of uncertainty at the moment, and no article can claim to wave a magic wand and make everything employment related, ok. However the aim is to provide some (hopefully) reassuring advice for university students on navigating their careers through this difficult and strange time.

  1. Clarify your situation, review options and don’t panic

There is no doubt COVID-19 is affecting the labour market at the moment. As students you will all be at different stages in terms of your own career development. Some will have applied for jobs, others will have job offers and are not sure if employers will honour them. Some of you are facing the prospect of having job offers for graduate jobs or summer internships reneged.

Most employers are likely to now have communicated with any students involved with them in their various stages of recruitment. If this is not the case, if you have active applications with companies, reach out to contact them to clarify how the situation is affecting their recruitment activity.

There is no doubt that many graduate employers have changed their recruitment practices in the short term. Some employment sectors are more affected than others, and there is the view that non-graduate jobs have been the most affected at this stage, including hospitality, food, tourism and customer service.1 At the start of lockdown the Institute of Student Employers conducted a survey of key graduate employers, and found that most employers were keen to not have to change their employment plans if possible, with positive signs that many employers were still seeking opportunities to engage with university careers teams remotely for ways to reach students.The survey also highlighted how many employers had taken steps to move their recruitment processes online, as well as looking at ways of offering students the chance to complete virtual work experience opportunities.

Whilst the horizon may shift and employers will undoubtedly review their student and graduate recruitment plans, one key positive message is that employers are looking longer term, and graduate recruits are an important part of this.

For many of you who may be wondering what career sectors may or may not be looking to recruit in the short or more medium term, it could be worth booking a virtual careers appointment. University careers services are offering this service at the moment, and this could help to clarify the ‘lie of the land’ in terms of the labour market. As mentioned previously, many employers will be seeking ways of working with university careers services to continue to engage with students. Careers services will be promoting these opportunities to you.

  1. Seek opportunities at this time

This isn’t the part where you are advised to learn 4 languages, write their memoir and start a business around their studies, and whilst stuck indoors. There are already many articles out there at the moment which advocate the likes of this. If you have the drive and capacity to do this at the moment then well done. If not, there could be some effective and manageable things which you could consider taking in-between completing university work, self-care and trying to make sure loved ones are ok.

Virtual work experience

In number 2 I mentioned that some employers are looking at offering possible virtual work experience opportunities. Speak to your careers service as they may become aware of some of these emerging opportunities. Barclays Life Skills offers virtual work experience opportunities enabling users to get a glimpse into types of tasks and responsibilities you could be exposed to in the workplace. InsideSherpa is a free virtual work experience platform providing modules to complete, exposing participants to the type of work graduates could be expected to complete. These virtual experiences are typically based on real-life companies, across a number of sectors including law, finance and a range of professional services companies.


Volunteering has always been advocated as a way to help develop skills for employment, as well as broadening career options. Considering your own situation at home and health, and following government guidelines, you could consider volunteering in your local community, or volunteering from home itself by providing virtual or telephone support to vulnerable people. In my instances, volunteering can also help us feel less helpless and isolated yourself. The Students’ Union has plenty of opportunities to help out in the COVID crisis.

Alternatively reach out directly to your local community. May be you’re a graphic design or English student who could reach out to local businesses. Many small companies are experiencing difficulties at this time. May be they need some help in producing a promotional leaflet or your local community group may need help in updating text on their website. Give something back, feel useful, and this also helps you to update your skills too.

Part-time work

At the start of the pandemic many supermarkets rapidly increased their recruitment to employ thousands of people where demand for food rapidly expanded. If you’re seeking paid work out of necessity, or as a way to support services, this could also be a good way to develop your skills at the same time. There are plenty of other organisations also looking to recruit people into a range of key roles at the moment. EssentialJobs is a job board solely dedicated to advertising jobs in response to the pandemic. For more information see our pages on part time work during the pandemic.


*Ball, C (2020) Week five of lockdown: news from the graduate labour market https://luminate.prospects.ac.uk/week-five-of-lockdown-news-from-the-graduate-labour-market

**Binnie, G and Hooley, T (2020) Down but not out. How the student labour market is responding to Covid-19 https://ise.org.uk/page/blog-down-but-not-out


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