Opinion Leadership

Flora’s April roundup

Learn more about our two key priorities: supporting the financial sustainability of our business schools and celebrating 10 years of the Small Business Charter.

11th April 2024
Opinion Employability

Undergraduate job searching: how can we build student resilience?

5th December 2023

Authors

Gemma Dale CMBE

Senior Lecturer, Liverpool Business School

Guglielmo Pizzone

Student, Liverpool Business School

Coles Hallsworth

Student, Liverpool Business School

Today’s graduate job market is a challenging one. Whether students are seeking industry placements or their first graduate role, they are facing extensive, complex, and lengthy recruitment processes.  

Students report spending hours on searching for vacancies and completing applications, which often result in immediate AI driven decisions and a lack of meaningful feedback. The entire recruitment process can involve multiple stages including application forms, psychometric tests, interviews, tasks, games, and assessment centres. A single application can take two to three hours – and often result in nothing more than a ‘thank you but no further’ email.  

Respondents to a 2021 graduate survey by the Financial Times described graduate recruitment processes as a ‘slog’, a ‘grind’ and ‘miserable’. Some students, disheartened in the face of multiple rejections, simply give up.  

Advice for job seeking students is plentiful; a scan of relevant websites shows that students are advised that securing a graduate scheme will take hard work, ongoing effort and even a little luck.  Readers are left with no doubt that the competition, and the process, will be tough. To be successful, today’s undergraduate has a bucket list of employability requirements. A well written CV, compelling online presence, relevant work experience, a targeted cover letter and a range of extra-curricular activities. But what happens when even putting in all possible effort still results in rejection? Students report reduced morale, motivation, and self-confidence.  

The importance of resilience 

Business schools play a crucial role in equipping students for today’s recruitment processes, including helping them to build and maintain resilience for this very specific part of the transition from university to professional life.  

In recent years, resilience has become a commonly used term. It is also a term with multiple definitions, both academic and those in more everyday use. Commonly associated with ideas of ‘bouncing back’, resilience is also defined as positive adaption and the ability to maintain mental health in the face of adversity. Resilience is generally said to be something that can be developed, and when a difficult situation is overcome, a process from which personal growth can result.  

Resilience is a trait that can help students navigate the challenges inherent in the graduate job market – it is also a desirable skill that they can take into their working future.  

What can business schools do?

On a practical level, students need to be supported with relevant skills, from cover letters to LinkedIn, to competence with tests and assessments, and opportunities to practice. But what else does today’s student need to become a resilient graduate job seeker? 

Business schools need to prepare their students for rejection in the recruitment process. As unpalatable and discouraging as the core message might be, students need to know what to expect from recruitment processes, and that the road to achieving a placement or graduate job may be long and difficult. A realistic appraisal will help students to be mentally prepared. Whilst recruitment rejection feels so very personal, students also need help to realise that it is not a matter of not being good enough, but a consequence of the system in which they find themselves.  

Resilience experts Robertson Cooper, tell us that resilience has four components: confidence, purposefulness, adaptability, and social support. This is helpful framework around which we can consider how to support students and help them navigate the application journey. 

Confidence – when students feel confident and when they have strong self-esteem, they can bounce back from an unsuccessful job application. Building confidence in our students is something most educators try to achieve – in this context we need to help those students to have belief in their employability skills, providing all the necessary practical tools for confident success.  

Purposefulness – having a clear purpose and a clear sense of direction can help students to keep going when the process feels difficult. We need to continue to promote the benefits of the activities they are undertaking, connecting them with their goals and the potential for future success.  

Adaptability – we need to talk about resilience and adaptability with students. We can help them to recognise that whilst they can influence the process, some of it is outside of their control. They can’t always determine the decision, but they can determine how they respond to it. 

Social Support - we can help students to help each other. We can create a network of students who are actively applying for industry placements or graduate schemes, providing a place for them to share experiences and provide a friendly, listening and understanding connection. There is a role for faculty here, too. 

Author Elaine Dundon talked about rejection in her 2013 Ted Talk and its potential to steal joy. She also discussed the important role of reflection in dealing with rejection. This is another opportunity for universities - we can encourage students to formally reflect on unsuccessful job application processes. Was there anything that they can learn from the experience, to help them when they try again? There is learning and growth to be found amongst these difficult experiences, if we can help students to see beyond the rejection email.  Not all the feedback that organisations provide is helpful or detailed, so this must go beyond merely the written reasons for rejection, helping students to reflect on the process as a whole and their part within it. 

Finally, we can also help students to build recruitment resilience by talking about it, by showing them specific actions to support their resilience, and even offering formal training in developing and maintaining it. 

Current undergraduates, experienced in managing the complexity and challenge of graduate recruitment process say that to be resilient and to balance the needs of their studies with application processes, they need ongoing support, constructive feedback, and realistic advice. Business schools must respond to this if they are to support their students in tacking today’s graduate job market successfully.