General advice on job hunting during the coronavirus pandemic

The UK government has implemented some extraordinary measures in an exceptionally short period of time to counter the spread of the coronavirus. Needless to say, it has caught many companies by surprise and disrupted workflows, events and normal hiring practices. There is plenty of information out there about the steps you need to take to limit the spread of the pandemic. If at this stage of the article you’re wondering what all the fuss is about, please visit the NHS guide to the coronavirus or the GOV.UK information page.

Most of the employers currently recruiting for graduate or entry-level jobs are conducting interviews via online platforms such as Zoom or Skype. However, as many make changes to offices in order to ensure social distancing among those in the building, some employers may be cautiously moving towards re-introducing an element of face-to-face interaction in the recruitment process – whether at the interview or assessment centre stage.

If you’re looking for a job over the next few months, being ready for video interviews, preparing for the possibility that you might be asked to engage with recruiters face-to-face, being aware of your rights and keeping a few alternatives to full-time work in mind should help you to keep all bases covered.

Following up on applications: patience is a virtue

It may be a good idea to be a bit more restrained with follow-up emails, although how long you wait should depend on the role you are applying for. Many HR professionals and graduate recruiters will still be working from home and decisions that may have taken place quickly through a meeting or a chat in an office may take longer if video calling or email is used. Furthermore, as the number of people searching for jobs rises, many recruiters will have more applications to look through.

Judging exactly when to send a follow-up email is an art, not a science. It depends on what your aims are: are you wanting to check that your application has been received (because you received no acknowledgement) or are you checking where you are in the process because you haven’t heard anything? If you have had confirmation that your application has been received, it will also depend partly on whether the organisation has communicated anything about how and when it will get back to you – and whether it will get back to you at all if you have been unsuccessful. Use any information they provide you as a guide.

  • If you have not received a receipt of your application – and many employers nowadays do send an automated acknowledgement – there is no harm in contacting them perhaps a few days after the deadline (but check your junk email first).
  • If the organisation hasn’t given you any information beyond an initial acknowledgement, use the nature of the job to gauge when to contact them. Is it an immediate-start or temp job (which the employer would want to fill quickly) or is it for a graduate programme that is likely to have multiple stages with more recruiters involved in decision-making? If the former, you can follow up more quickly than the latter (we would suggest around a week after the deadline for an immediate start or temp job, and maybe a few weeks for a graduate programme – but as we say this isn’t an exact science).
  • If you are submitting an application via a recruitment agency, you could check in with the recruitment consultant a few days after your application has been submitted for the job, as recruitment consultants tend to get quick responses from their clients.

Interviews and assessment centres: be flexible but don’t compromise your safety

If you reach the interview stage, it is likely that you will be conducting this via an online platform. This may well be the case for assessment centres, too. It would be a good idea, therefore, to familiarise yourself with some of the most popular platforms (such as Zoom and Skype) and to follow some of the expert tips for video interviews found in the TARGETjobs article.

As well as getting yourself camera-ready, keeping the possibility of being called to a face-to-face interview or assessment centre in mind will mean you’re not caught out. Some employers have staff in their workplaces and don’t want you to miss out on the chance to get a feel for the working environment, especially if you are applying for a role as a keyworker.

You could consider how you will stay socially distanced while coming across as friendly and professional. You might decide to knock elbows as an alternative to shaking hands, for example, or practise speaking clearly in a face mask before an interview.

If you wouldn’t be comfortable with a face-to-face meeting for any reason, you should not be afraid to request a video interview or alternative arrangements. It’s likely that employers will consider your request carefully, especially if you or someone in your immediate circle is classed as vulnerable.

Alternatives: part-time work and volunteering

You may decide to tide yourself over financially at the same time as picking up some CV-worthy skills by taking on part-time work. The mad rush for recruits to keep the toilet paper hoarders happy and safe may have eased now, but the UK’s major supermarkets are still hiring for jobs on the shop floor, in the warehouse and as delivery drivers. It might seem obvious, but do consider whether a job such as this, which brings you into contact with thousands of people on a daily basis, suits you in light of the pandemic.

There are also some predominantly social media and local council-led volunteering opportunities available at the moment. Such experience would look good on a CV. However, you should make sure you can carry out the work required safely (for you and those around you) before committing.

If keeping away from any kind of in-person interaction with others remains a high priority for you right now, take a look at these career-friendly activities to carry out while social distancing.

Your right to claim benefits

Full-time students are not entitled to job seeker’s allowance (JSA). However, there are circumstances in which some students can apply for universal credit, such as if parental support is limited. For more information, take a look at the guidance provided by GOV.UK.

If you have finished your university course and are unemployed, you may be able to apply for financial support from the moment you graduate. In order to receive the ‘new style’ JSA you will need to have worked and, generally, to have paid class one National Insurance contributions in the last two to three years. If you are not in this position, the chances are you will be eligible for universal credit.

While job centres are open, alternative arrangements can be made for appointments with work coaches (such as speaking over the telephone). If you are in any way concerned about your finances while job hunting under social distancing measures, find out more and check your eligibility via the GOV.UK website.

The Debt Advice Foundation also provides advice on its website, as well as a free helpline for advice and information about debt during the week.

Your rights while renting

The protection for renters unable to make payments announced by the government early in the pandemic has been extended into September. After this time, your landlord will be able to evict but must give you a three-month notice period. That is, unless your landlord got a possession order or the bailiffs were due before the coronavirus outbreak – in which case, you will be entitled to two weeks’ notice. If you have concerns about your accommodation, do try to work out an agreement with your landlord for late payment or a payment plan and check the above section to see if you are eligible for benefits. There are slightly different processes for lodgers, but homeless support charity Shelter has published a good guide on its website. Citizens Advice also provides information about benefits and renting during a pandemic.

Source information

  TARGETjobs is a jobs and advice site for students and graduates.