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.
Major tech companies, such as Google, Facebook and Amazon have all made public statements that their interview processes will now be taking place via their chosen video platform or social service. Other employers are postponing interviews or internships altogether until a suitable workaround can be found or social isolation measures are rescinded.
If you are looking for a job in this period, there are a number of things that you can try to adapt to coronavirus social distancing. There are also a number of changes to essential services that can support job seekers and renters that you should be aware of.
Following up on applications: patience is a virtue
Be restrained with follow-up emails. The advice is to work from home, if you can, and HR professionals and graduate recruiters are no exception. Conversations, paper sifting and decisions that may have taken place quickly in an office can take longer if done by video calling or email. There is nothing wrong with a polite enquiry as to the status of your application via email, but allow a longer time for replies and be aware that phone calls to usually manned company lines may now be redirected or even go unanswered.
If your job interview has been cancelled or moved online
If you reach the interview stage it is incredibly likely that there will be a change from normal procedure. In case of a video interview, there are a number of things you can and should do to prepare, which we cover in our article on expert tips for video interviews.
If your interview is cancelled altogether, your first priority should not be to ‘change the mind’ of an employer to host you at interview, but rather to establish why your interview was cancelled and what any other arrangements will be. This is the perfect time to show what an understanding and well-organised employee you would be if taken on. Follow up with a polite email to reiterate your interest in the role and the employer, explain that you understand the extreme circumstances acting on the hiring process at the moment and state your availability to be contacted at a later date if things change.
Again, this may require patience while companies adjust to home working. You may be offered a video interview at another stage, or the interview could be deferred until a later date. In case of a deferral, enquire whether you will need to reapply or whether your initial application will be valid.
The likelihood of cancellation may depend on the role. For example, one barristers’ chambers announced in March that it was deferring its pupillage interviews and placements for the coming year. For barristers advocacy and representing clients in person and in court are paramount and the chambers stated that it felt video interviews would not allow a fair reflection of candidates’ abilities.
The current government advice is to avoid all non-essential travel, but in the highly unlikely instance where you are still scheduled to have a face-to-face interview, you should not be afraid to request a video interview. An employer is not obliged to give you one, but you may wish to make the request in the context of the distance that you have to travel and the level of risk. Make sure that you request a video interview as early as possible. Some employers will explicitly state that you need to give immediate notice of any adjustments to interviews but, regardless, it is just polite to allow as much time as possible for all parties concerned.
Your rights while looking for work
Full-time students are not entitled to job seeker’s allowance (JSA). If you have finished your university course and are unemployed, there is nothing to stop you from applying from the moment you graduate. The government has announced that job centres will remain open for the time being, but claimants do not need to attend regular appointments in person for the three months starting from 19 March 2020. The waiting times on various other applications for benefits have been reduced, including universal credit. 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 here.
Your rights for renting under coronavirus
The government has announced protection for renters who will not be able to make payments in the current climate. Under emergency legislation (which at the time of writing has not yet been passed), neither private nor social housing landlords will be able to apply to the courts for eviction. 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.
Part-time work during the pandemic
Most of the UK’s major supermarkets and some other retailers are on a hiring spree to cope with the increased demand on stores and online services. Often the application process is fast tracked, with stories of overnight hires and next-day inductions circulating online. If you are desperate for a job, you may wish to consider applying for one of these roles; however, please note that a job such as this could bring you into contact with thousands of people on a daily basis. Always think about the safety of those around you first, including elderly relatives or other vulnerable people.
You may also notice that there are a lot of predominantly social media and local council-led volunteering opportunities available at present. Such postings would look good on a CV that might otherwise be devoid of activity for the duration of social isolation measures, but always ensure that you have taken the appropriate steps to keep yourself and those around you safe before engaging in volunteer work. No CV-fodder is worth endangering people.
We’ll be updating this page with more advice as it becomes available.