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First Steps into the Labour Market survey results

2021 International survey of students and recent graduates

Research scope


This report investigates the plans and motivations of future business leaders from across 19 European countries – those ambitious and hard-working young people who are already proving themselves at some of the continent’s leading universities.

The survey gathered the views of 9,107 people aged 18 to 30, most of whom were students and recent graduates from leading universities from across Central Europe and France.

The questions we put to them in our survey covered many areas relating to what matters most when choosing a job and an employer. We also asked how they perceive businesses around the world and about how their attitudes have changed since before the Covid-19 pandemic. Interestingly, most claimed that this has not influenced their thinking. However, in certain areas (particularly the rise in the popularity of hybrid working), we believe there is evidence that the pandemic has accelerated trends that were already underway.

The research has given us a new, yet familiar, picture of an emerging generation taking its first steps onto the career ladder – young people preparing themselves to face the latest technological and economic disruptions in today’s fast-changing world.

We believe it’s essential that those employers targeting the best graduate talent appreciate the extent to which professional work is only one important value among others. Others include success across many facets of life, from good health and having a happy family to experiencing adventures and great friendships, from behaving ethically to earning the respect of other people. This again places significant value on the need for employers to offer flexible working practices that give young recruits the scope to develop in many areas of life.

Monika Kováčová
Regional Talent Director
Deloitte Central Europe

Key findings


The new hybrid working model: ‘everywhere and any time’
Working from various locations (such as in the office or at home) with flexible working hours is the preferred choice for close to half (49.6%) of our young respondents, up from 42.6% in the previous 2018 edition of the First Steps survey. Fixed working hours with the freedom to work from different locations is the best option for 15.5%, while the traditional model – working in the office for a fixed number of hours – is attractive for only 10% of those we surveyed (down from 13.7%).

State of the economy and the labour market
Our respondents are more positive about the labour market in general than about the state of the economy in their individual countries. Although 38% see the labour-market situation as poor, more than 70% are confident that it will take them only around one to six months to find a good job. In the 2018 research, this view was shared by 89% of our respondents. The COVID-19 pandemic has not significantly affected young people’s financial expectations. A majority still expects their salaries to match pre-pandemic levels.

Mobility and professional experience
More than a quarter of students plan to move abroad to pursue their professional career, and 72% are willing to consider such an idea. More than 50% of our respondents have work experience that is compatible with their studies or profession. A majority are or have been employed in a full-time job.

Important values, motivation and self-confidence
Good health and a happy family life topped the ranking of values, chosen by 83% and more than 78% of respondents respectively as the areas they value most. Having a professional career is one of the most important values for 39% of the sample.

Leadership competencies and priorities
According to our respondents, the characteristics of a good leader must include strong strategic abilities (60%), the skills required to develop employees (44%) and the ability to demonstrate a democratic approach (43%). In addition, leaders should be decisive and inspire the people they lead (40%).

Expectations regarding employers
When choosing an employer, 42% of our respondents, regardless of gender, see individual plans and opportunities to develop their careers as most important. Salary, unsurprisingly, continues to be an important consideration when choosing an employer and was our respondents’ second most important priority.

Ways to interact with employers
Social media sites account for the two top sources that young people use to find information and insights about potential employers and jobs. LinkedIn is the first choice for 27% overall. When applying for a job, the face-to-face interview is the preferred method of connecting with a potential employer, selected by almost 77% of young people.

Perceptions of business organisations and national governments
Nearly three-quarters (71%) of our respondents think that businesses across the world focus on their own agenda rather than considering wider society. Almost half believe that businesses around the world take a strong leadership position on issues that impact wider society. More than half (55%) believe that businesses are doing better than governments when it comes to demonstrating strong leadership on important social issues.


The diversity agenda
The great majority (92%) of the young people who participated in our research told us they would prefer to work in an organisation with a diverse workforce (in terms of age, gender, nationality, etc). While almost 18% of our respondents would prefer their supervisor to be a man (compared with 8% who would sooner have a female boss) it is reassuring to see that almost 75% have no gender preferences when it comes to who they report to. The great majority (85%) would prefer to work alongside people from different cultural backgrounds.

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