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Turning a Crisis into an Opportunity--Three Rules for Success in Job hunting During the Coronavirus Crisis

Seina Igarashi
Chuo University Career Center Staff

Around this time last year, the seller's market among university graduates was still going strong despite the increase in the sales tax rate, and it hadn't crossed anyone's mind that the Tokyo Olympics might be cancelled. This year, an unprecedented global pandemic brought upon significant changes to people's lifestyles, as well as to the circumstances of universities, students, and corporations.

In this article, I'd like to analyze the current state of the graduate recruitment market, and look back on the situation surrounding job hunting in 2020. Consequently, I hope to find some hints for achieving success in job hunting during the coronavirus crisis.

How the coronavirus changed job hunting

chuo1224_g_en.jpgAccording to a survey conducted in October by the Recruit Career's Shushoku Mirai Kenkyusho (Employment Future Institute), in time for the official October start date for job offers (sample size: 3,322 university students; valid responses: 991), the job offer rate for graduates as of October 1 this year was 88.7%, a decrease of 5.1 percentage points from 93.8% last year.

On the other hand, according to Tokyo Shoko Research, the number of bankruptcies between January and August 2020 was 5,457, down 13 from 5,470 in the same period last year. However, the number of companies that closed or dissolved during the same period was 35,816, up 6,908 (23.9% year-on-year) from 28,908 in the same period last year. This can be interpreted as a result of companies and business owners who, due to the uncertain future, lost the will to continue their businesses in light of the rapid downturn caused by the coronavirus crisis, leading them to close their businesses without waiting to declare bankruptcy. Looking at the scale of impact by industry, the service industry accounted for the overwhelming majority with 11,144 cases (31.1% of the total), followed by the construction industry with 6,327 cases (17.7% of the total), the retail industry with 4,511 cases (12.6% of the total), and so on. Since the declaration of the state of emergency, economic activity has stagnated, domestic and inbound demand has all but disappeared, and except for a few companies that have increased their sales due to demand resulting from people staying at home, the economic situation has been difficult overall.

The figures listed above show that job hunting activities of students graduating in 2021 have not been hit as hard compared to the economic devastation companies have been experiencing. Compared to the job offer rate for students graduating in 2020, the difference was −13.4 points as of June 1, the start of the hiring season, but has narrowed to −5.1 points as of October 1. This is due to the resumption of recruitment activities, which were temporarily suspended after the declaration of the state of emergency, and delays in civil service examinations, which prolonged the job hunting activities of students and pushed back the timing of job offers as a result. However, it has so far not been as devastating as the so-called employment "ice age" after the collapse of the bubble economy, and the job offer rate is expected to continue to increase gradually.

chuo1224_c2.jpgDespite the dire state of the global economy and the deteriorating strength of Japanese companies caused by the coronavirus crisis, the reason why this damage to job hunting has been minimal is because of the unique policy among major companies which generally hire a large number of students, to not completely halt recruitment. The reduction or suspension of recruitment activities during the employment ice age in the late 1990s and later led to vacancies for middle management positions, which were filled by those in their 40s at the time, creating a bottleneck in filling positions. Looking back at these failures, many companies decided to always continue hiring, even if on a smaller scale. This was sort of a happy accident, but we should not overlook the fact that this year, ahead of the abolishment of the Japan Business Federation's job hunting rules, which were initially planned to be abolished for 2022 graduates (and were to be continued under the government's initiative), recruitment activities, which had been accelerated under the plan of year-round recruitment, had already begun before the declaration of the state of emergency and the lifting of the ban on advertising recruitment in March, leading to many students receiving job offers. This raises the concern that the real negative impact of the coronavirus crisis (a drastic reduction in hires) will come next year, not this year.

The stark differences among companies and students

In this year's graduate recruitment activities, several companies reported that the number of student applications was 1.2 to 1.5 times higher than usual, and that the quality of students was higher and background of students more diverse. On the other hand, there were a number of companies that failed in their recruiting efforts due to the coronavirus crisis, citing reasons such as the total suspension of job fairs and the delayed adoption of online strategies.

According to DISCO Inc.'s Career+ Research October survey (covering 11,495 major companies nationwide), 70.1% of companies responded that they held job offer ceremonies as of October, and out of those respondents, 49.8% said they conducted the ceremonies online. This figure was 67.3% for companies with more than 1,000 employees. Larger companies with high hiring numbers were more likely to use online tools. This is even more evident in this year's hiring process. With regard to the hiring of 2021 graduates, 68.6% of companies have conducted (or are conducting) online seminars, while 6.9% are neither conducting nor considering them. Furthermore, the larger the size of the company, the earlier they switched over to conducting online interviews.

At Chuo University, we invite companies to hold on-campus job fairs every year. This year, however, we canceled all live events and asked companies to hold online events. As a result, some companies decided not to participate even though there still were some openings because those companies were unable to meet online requirements.

chuo1224_a2_en.jpgIn this regard, since most of the classes in the first semester were conducted online, the students actually got accustomed to using online tools earlier than these companies. However, during these times of crisis, the stark difference between students who were able to proficiently utilize these tools and those who could not was clearly exposed. Our university distributed Webex accounts to students in late June to encourage them to enjoy online student life in various situations, such as club and seminar activities, but only about 30% of students activated their accounts immediately after distribution. Looking at the students who received job offers at a relatively early stage, it seems that they were the ones who were quick to exchange information with their friends, used various kinds of job hunting apps, websites, and other materials to obtain information about companies, and prepared their devices and network environments for online interviews.

The three rules for success for companies and students

chuo1224_b2_en.jpgThe coronavirus poses major hardships for those who are infected, and a crisis for society as a whole, but when talking about society at large, it is also an opportunity for us to make significant changes in our lives. The time we spent indoors to avoid getting infected has not been a waste at all. The creation of work-from-home environments, which we did not foresee at all around this time last year, was promoted at a rapid pace and is quickly becoming the norm. University classes that students had to commute a long distance to attend can now be taken online at home. As we all begin living our new lives, we're realizing that this new lifestyle also has great advantages. Some of the convenience it offers is something that we will never want to give up once we experience it. During and after this crisis, this new lifestyle will stay with us.

By the time this all becomes the norm, the winners and the losers will be decided. The companies and students who achieve success will be those who followed these three rules. Number one is speed, and number two is adaptability to change. What's especially important is rapid investment without hesitation. Investment, in this regard, refers to the use of wisdom, time, labor, and capital.

And finally, the most important is number three: to never give up. This is something I heard from many high school guidance counselors when I was at the admissions office before being assigned to the Career Center. High school is only three years times 365 days. So then why do high school seniors give up in December? They have all the way up until the university entrance examination and the time leading up to it, from late February to early March. They have two months--about 60 days--which is a significant amount of time. The same can be said for university students hunting for jobs. Students see their peers starting to get job offers around June. The students who have not gotten any offers begin to feel anxious, and some of them even give up their job hunt entirely. I want them to realize that giving up at that point means you are closing the doors to your future.

What stops people from moving forward is not despair, but resignation. What keeps people moving is not hope, but determination.
(Excerpt from Arms, the sci-fi manga by Ryoji Minagawa)

Seina Igarashi
Chuo University Career Center Staff

Seina Igarashi was born in Asahikawa, Hokkaido. She graduated from the Department of Marketing and Trade, Faculty of Commerce, Chuo University in 1995. She started working as a staff member of Chuo University the same year. After working in the library, the admissions office, and at the public relations office, she has been working at the Career Center since 2015, providing career and job hunting support for students. She also works as an advisor to high schools in Hokkaido, giving lectures to high school students aiming to enter universities.