Millennials still have high expectations of employment market, but Covid-19 dampens optimism

Results of tenth large-scale study of final-year students’ expectations of the employment market and their career

Dirk Buyens

By Dirk Buyens

Professor of Human Resources Management

10 December 2020

The expectations final-year students have of their first job are still high. Good communication with their colleagues, a sociable atmosphere and plenty of opportunities for training are at the top of the list. What is more, these millennials prioritise career security over job security. They consider their relationship with their first employer to be temporary, expecting to work for a whole range of different companies during their working life. However, the Covid-19 outbreak has toned down their optimism about the future. Now afraid that fewer jobs will be available to suit their skills and qualifications, they are once again attaching greater importance to job security.


The Centre for Excellence in Strategic Talent Management at Vlerick Business School has conducted its tenth large-scale study of final-year students’ expectations of the employment market and their career. 614 students who were due to graduate in June 2020 took part in the survey, of whom 294 were Masters students and 320 Advanced Masters. The research focuses both on their career plans and on what these ‘millennial’ graduates expect from their first employer. Last but not least, the study also contains important insights for companies hoping to recruit recent graduates.

Setting the bar high

People entering the employment market for the first time expect a job in a pleasant working environment where they can develop their talents to the full and get attractive opportunities for further professional development. Good communication with their colleagues, a sociable atmosphere and opportunities for training are at the top of the list. Companies that can offer this are more likely to attract and retain graduates than companies that cannot.

  • 92% of respondents indicate that they want to end up in a pleasant working environment that stimulates positive teamwork
  • 88% hope for good communication between colleagues. 
  • Training opportunities (85%) and a versatile range of tasks (80%) also get high scores. 
  • The average expected starter salary for a first job is 2,022 euros net for Masters graduates and 2,363 euros net for graduates with an Advanced Masters. The expectation after five years of work increases to 2,937 euros and 4,226 euros respectively. These expectations are closely linked to their expectations of career growth and professional development.

Career security over job security

For 90% of respondents, an attractive career means lifelong learning. For millennials, this is an absolute priority in order to extend their skills and knowledge and keep them up to date. So it comes as no surprise that the final-year students surveyed want a vertical career path (76%) rather than a horizontal one (50%).

They clearly have a cosmopolitan vision for their careers: 58% expect to work for a wide range of different companies over the course of their working lives. They tend to see their first job as a stepping stone to something better at another company and view the relationship with the first employer as temporary. Almost 50% do not plan to work for their first employer for longer than three years. That is why they do not see long-term job security as a priority: the promise of job security only matters to 17% of respondents.

Other notable findings include:

  • The importance of achieving a good work-life balance is continuing to increase (74% in 2020 as opposed to 66% in 2017).
  • It is very important for respondents to be appreciated for the work they do (76%).
  • Last but not least, 62% state that a job with a clear goal and positive social or environmental impact is important.

Dirk Buyens, Professor of Human Resources at Vlerick Business School“Given the outflow of older workers, the battle for the most suitable talents is still being fought. So attracting and retaining the best millennials is crucial to any company’s future. That makes it very important to gain insight into their views on careers and employment. Furthermore, it seems that millennials are prepared to do more than merely work hard and step up their efforts when necessary. If they are satisfied with their job, they will also be strong ambassadors for your brand and business.”

Covid-19 dampens optimism about the future

At the time of the survey, 70% felt positive about their future financial situation and the number of jobs available on the employment market. However, Covid-19 has put a spanner in the works. An additional survey of the Advanced Masters students in June showed that optimism about the economic situation and the number of jobs available to suit their skills and qualifications has fallen sharply.

  • Only 30% of respondents take an optimistic view of the economic situation after the Covid-19 pandemic (as opposed to 54% before the pandemic).
  • Only 6 in 10 students think there will be enough job vacancies for graduates with their profile. 
  • As a result, the importance of long-term job security has increased from before the disease broke out.

Professor Dirk Buyens confirms that the employment market for graduates has changed somewhat: “In general, we are noticing that the decision-making process is slower in terms of recruitment and selection. There is a great deal of uncertainty and the real consequences of the crisis are not yet clear. Other companies have opted to stop recruiting for the time being or to fill vacancies internally. This means that there are fewer opportunities for graduates. However, these profiles still have an advantage on the market: rapid digitisation is fuelling demand for this target group. We can certainly recommend that recent graduates start looking for work in good time!”

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Astrid Vandenbroucke

Astrid Vandenbroucke

Manager GPtW®