As applications for graduate jobs increased while recruitment has remained lagging behind due to the pandemic, new research finds that competition for these roles have reached a record high. 

A new report released by the Institute of Student Employers has revealed that competition for graduate jobs has become tougher following the pandemic.

The survey revealed that UK’s largest employers received an average of 91 applications per graduate vacancy.

This marks a rise which is close to a fifth (17 per cent) increase on last year and the highest number since ISE began collecting data in 1999.

Despite this, the graduate jobs market has not yet returned to pre-pandemic levels, with 2020 and 2021 graduates competing for positions.

In terms of the most popular roles, retail, FMCG and tourism topped the list with 182 applications received per vacancy.

Competition for jobs in health and pharmaceuticals was also high with 155 people applying for a job and 118 graduates applied for a financial and professional services role.

On the flipside, the charity and public sector was the least competitive with just 39 applications per vacancy.

Despite the pandemic’s effect on the jobs market, online provision has actually been shown to have stimulated growth this year with internships increasing by almost a quarter (23 per cent) and work placements by 7 per cent.

Roles for school leavers such as apprenticeships have been less competitive than graduate positions with companies receiving an average of 67 applications per vacancy.

School leaver hiring didn’t drop during the pandemic and has continued to grow, increasing by 14 per cent in 2021.

Employers are predicting that growth across all areas will continue, with graduate jobs and internships expected to exceed pre-pandemic levels over the next year.

Stephen Isherwood, CEO of ISE said:

This highlights the genuine struggle for young people to find work during the pandemic.

There are more people looking for the security of a graduate programme, and this year’s cohort is competing with unemployed graduates from last year and those who did a masters degree.

Despite employers wanting more young people than last year, there just aren’t enough roles and we’re not yet back to 2019 levels.

Competition for jobs has been fierce but, assuming the economy continues to recover, things should get easier over the next year when we expect a return to pre-pandemic hiring.

*The ISE’s Student Recruitment Report 2021 utilised results from a survey which ran during September 2021 and received 177 responses. Companies responding represent the UK’s largest employers of school leavers and graduates, hiring 45,312 graduates, school and college leavers, interns or placement students in 2021.






Monica Sharma is an English Literature graduate from the University of Warwick. As Editor for HRreview, her particular interests in HR include issues concerning diversity, employment law and wellbeing in the workplace. Alongside this, she has written for student publications in both England and Canada. Monica has also presented her academic work concerning the relationship between legal systems, sexual harassment and racism at a university conference at the University of Western Ontario, Canada.