What Do You Actually Do!? Episode 29: Tom Banham, Director of Employability and Careers

Today’s episode of What Do You Actually Do!? is a bit different. Recorded during the lockdown, Kate and Tom, Director of Employability and Careers at the University of York, talk about what it’s going to be like for graduates going into the job market in the middle of a global pandemic. They look at how the job market was hit in previous recessions and what might be different this time.

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About Tom

Tom is Director of Employability and Careers at the University of York. He previously worked at Nestlé heading up the team that delivers the entry level recruitment and development programmes for the organisation, and has worked across a range of sectors including Consulting, Banking, Legal and FMCG.

Useful Links

For more information about the latest graduate employer news including jobs, internships and placements see our webpage on Career issues during the Covid-19 crisis

For more info on the resources mentioned in this podcast:

  1. Your Career Journey Summer 2020
  2. Career Set CV review tool
  3. Video tutorials on how to create a CV and Cover Letter
  4. Shortlist Me mock interview tool
  5. Online assessment centre activities (psychometric tests etc.)
  6. York Strengths Online
  7. York Profiles & Mentors
  8. What Do You Actually Do podcast
  9. Submit a question about your CV or an application for further study via careers gateway
  10. Book a virtual careers advice appointment via careers gateway


Kate 0:02
Hello, and welcome to this episode of what do you actually do? My name is Kate Morris, and I’ll be your host today. In today’s special episode, we’ll be talking about graduating in a very difficult time. Today we’re joined via Skype by Tom Banham, who is director of the careers and placements team at the University of York. So Tom, what do you actually do if you’re graduating in a global health pandemic?

Tom 0:40
Firstly thanks, Kate for the invite, and allow me to be involved in this podcast. Good question. It’s a challenging time for everyone. We’ve never had this situation before in the modern age, so it’s very challenging. Clearly we had the SARS outbreak in 2003 which was predominantly confined to Asian countries. And we’ve actually seen countries like South Korea deal very well with COVID-19 pandemic. And larger aspect of their policy was around test track and trace, which is now seems to be the UK policy, but European countries in the US in the main has really struggled with how to cope with this. And obviously, we’re seeing significant economic downturns and really challenging health aspects as well. And I think if we reflect back in terms of the jobs market, the last recession was in 2008. And what we saw was a number of businesses reacting in a way that reduced the amount of vacancies available and quite quickly, but actually played out in a way that wasn’t as severe as what the economists first thought. And, and at the moment the I suppose it changes on on a daily basis in terms of what the future analysis looks like. At the start of this process, it was looking like a V curve recession. So a very sharp dip and then quickly out. And now experts are expecting more of a U shaped recession with a bit more normality in two, three years time. So it is a challenge for everyone. And I think just to keep in mind, from a student’s perspective is employers recruit for two reasons: to fill jobs now, but also to fill jobs for longer term. And with the skills and experience students have with a degree, most will be looking at the longer term opportunities. So just to keep that in mind. The graduate degree is a is a significant thing that students need to really be holding on to at this point in time, and will really help access jobs for the future.

Kate 2:55
I guess that’s the thing, isn’t it? This won’t last forever and Whereas their degree that they’ve got that no one can take them away, take it away from them. So that is something that will last forever.

Tom 3:07
Absolutely. I mean, the pandemic is finite. And I suppose it depends on how long we’re in lockdown at the moment and what the exit strategy of the government looks like, and the impact and social distancing and how that plays out. Where the 2008 recession, the recession was phenomenally through, you know, the banking crisis. So, you know, depends on the external factors are influencing that recession.

Kate 3:33
Yeah. So your role involves communicating with graduate recruiters around the country and accessing the latest research from organisations like the Institute of Student E mployers, what’s the latest news from graduate employers.

Tom 3:50
As you can imagine, this is a challenge for for majority of employers, and there is a difference between ISE members, ISE members tend to be those Larger corporate employers, and that take on hundreds if not thousands of graduates and students. And then obviously linking that and comparing to smaller businesses who are probably more challenged. So overall hiring is down, as you’d expect, but recruitment certainly hasn’t ceased, but we’re seeing more of an impact on student opportunities to roaming student opportunities that primarily these internships over the summer, and where some employers have created virtual opportunities now, or virtual learning programmes, or placement year opportunities, which seemed to have been moved and delayed from the summer to the autumn. So I think there’s a real divide in terms of the size and scale of the employer, but also the sector that they operate in as well. There isn’t conclusive evidence on this, but we’re seeing different regional impacts as well, where certain regions are heavily focused on travel, tourism, retail, obviously a more impacted than other regions such as London, for instance. Recruiters are still holding offers and at the same time, we’re not hundred percent clear if they will be fulfilled and I’m on a call every every other week with the ISE in other universities and employers trying to understand how the market is reacting. And if I’m honest, it changes all the time. I think there are too many unknowns at the moment. What I say now may actually change from the time a student actually comes to listen to this podcast. But I think that the thing to really say is that some sectors are still strong and are recruiting in large numbers, and in certain instances are increasing their recruitment capacity. So the health services, for instance, still have a significant under supply of doctors, nurses, and other subsidiary health professionals as well. Number of frontline services like Frontline and Police Now, Teach First, Think Ahead and Unlocked, I mean those five large public facing organisations that are recruiting up to three and a half thousand graduates from next year. So, the market in certain areas is buoyant and will continue to be buoyant. Clearly there are challenges in other sectors like hospitality, leisure, manufacturing, transport and given the stay at home policy at the moment and clearly retail and so, it really depends on the sectors and industries that graduates are particularly interested in. What we are envisioning is demand or increased demand for postgraduate courses for students to build greater depth to their their learning. So when we come out of this recession they have, obviously more capabilities in terms of their learning abilities on top of the undergraduate degree that they may have fulfilled and we may see government support in this respect as well.

Kate 7:14
Oh really, are you starting to get kind of ideas or murmurings around that.

Tom 7:20
In terms of the government funding? It is just discussions at the moment. Nothing official from the government. But clearly, the class of 2020 going into the employment market are going to be challenged. That’s obvious. And I think the government will look at every way possible to mitigate that issue and challenge. And there were a number of initiatives in place to help students access the recruitment market in 2008 and some of which were around professional programmes as well. So I envisage something coming out. But again until we know, the exit strategy, once we know the economy’s going back to a, you know, a more settled state, it’s difficult to assume anything, but we are on top of it. We are looking and working with, with government and organisations like the ISE, and to understand what the changing picture, and we’ll be able to update students, when we have the official information.

Kate 8:29
I think so it sounds like a very, very mixed picture that’s changing all the time. But I think a positive is that employers are not just saying, Oh, forget about it. This is not a priority for us. They’re finding alternatives to those internships, alternatives to placement years starting in summer. And that suggests that they do want to keep students and graduates warm, they don’t want to cut them off. They sort of appreciate these are our colleagues of the future and we sort of want, we’re keen for them to work with us. And so I guess they want to kind of give the best impression and support them and offer them as much opportunity as they can at this stage.

Tom 9:12
Yeah, it’s a good it’s a really good point. You know, the larger employers are, obviously ISE represent, again, as mentioned, they have formalised graduate programmes that last anything from 18 months to three years dependent on professional qualifications as part of that programme, and they fundamentally recruit for the future. They don’t recruit for the here and now. Those are the types of organisations where in if offers have been made are sticking and honouring them and or our potentially, in certain instances, delaying the start date until later in the autumn, or in some instances are deferring until the next year and are offering some funding for students to do supplementary professional courses. So different employers are doing different things. I think again, coming back to the difference between larger and smaller employers. Smaller employers, the challenge at the moment is, where is their next income. And, and that will be the challenge for those smaller employers who can’t necessarily support graduates for the longer term at this stage. And for those organisations, you know, many, many of their staff will be currently furloughed. And so bringing in a graduate wouldn’t be the top of their list. But, you know, to emphasise the value of a degree, and, you know, young young workers entering the job market will be challenged, but those who are less educated will be challenged even further. You know, students graduating from York and other universities really need to take that to heart because that is really, really powerful.

Kate 10:46
Yeah, I agree. So, we hear the phrase, these are unprecedented times a lot in the media, and of course, in many ways that is true, but experience of graduating into a national or global recession is something both you and I share. How did you cope with it?

Tom 11:04
Yeah, yeah, reflecting back on 2008 I graduated 06 and moved to London in 07. So I had about 18 months worth of experience before the recession properly kicked in. So didn’t necessarily just graduate into it. But it was a challenge. I was lucky to secure a role in a graduate scheme in London. And I was actually not necessarily made redundant from the organisation but my role at that time, within HR internal recruitment was was taken away removed because the organisation wasn’t recruiting, and I was moved into another part of the business which I really really didn’t want to be in. And it definitely wasn’t my long term career aspirations and, and it was challenging and, I really had to understand my strengths and play to them. And I think, you know, at this time, it’s really important to reinvent yourself, you know, to ensure the skills that you offer are highly valued and sought after. But until you really reflect on and know more about yourself, and that self discovery piece is critically important at times like this, and really enhancing and playing to those strengths will be where graduates will secure the best opportunities. And you know, and it was unpleasant at the time but new opportunities were created and I really didn’t envisage at that time I’d be heading up the Career Service within a really top university so you know, that this is now my passion supporting and helping students and you know, make the most of their, you know, the time at York but also the best of opportunities when they leave whether that being further education or into employment and ultimately, you’re going to have multiple jobs over your career and you know, the days of employed by single employer in a single role are gone. And now there’ll be much more flexibility in terms of careers and, coming out of the pandemic, I’d like to think that the new ways of working will continue in some aspects. So our service, for instance, is no longer on campus, it’s fully virtual, you know, I would hope to maintain some of those flexibilities for staff who want and need that and it will create much more access to opportunities where mobility was a blocker before and hopefully we won’t see that moving forward. And, I think my other advice to students is, don’t necessarily be fixated by the job. I think any role or opportunity as long as it aligns to your core values and the way the culture and the organisation works and operates, I think just be more open minded because there will be sectors and opportunities that will come out of this quite well. And if you’re fixated on a particular sector or organisation that, you know, is not going to do well out of it, then you’re going to be really challenged. So, open mind flexibility is critically important, I think.

Kate 14:26
Yeah, I agree with you. I think there’s a model of career theory called planned happenstance. And it’s the idea that you kind of even if you don’t know what you want to do, you start to gather experiences you put yourself in situations where it’s things that you find interesting, where you’re learning things, you’re moving in the right direction, so that when the right opportunity does present itself, you’re in the best possible position to take it. I graduated in 2000. And there was another recession then. They happen every few years, don’t they? And, and, you know, for me, I wasn’t too sure what I wanted to do as exploring teaching, I was exploring working for charities, I gained quite a lot of temp work, I built up so many different skills and really had that opportunity to learn what I did and didn’t like. And it like you were my strengths were my interest really lay so that when I did actually finally see the job that I wanted, which was to train to be a careers consultant, which I didn’t realise that was what I wanted when I graduated from university, because of these random experiences I’d collected together, even though I didn’t have direct experience of the thing itself, I was able to get that job and it was like yours. It was a graduate scheme. So was training, getting the right qualifications as well as experience as well. And I think if I hadn’t have had that time to just try out different stuff, have time to reflect on what I did and didn’t want, I wouldn’t have kind of done so well at the job, enjoyed the job and obviously continue doing the job for you know, I’ve been doing 18 years now. So I think this is just a small amount of time in the context of your life and you can really gain so much benefit from having the chance to press pause and think about what you really want. And as you say, how they experience of having some setbacks of it not all going completely smoothly and how you step up to that challenge.

Tom 16:33
Yeah, no, I completely get it. The best learnings I’ve had over my career have been where either things haven’t gone to plan, or there’s been an element of failure in there. And, and you know, I don’t come from a Careers background like yourself, Kate, my background is HR and recruitment. So a very different perspective in terms of career support and education in its broadest sense. So the experiences I’ve had working for commercial organisations and recruiting graduates has translated over to managing a career service. So, you know, again, fixating on a single pathway is definitely something that I would encourage students not to go down.

Kate 17:14
Yeah. So for students about to graduate and others who were hoping to do an internship this summer, what can they do during this time to develop their employability?

Tom 17:25
Yeah, good question. And I suppose before just to kind of start with it before the pandemic, there was a significant under supplying certain graduate opportunities and roles. So that will still hold true when we come out of this pandemic. So, now if you have tech skills, and you know, communications and marketing will look very different to what we know now particularly consumer marketing, and I’ve certainly seen a significant trend with all the organisations I follow on On Twitter and a lot more empathy within the communications that is coming out. So a different perspective on on that type of industry. IT, engineering and I’ve already mentioned healthcare esspecially so, coming into this there were not enough graduates and to go around for those jobs. And I think that will still hold true. So it’s just to have that in mind as well. And when we go back into what will be the new normal, and you know that there’ll be much greater emphasis on the virtual environment, and how we communicate and engage with customers, and also students and graduates will be critically important. And if you’re a graduate who hasn’t secured or a student who hasn’t secured internships, there’s so much you can do over the over the summer, you know, looking to build a portfolio of activities, I think would be the thing that I would really recommend. So volunteering within local community or volunteering within York if you’re still on campus, you know in that can range from supporting health care, even supermarkets, or even delivery or being part of the NHS volunteering scheme. At York, we’re looking at introducing virtual based volunteering programmes and ways for students to help the local community as well and deal with the Covid outbreak. So lots of opportunities there to build your employability skills. And when we come out of this, employers will be looking to see how students reacted to this pandemic. And if you’re one of those that have you know, supported, the public good element but also built those skills, I think that would look really, really strong on a CV and application. There will be lots of short term flexible work contracts that will appear to take advantage of, and it goes back to your point as those varied experiences will really help. I suppose start to research work and learning, new skills that will be beneficial for the future, I think is really important. Lots of organisations have recently created a number of learning materials that are available centrally and as a service, we signpost to those different platforms where we feel that the the learning will be really important for our students. And clearly we have a number of great resources within our service as well. And so taking the opportunity, those I think will be really important and employers really value students that are able to demonstrate and, you know, resilience and flexibility and coming out of this period of time. I think what we’ll see, or what we are seeing actually is employers using different forms of technology to manage their online programmes now in terms of assessment software. As you know, certain aspects of the recruitment process would be online and then there’d be a physical face to face interview or assessment centre. These assessments now being done through zoom and the Career Service at York will be running events for students to practice those types of assessment centres and scenarios. And signing up to take part in those will be really, really important because it will feel different, it will feel odd. But if you can do it in a safe environment managed by our team, it will put you in a much better position when you’re in a live environment with one of the employers that you’re looking to, to secure a role with so I think there’s definitely lots for students to be getting on with over this period of time.

Kate 21:46
So it’s a case of kind of think about what you want to do as an individual. As you’ve mentioned earlier, a lot of employers are creating their own virtual internships or resources so students just, We’ll have details of some of them. But students can obviously also look directly on different employer websites to see what they’ve what information they’ve got. Our virtual internships are advertised on our website and on the careers gateway, we’ll put details of that at the end of the episode. And, as you say the volunteering opportunities whether the people are finding themselves or via our website or through friends or family doesn’t have to be a formal organised scheme, it still counts. And I think whatever you’re doing is just making sure update it on your CV write it down somewhere so you don’t forget what the experience was like what skills you developed, and don’t think it has to be a cynical thing where I’m just doing volunteering, so it looks good on my CV. The looking good on the CV is a perfectly legitimate byproduct. It doesn’t mean that’s your motivation and that you don’t genuinely care about people and want to help them. But I think as you said, Tom, it’s about providing evidence of your skill set and kind of how you view this time, so it’s a win win really.

Tom 23:02
Yeah, completely agree.

Kate 23:04
Okay, so we’re kind of on that it’s interesting how this kind of terrible situation really disrupts our everyday life and it puts a different perspective on things. And I think many people have felt a sense of clarity about what’s important to them in life. How can students use this self awareness and translate their values into job ideas?

Tom 23:28
Yeah, we mentioned this earlier on in the, in the pod. I think students really understanding their strengths and development areas is really, really critically important to that self discovery piece, until students are more self aware of what they’re good at, but also where those strengths can translate to opportunities that they want to access. And I think it’s going to be more of a challenge. So we we have our flagship York Strengths programme, which, and clearly we’re not able to run the summer, in terms of the physical days, but that we’re translating that into an online product, and which will be something that I’d really recommend students go on and access. And it’s open to all students as well. And that will really just help that initial insight into kind of strength areas and development areas and really help focus that self awareness into potential job ideas. It’s gonna be really interesting once we’re out of the pandemic, and really severe aspects of it. I really think there’ll be a focus on public good and an increased appreciation for all those classed as key workers, and you know, if you follow the media, certain business practices over this period will either heighten or lower student demand. And so you know, the work of AstraZeneca working with the University of Oxford on a vaccine. You have Team Ineos, boat racing team building or creating face masks, you know, you have multiple engineering organisations like Dyson building ventilators, you know, the, the national effort against COVID-19 has been fantastic to see, you know, organisations stepping up and there’ll be certain business responses that won’t go down well, either. And, you know, from a morality perspective of certain large organisations applying for furlough schemes where they can probably afford to pay for their staff not to, not to, you know, use public funded money. So, it’s going to be really interesting, but I think you know, until you understand your own strength yourself and have a better understanding of how they can translate into job opportunities, I think then it’s thinking about, okay, what, you know, over this period of time, my reflections on my values and how do I either want to give back to society and whether that be You know, focusing your career opportunities down the line going into a public serving role, or whether there are certain values that you’re wanting a certain employer to have displayed over this period, as well. So it’d be really interesting to see how all that plays out. But traditionally, students at York have been really focused on public good, and going into organisations that make a positive difference on society, whether that be within the commercial sector, in higher education, or public service.

Kate 26:35
Yeah, I agree. I think that’s a really interesting point that it’s both clarifying your own values as a person but seeing which employees are really putting their money where their mouth is, you know, you often, people have these mission statements dont they that sound really good but when it comes down to it, are they actually following through?

Tom 26:55
You’ll see the true cultures play out in a period of crisis. Absolutely. And, you know, in the 2008 recession, there were certain organisations that retracted graduate opportunities. And the market saw that as a sign of weakness. And actually values of those companies went down and the student perception of those companies went down. So when they then created opportunities again in the future, they were really challenging times for them to recruit graduates. So, you know, I think being really clear on how organisations have adapted and will respond in the future, because ultimately, what you don’t want to do is get your dream job or dream opportunity on the career ladder, and then in six to 12 months time without doing the proper due diligence that organisation is no longer there, or your job is at risk. So I think, you know, research is critically important this period of time as well.

Kate 27:53
And obviously, we’ve got a lot of updates and information on our website. So on that, what are your sort of top recommendations for people to check out.

Tom 28:02
And well, I’ve already mentioned the the York Strengths online programme and definitely, for students to complete that. We’ve invested in some really cool resources over the last 12 to 18 months, you were part of a team working on our automated CV tool, which is a fantastic opportunity for students to have their CV reviewed, and get feedback instantly. And I know they’re looking at ways of evolving that technology to enable job roles and job specifications to be analysed as well. So that’s definitely something to be thinking about to make sure your CV and any application is at the right level. And we’ve also got shortlist me which enables you to do mock interviews. So the virtual and asynchronous interview online I think, definitely something to think about. Psychometric tests unfortunately won’t be going anywhere anytime soon, so either going back to your GCSE maths, or using the amazing resources we have on our website just to practice them, you know, they’re not really, really difficult, but it’s the time pressure that was put on them that is really difficult. So just being able to practice those would be something that I would advise. And finally, York profiles and mentors, is something that we’ve recently relaunched. So this provides opportunities for students to look at profiles of alum, so students who have graduated and gone off to, you know, drive and gain successful careers and then gives you the opportunity as a student to build a mentor mentee relationship with those individuals. So I think that’d be really important, you know, building networks will be a fantastic, fantastic opportunity coming up. To this, and clearly, they’ve already found the best resource and the podcast, Kate, if they’re listening to this, so you clearly want to name check that as well.

Kate 30:11
Thank you, thanks for that we’ve actually, we’re going to put links to all of the resources that Tom’s mentioned there, along with some other ones that I think are probably worth checking out. So I’ll add those links to the episode description along with the full transcript of today’s show. But that just leaves me say, thanks so much Tom for joining us today and for your advice and insights. We’re obviously open over the summer, we’re always open over the vacation so students can still access our services. I said that online stuff, it’s not going anywhere, a lot of it is on open access. So other you know, members of the public can access it, there is some stuff that’s locked down just for York students, but a lot of the useful information on there, we really do share. So there’s lots of support if people want to do make use of that. But yeah, thanks again for joining us Tom.