Lack of confidence in early careers

28 July 2021

Lack of confidence – is this one of the problems with hiring more diverse talent?

We are in a market where we as recruiters are facing a deluge of applications largely due to the pandemic and the combination of latent demand from graduates 2020 with those graduating now. Yet, despite this surge in applications we are still concerned about the make-up of our cohorts with diversity and inclusion being a core theme of the recent ISE conference.


Lack of confidence is a major barrier for many students but, as our recent student research has shown, this issue is not as simple it might seem. We identified 3 key issues related to confidence in our research that we wanted to share to help employers see what more they can be doing to reassure entry level talent:


# 1 – The biggest contributor to lack of confidence in securing a graduate job was linked to the impact of the pandemic. Firstly we found, unsurprisingly, that reduced social interactions through the pandemic and a sense of feeling “pale and unhealthy” have driven mental health issues amongst our young people.  A series of lockdowns and the closure of the nighttime economy has contributed to one in three (35 per cent) of young people feeling low in self-esteem from lockdown blues on video calls (according to research from The Mirror).

Additionally, the Deloitte millennial survey in 2020 found that 46% of Gen Zs and 41% of millennials said they felt stressed all or most of the time – in countries such as the UK where Covid has hit hardest these percentages were the highest globally.


Our student panel said that employers can play a role in supporting young talent by communicating a sense of care and thought for their staff beyond them as simply employees, but as human beings. They said that they would be more attracted to brands who were offering mindfulness sessions and content and yoga!


Furthermore, we found that students were suffering from a lack of confidence due to the economic impact of the pandemic. There seems to be a widespread perception that there aren’t many opportunities out there and that many students are settling for any job they can get. Their confidence in finding a job they really want is very low.

Students were keen to see industry wide approaches from the market to reassure that there are jobs and work experience opportunities around.


#2 –For many a lack of confidence is directly related to imposter syndrome and is often related to their protected characteristics.

One Black Caribbean student from our research knows that he wants to work in a career that involves giving something back, but he suffers from imposter syndrome. He is worried about the application process as he feels that fewer black applicants are successful in graduate processes than others.


Other students asked: “why is it that fewer black candidates are successful? Are they just not applying? Or is it that they are failing?” Or are they withdrawing? Our students were keen to have greater transparency and honesty from employers about their demographic statistics.

“If they aren’t doing great then at least tell me what you are doing to try to support us and change things.”

Have you done a deep dive into your process to understand where specific audiences (not Black v White but Black Mixed v Black Caribbean v Black African) are not competing well?”

And are you tailoring your content to support these audiences to compete better in the future?


# 3 – It’s not so much about lack of confidence in getting a job, but more about “where do I start?”

Joel is a White, working-class Welsh graduate with a physics degree from Manchester University. What is stopping him from applying? He has no idea where to start. Joel has no networks and has never engaged with his Careers or Employability Service so feels at a complete loss for that first step.


How many graduate employers have advice on their website about where to start for someone like Joel? Yes, the CAS is a great place but truthfully many students don’t start their journey there.

Amongst the plethora of content on application processes and different schemes we forget that this is aimed at an audience who have already made some key decisions, but there is still that talent pool of the uninitiated. How are those with zero or limited careers capital expected to navigate our websites? Perhaps it’s time to start building some basic content for those at the very outset of their career planning and job hunting?

And speaking of the uninitiated, our students told us that their confidence levels were degraded by the fact that “all graduate employers expect me to have direct work experience…why do they all have aspirational job specs – they are such a waste of time. Surely the whole reason for a graduate job is to give us experience?”

Students really do lack confidence in the value of their own transferable skills. Of course not all employers expect direct work experience but still ask “tell me about a time when…” Students told us in numbers that they find it difficult to relate their own skills, abilities, and motivations to an advertised role. They don’t have the confidence or belief that their job as a pizza delivery person or as a bartender can add anything meaningful to a graduate employer.

Or even worse when they do have experience, they don’t think it’s enough and count themselves out. One student was unconfident about a particular role saying  “they ideally want JAVA experience… I don’t have JAVA I only know Python and C++”!!

Our students want to read about current trainees and their work experience (or sometimes lack thereof) to reassure them that they don’t have to have had an internship with a top 3 Bank to get in and that they do have valuable transferable skills.

They also suggested that applying to jobs is “too dry and boring” and “the questions they ask miss a trick by not getting the culture across in the way they ask the question.”

So, if you are an early careers employer and you are looking at your D&I strategies perhaps this slightly different way of looking at it through the lens of Confidence might have sparked some thinking.

To read more about Confidence in student recruitment, check out our summary of Handshake’s paper at the 2021 ISE Student Recruitment Conference.

We hope you liked reading this and if you wanted to find out more about the work we do here at 106 Comms feel free to drop me a line for a chat –

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