How has the pandemic affected undergraduate placements?

17 December 2020

Our WBS CareersPlus team hosted a virtual panel event with a range of employers to find out everything you need to know about the impact Covid-19 has had on industry placements and how you can stand out amongst the virtual crowd when applying.

We have not had the year we were all expecting and by summer 2020 many internships and placements had moved online while graduate starts were postponed or put on hold and, in some cases, offers were retracted. At first, many employers needed time to find their feet and work out their next steps, but it was not long before recruiters started to return our calls to discuss their recruitment plans for 2021. Fortunately, employers are still recruiting, just in a very different way to previous years. 

We hosted an online panel with employers from L’Oréal, RMP Enterprise, and Delice de France Ltd, as well as one of our own placement year students, to discuss the changes and share what students can expect from placements in 2021. We have summed up some of the key highlights and common themes to help you feel prepared when you apply for your placement year or work experience.

Online development

We have seen an increase in virtual internships and placements on the back of the pandemic but there has also been an increase in the number of online resources. There are now many free online toolkits and training tools available, providing you with a wealth of opportunities to develop your personal and professional skillsets.

It is one thing to explore these training materials but another to shout about your achievements. Make sure you are updating your CV, refreshing your personal statements and your LinkedIn profile! Don’t be surprised if employers start to ask questions such as ‘what have you learned during the pandemic’ and ‘how did you make the most of your remote learning/work experience’ as part of their recruitment process. Start thinking about the sorts of things you have attended or completed over the summer, whether they are work related or not, and how these newfound skills can be applied to a work context.  

As a part of our Careers Service at WBS, we host a range of webinars to support your online development; more recently, we have run webinars to help you with your career planning and you can access these here if you are a current WBS undergrad. We have also been building a library of placement specific recordings with support from the corporate partners and our student placement pros. If you’re a current undergraduate, you can access all our event recordings here.

Risk vs. Opportunity

Within our online panel event, Thierry Calcacy (Delice de France) made an important point that with risk there is also an opportunity and vice versa. The pandemic has affected businesses and economies on a global scale and many firms have decided to freeze recruitment which usually has an immediate impact on junior positions. Thierry explained that 30-40% of their business feeds into hospitality and so they had to react quickly, increasing their efforts online which created more opportunities within the social and digital space at Delice de France. Charlotte Bamford (L’Oréal) also emphasised how important interns are at L’Oréal, “…we still really need junior members of our business – these are key for our business activity,” she explained.


Online assessment centres and interviews have allowed employers to rethink and, in some cases, redesign their processes. For example, some employers have introduced more rest breaks between sessions to reduce screen time and overall pressure on the candidates. Going forward, many employers may start to roll out a more blended approach to assessment centres rather than the more traditional approach, in which you would spend an intense full day with them.Although we are now approaching the end of autumn term, you can still speak to our Careers Coaches and access our online resources during the vacation period, and read our post by the WBS CareersPlus Manager Hilary here.

The idea of ‘staying connected’ and keeping in touch with people may vary from weekly catch-ups to other social and more informal activities; Sophie Baldry (RMP) talked about employers “championing virtual fun” such as cooking and painting classes. It is also more common this year for placement students to have a virtual buddy to support and guide them outside any immediate job related responsibilities. 

The gift of time

Remote working has massively reduced travel time between meetings and, in many cases, has completely removed the daily commute. For some interns this has allowed them to stagger their placement experience. A placement year is much more than an offer from your dream company, you also have to think about relocation and affordability. All of this may seem daunting, especially if this is your debut internship or work placement. Sam Jeffery, one of our BSc Management students and current placement intern with L’Oréal, explained how this year has allowed him to go through the process at a steady pace in comparison to others in previous years. For example, Sam was able to relocate and have time to settle in before heading into the office for the first time.  

The new normal

Although we can’t predict how long remote working is going to continue for, Sophie (RMP) is confident that virtual internships are “here to stay”. You can find out more about virtual internships in many online resources, we would recommend looking at Rate My Placement’s ‘Guide to Virtual Internships’.

From MS Teams to Zoom and Slack, the technology that we have adopted during remote working has supported productivity through these challenging times and has allowed us to continue meeting with others online. New ways of working, training and recruiting online have urged us to rethink professional etiquette and may continue even after the pandemic is over. This is something L’Oréal is already starting to adopt; Charlotte explains that L’Oréal has removed comments such as ‘this is not how we used to do things’ from its recruitment processes in an attempt to remove a mental barrier for candidates, encouraging them to embrace these new changes too. Businesses are learning and adapting, just like we are.

Top ten tips for online interviews and assessment centres:

  1. Be prepared and practice (preparation is key!)
  2. Apply sooner rather than later but don’t rush your applications – quality over quantity
  3. Research the company and make connections – reach out to current placement year students and alumni (they were all in your position at some point)
  4. Remove distractions such as mobile phones or put devices on flight mode when you are preparing your application or preparing for a virtual assessment centre experience
  5. Get dressed and set yourself up for the day – ditch the joggers and style it out when attending interviews and online meetings; it may surprise you how much an outfit can influence your performance
  6. Lighting is important – you do not want to look like you’re in a cave or have a ceiling light as a halo, check your background before the interview
  7. Familiarise yourself with any platforms and technology you may need to use in advance
  8. Project a positive personal self through the camera and don’t be afraid to show the real you
  9. Be genuine, open and honest about areas of personal development and what you have learnt about yourself during the pandemic
  10. Remain calm – it is easy to feel overwhelmed but try to immerse yourself in the recruitment process and enjoy it!

Want to find out more? If you are a current undergraduate, you can watch the full recording of the employer panel. If you have questions for our WBS CareersPlus team you can contact them here.

For those considering joining WBS to study one of our undergraduate courses, why not download our undergraduate brochure and find out about life at WBS and the careers support on offer.