by Angus Kincaid - Account Executive
I remember university friends who graduated in the blissful lull in Covid cases in the summer of 2020 telling me that I was lucky to be going back for my 3rd year where normal life was about to resume. Blissful in our naivety, we all hoped that Covid was effectively done and dusted. So much for that.
As a 2021 graduate, I have now come to the end of almost two years – including exams – of working online. To cap it all, my second year at university was also interrupted by two UCU strikes in the Autumn and Spring terms which resulted in little teaching even before the first national lockdown sent us home in mid-March.
During 2020, I also had two summer work internships but these too were blighted by Covid and regrettably had to be mostly conducted remotely. Then to add insult to injury my entire last year at university, where we were promised ‘blended learning’ turned out to be a paltry three hours of actual face to face contact.
One’s final year at university is never easy, fraught with the challenges of getting ready for finals, writing a dissertation while simultaneously applying for jobs and hoping to make the right decisions about future career paths. Having to do this while severely limited by Covid restrictions in the end took the shine off what are usually some of the best years of our lives.
What’s more, once I had graduated, I found that many firms I was applying for internships were themselves struggling, limiting the choice of good quality opportunities available. In fact, I often found myself up against fellow grads who were all willing to fight tooth and claw for the same places.
It turns out that 87% of job interviews last year were conducted online, which certainly doesn’t favour everyone, especially those who thrive in face to face meetings. Even worse, there was a big trend towards asynchronous video interviews (AVIs) where the interviewee doesn’t even meet anyone from the actual hiring company in the preliminary interview rounds. I definitely found it difficult to keep my motivation levels up with such an impersonal application process. Frankly, it left me and many other recent graduates demoralised when time after time a robot terminated the process with a variant of “We are sorry to report that your application has not been processed to the next round. Due to the high number of applications we are unable to offer feedback on this result.”
Due to the almost entirely virtual life graduates were living, it’s hardly surprising that despite best efforts I found it difficult to connect fully with others during term time. The normal pre and post lecture bonding was firmly off limits in 2020/21 which meant no walks to and from lectures – or dare I say it? – a trip to the pub or coffee shop.
At least we saw each other during lectures, right? Wrong. A lot of students chose to opt out of social mingling by turning off their microphones and cameras, which the university didn’t disallow. Who can interact meaningfully with someone you can’t see or hear (and could be half asleep or not even present)?
The one silver lining in this massive cloud of covid restrictions was that there was little else to do other than work. The usual student life trade-offs of sleep versus work versus socialising was a decision largely made for you by the fact that people outside our student houses or family homes were off limits except via a laptop camera. As with the rest of the nation, Zoom quizzes were done to death.
As a consequence, I did work hard at my studies and found I had got through all university tuition and course work, written my dissertation without a last minute panic and successfully passed an interview. I found out on 30th June 2021 (without a graduation ceremony) that I had received a first class degree and, even better, had been offered an intern role at Paternoster Communications the day afterwards.
I was, however, a little apprehensive when offered a three-month internship at Paternoster. Because of Covid I’d need to spend the first eight weeks working remotely. Would this be the same experience, or would it feel like going through the motions, and again would I be able to get to know people properly and have the chance to shine?
Being a very sociable person, what helped sustain me was learning early on in my internship that Paternoster planned a ‘team day’ which included invited guests of the firm and some face-to-face training on press release writing. I very much counted down the days until I could meet my colleagues of eight weeks in person and actually form a normal human relationship with them. I shined the shoes, ironed the shirt, and keenly headed to 55 New Oxford St. So keenly in fact that I actually turned up two days early!
Yes of course Paternoster is working from home at the moment like everyone else in office life. And for much of the time this makes sense. As the recent blog from our founder Tom Buchanan’s argues, staff are treated as grown-ups and they choose what suits their working styles best as long as clients are professionally served.
But for me and many of my university friends, both as a new entrant to the professional world and having been shuttered away for the better part of eighteen months, right now I’m keen to be around and learning face to face from seniors in the office as much as possible, making stronger bonds with colleagues and friends of the firm.