Job hunting in a global pandemic

This month, we spoke to Tom Lovell, a York alum who has enjoyed a long and successful career at Reed Recruitment. He spoke to us about forging a career during this challenging time and reflects on how to improve your chance of securing that all important job.

Tell us a bit about yourself and what you studied at York

I was at York from 1989 – 1992 and studied Politics & Philosophy.  It was a much smaller university back then, just over 3,000 students.  I was in Wentworth College.

Tell us about the career path you took when you graduated

Immediately after graduation I worked for a while as a painter/decorator and then in charity shops before I went travelling with my wife to be for six months.  On returning from my travels I wanted to knuckle down to something more career-focussed and secured a graduate training role with Reed, the largest family run recruitment organisation in the world.  I worked for two years for Ethiopiaid, a Reed founded charity where we funded and supported food, health and education charities in and around Addis Ababa before moving on to set up the graduate recruitment business. 

Moving from charity to recruitment may sound like a bit of a leap, however I discovered that there were a lot of transferable skills, particularly around communications, analysis and marketing.  The graduate recruitment role was great fun, working with universities and graduate employers all over the country and the innovative digital approach we took helped Reed move into online recruitment and to set up reed.co.uk.  After that I had a great variety of roles, ranging from working in prisons setting up work and education programmes designed to reduce reoffending, to setting up teacher recruitment partnerships with local authorities.  I always seek opportunities to help people/customers in any in new role and held numerous different jobs as I progressed through the business to become Global Managing Director. 

The COVID-19 crisis is going to present challenges for graduates and those job hunting. How do you see the next 6-12 months panning out and what sectors do you think will thrive and which may struggle?

The uncertainty brought about by COVID-19 is certainly providing challenges to future planning for organisations across nearly all sectors.  Where I see the greatest opportunities are in the Health and Technology sectors.  I think that demand for Professional Services, Management Consultancy, Legal and Accountancy will mean that there will still be high volumes of good entry opportunities across these sectors as well as across the Public Sector, in Education, Local and Central Government.  The hardest hit sectors are already well reported and include Leisure, Tourism and Retail. 

As we are going through a time of unprecedented change there will undoubtedly be new up and coming organisations that offer innovative solutions to the challenges we are currently facing in society, many of these will be relatively immature both as businesses and as graduate recruiters, and my view is that there will be some great opportunities to get in at the ground floor with these organisations.  These opportunities may not be easy to find, but well worth looking out for.

During your career, you will have worked through tough times and recessions. What do you think current graduates and those forging their career now can learn from those times?

I graduated during a recession and have certainly experienced tough times.  What I have learned from this is that some organisations won’t survive, this is usually because their products or service are out of date or irrelevant, these are replaced by more innovative organisations and whole new sectors can be created.  What I have also seen is that the fastest growth in the economy is usually in the period when you come out of a recession, business confidence returns, and plans that may have been put on hold are fast forwarded creating great opportunities for people and organisations.  In the words of Floyd Mayweather, “Tough times don’t last, tough people do”

How do you think recent graduates with little or no experience can improve their chances of securing a job when they may now be competing with more experienced candidates who have been made redundant due to the pandemic?

The jobs market is undoubtedly very competitive right now, however more than ever organisations need to find the best available talent, and you need to try to find a way to demonstrate that you can offer this.  I am a great believer in looking for any opportunities to gain experience and develop skills, demonstrating a growth mindset, i.e. a proactive desire to learn and gain new skills.  Recent graduates will need to be open and flexible to build new skills and should be well placed to compete effectively with others who may not be as adept at developing the skills needed to be successful in the workplace of the future –  jobs change all the time, but the requirement to develop new skills does not. 

To demonstrate your ability to learn and grow could mean volunteering, online learning, temporary jobs, internships, caring for others, all offer valuable opportunities to develop skills that will help you on your journey.  It may also be a good idea to keep notes/records of the skills and achievements you have gained so that you can demonstrate these confidently and succinctly when applying for the jobs you really want. 

Although the job market may be tough, graduates and alumni will secure job interviews over the coming months. What are your top 3 tips for performing successfully at a job interview?

–    Fail to prepare, prepare to fail.  There are lots of books and online articles about how to do prepare, read at least one or two of these and make sure you give yourself time to do it properly.  A google search on ‘James Reed – Fateful 15’ will give you access to some really helpful practical insight. Your Careers Service will also be able to point you towards some great resources.

–    Be your best self.  Easy to say, and less easy to do, you need to make sure that you promote your positive attributes – good preparation will help you to be able to refer to real-life examples that paint a picture of you in your best light and will help the interviewer gain more of an insight into who you really are, and what you can offer in the workplace – even if your examples are not work specific they should be relatable.

–    Don’t be afraid to ask questions.   A good interview should be a two-way street.  Research who is interviewing you, what the role is and come up with a well thought out question or two to demonstrate that you’ve done your research and that you’re interested. 

COVID-19 has forced the adoption of new ways of working. Which of these do you think are here to stay and how can graduates and job seekers use this to their advantage?

There can be great value in bringing teams together face to face, but there is also cost.  The technology that facilitates teams to work together remotely is much more reliable and effective now than it was even just a couple of years ago, and the pandemic has forced swift adoption by organisations.   Whilst there are differing views around how efficient and effective remote working is and can be, it is a change that is here to stay.  For graduates and job seekers this does mean that some opportunities that weren’t previously available as a result of job location will open up, though this also increases the competition for those roles.  With ever increasing reliance on technology in the workplace, being digitally confident should be a definite plus point for graduate job seekers.

And finally, what behaviours do you think people should work on to be most successful in their career?

I have given numerous presentations to graduates early in their careers, and the most common advice I give is to do your best.  There will be times in your career when you fail, it happens to us all, if you are able to award yourself 10/10 for trying it’s likely that others will do so too, and when a more achievable opportunity arises that your name is more likely to be in the frame.  You’ll also learn more when you really commit your efforts, enabling you to develop new skills and increasing your chances of long-term success.

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