Employment experts have urged graduates in the UAE not to waste their time during the pandemic.
Despite one of the toughest job markets in generations, they said how youngsters handled the uncertainty was crucial to a successful interview.
It follows a recent survey that revealed half of Emirati students expect a starting salary of Dh15,000 to Dh30,000 a month, while 58 per cent of expatriate students expect a starting pay of Dh2,500 to Dh7,500 per month.
This tallies with what UAE-based consultants were seeing with graduates drawing salaries around Dh7,500 to Dh8,000 a month.
"The student’s expectations are spot-on," said Marketa Simkova, partner at global professional services firm KPMG. “For an expat, earning around Dh10,000 for a first job is realistic, while for an Emirati, a starting salary of Dh15,000 is expected," she said. "If they go for an internship, their salaries are below Dh5,000."
It comes as recruiters say the job market is slowly picking up speed again. But the coronavirus pandemic has accelerated a gulf between generations with people aged under 25 far more likely to be unemployed, a recent global report by The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development revealed.
Global unemployment rates have surged by 4.9 per cent since February - from 11.7 per cent to 16.6 per cent - for those aged 15 to 24, more than double the rise for those aged 25 and over.
"We don't want to hear about someone who drifted," said Sally Jeffery, Middle East education leader at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), the global consulting firm.
"We would be looking for the mature ones who have a sense of purpose ... people who would have kept themselves busy in a meaningful way.
"When you get that job interview and the employer asks about how you coped in the pandemic, you should have a story to tell."
An example would be a project such as helping to paint one's grandparent's house, which could be used as a character-forming experience that shows one as a self-starter.
She advised students to keep busy and stay open to options, even unpaid ones.
Employers said they preferred to hire people who had some experience - even if it was volunteering or working for a charity where they could show they helped the community.
Ignore titles while job-hunting amid pandemic
Experts also encouraged graduates to ignore job titles and look at responsibilities within the role.
“With the level of disruption from technology re-inventing roles every couple of years or possibly less, a title now is but a temporary thing," said Ms Jeffery.
She warned graduates about being in a role where they may be overpaid for the value they were contributing to the organisation.
This may be the case with fresh graduates with sought after skills.
She advised graduates to ensure their contribution caught up with their cost and stayed in check, otherwise they could get trapped in increasingly stale roles.
Other employment experts said internships - even virtual ones - can help them get a foot on the employment ladder.
Ms Simkova said students needed to start with internships to learn about a job's true role.
“Internships get students to try different types of careers and they can see what suits their personality and preferences best," she said.
"We do not like to hire people who just have academic knowledge."
She advised students to seek assessments on which career suited them best.
Radhika Punshi, managing director of psychometric testing firm, Talent Enterprise, called on students to get a reality check through work experience early in their careers.
"This year there are not as many full-time jobs as companies are recovering from the pandemic," she said.
She advised students to build their social media profiles, stay active on networking platforms and attend virtual webinars and conferences.
Use social media to seek opportunities
Ms Simkova advised graduates against just applying for jobs through websites or job postings as many people followed the same course of action.
She said her organisation received hundreds of CVs every day and job-hunters needed to stand out from the crowd.
Graduates could try approaching people directly within the company and in the department that they wished to work in.
“Everyone applies through a website," said Ms Simkova. "I would tell jobseekers to be proactive and use social media to get jobs."