Skip to main content

Graduating into a Crisis

21 April 2020

By Jamie Williams and Charlotte Coulson

Graduating from university and stepping out into the world of work is daunting at the best of times. It’s a time normally characterised by finals, a mad dash to submit grad scheme applications and making plans to relish in that last summer of freedom. However, going through the final year of university under the dark cloud of an economic crisis raises its own challenges. We spoke to some of those who graduated during the 2008 crisis, as well as those graduating this year, to hear their experiences.  

India Williams, Student at the University of Exeter - As a language student, this unprecedented situation has undermined the entire university grading system. Our degrees have been completely devalued. We have spent 4 years studying for nothing. Employers will think of our entire year, and our degrees, are redundant. In addition, my two-week summer internship has been cancelled, and I am now left concerned about going into job applications without the relevant experience. I am now left waiting until September – but the big question is, will they be hiring then? 

Andy Lane, Student at the University of Edinburgh - I was hoping to start out in the world of work as soon as possible at the end of this summer. Having looked into a variety of roles across the healthcare and pharmaceutical sector, coronavirus has put all those efforts on hold. Many employers have halted their assessment days and interviews, with no indication on when they will be re-opened. This is an incredibly tough situation; I am left with a sense of unease and lack of confidence for the future. It is very difficult to see things changing in the next few months.

Julie Mazzei, Recruitment Consultant at VMA Group - Back in 2008, recruitment budgets were cut and often it was the senior roles that went first. The result? Juniors being paid a junior salary but asked to be influential at senior level. This put immense pressure on junior professionals to step up, whilst mid-level colleagues were applying for the few junior roles left - thinking better to have something lower paid then be out of a job. The post crisis result was that trying to source junior people was very difficult because that level was effectively wiped out for a few years. 

Elisabeth Cowell, Partner at Newgate Communications - Like most good things, my career break was a result of a serendipitous sequence of events. I had intended to spend the summer travelling the world. However, when, just weeks later - on 15 September 2008 - news of Lehman Brothers’ collapse hit the headlines, I realised how fortunate I’d been to have landed the job in the nick of time. The delight faded as the markets started to crash and banks fell to their knees. Friends who had taken time to mull over their next steps were now finding it difficult to kick-start their careers.

Charlotte Coulson, Account Director at Newgate Communications - I first heard about the run on Northern Rock when in my room writing my dissertation. As a student in Northern Rock’s heartland of Newcastle, it was impossible not to know about it as we saw queues of people waiting outside bank branches. However, I don’t think I fully appreciated quite how big a deal it all was until I started thinking about jobs and looking at what came next after I graduated. My housemates and I started looking around at graduate schemes naively thinking that as graduates we would be snapped up, before realising that competition would be far fiercer than any of us had anticipated. Suddenly it became less about finding the right job as it was finding any job at all.

I was lucky. I was able to stay with friends whilst I did the rounds of unpaid internships as I figured out what I wanted to do and got experience doing it. Meanwhile others had to plump for the first thing they could. Most of them have had complete career changes since, but maybe that’s just a coincidence.

Beth Colmer, Account Director at Publicasity - When I graduated, it was all about work experience. I wanted to be a features writer (or at least I thought I did!) and the best way to get a foot in the door was free work experience at various titles which I’m not sure would wash anymore. This was when print media was booming and there were a huge number of lifestyle titles that have been axed now.

Once I decided that actually PR was the career for me, I work experienced (again for free) at a tiny fashion PR agency in Brixton before being offered a job after a few weeks which was VERY badly paid. The competition for work experience roles was absolutely fierce and 1 in 100 was paid.