Help! I'm struggling to find a job after graduation

It's easy to get disheartened if you're struggling to find work after finishing at university. Read on for tips on how to structure your graduate job hunt.

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Keep your resolve, be kind to yourself and build your employability – it will all help.

Getting a graduate job after graduation can seem a long slog, and no more so than during a recession and a pandemic. Not everyone will find the process quick or straightforward, and there may be an element of luck to it all. There’s some truth in the old saying that getting a job is about being in the right place at the right time. Don’t give up – plenty of employers are still recruiting graduates. However, do take some time to step back and look at your approach, and ask yourself if you could tackle your job hunt in a slightly different way.

There are different stages to the job hunting process – deciding what you want, planning and applying – and there are proven ways in which job candidates can boost their chances at each stage. Ask yourself the following questions to find out what you might be missing:

  • Are you focused?
  • Do you need to top up your experience?
  • Are there vacancies you should be applying for, but aren’t?
  • Have you thought about making small changes to your job search in light of the pandemic?

Are you focused?

Of those that are remediable, lack of focus is one of the biggest reasons why graduate job hunters may not be successful. This can take two forms: lacking focus in terms of job-finding strategy and lacking in focus in what you say to employers in your written applications and face to face.

Focus your job hunting decisions, planning and applications by asking yourself the following:

  • Do you know what you want to do for a career?
  • Do you know what you want from a job for which you’re applying?
  • Do you know what you have to offer an employer?

If the answer to any of the above is ‘no’ then it’s time for some additional self-reflection and a visit to your careers service. Use our job descriptions to see which roles appeal to you.  Our article on how it’s never too late to start your job hunt has lots of tips on commencing the serious business of seeking employment and is worth re-reading too.

Are you simply making too many applications for different types of jobs because you’re in a panic? Of course, your odds of finding employment increase if you apply to more recruiters, but only if they’re suitable matches for you and if you set aside a decent amount of time for applying to each.

What if you’re getting through to interview and then being rejected? Any feedback you get from a recruiter is vital. Try to get a phone call from the team that interviewed you. Be professional and don’t be frightened to ask questions about your performance and how they made their choice. Armed with that feedback, share it with someone from your careers service for their perspective or do likewise with someone whose experience and knowledge of recruitment you respect. At this stage, most people fail to seek out someone to help them with interview practice, and that’s a mistake. Our confidence-boosting interview advice may also help.

Don’t forget, most university careers services will continue to support alumni after graduation. The face-to-face careers advice offered by the likes of the University of Exeter, University of Sheffield and University of Bristol three years after graduating may not be available at the moment due to social distancing measures, but in the meantime this will be provided virtually.

Do you need to top up your work experience?

Do you have the right experience for the job? Again, ask a careers adviser or try and find someone within your chosen industry who can give you honest and constructive feedback.

Read our advice on the top 10 skills that’ll get you a job when you graduate. Match those skills against the jobs you’ve applied to that most interested you.  Don’t just rely on re-reading the job adverts.

Re-read the recruiters’ websites and news reports about them to find evidence of those work-related skills in use.

Next, create a short-list of must-have skills for the jobs you want and then write a list of every time in the past few years that you’ve demonstrated these abilities.

If you need further experience, get it when you can. This could be in anything from voluntary work or work shadowing to casual part-time work serving the public. But whatever you do, create opportunities to demonstrate the skills you want to develop. If you want to be able to write about your leadership skills in a job application, then do leader-like things in your temporary job – even if you’re in not a leadership role. Make suggestions for improvements – that shows enterprise!

Keep notes about your ideas, how you acted on them and what the outcome was. It’ll develop your ability to sell yourself.

Widen the jobs funnel

Widening the jobs funnel is simply about increasing the supply of jobs that you can choose from. Here are some suggestions to help you do this.

If you haven’t done so, register with and complete your profile, and log in each time you use to get the most out of it. Get email alerts for jobs that meet your criteria, read tips on applying to specific employers and advice on applications and interviews.

  • Find out about the jobs open to you regardless of your degree subject and classification, and check out our advice on how to job hunt if you get a 2.2 when you graduate
  • Don’t forget that some recruiters will take applications for internships from those who’ve graduated, and many graduate schemes accept candidates who graduated a couple of years ago.
  • Network, network, network! You can still attend virtual employer events and career fairs and connect with alumni. In particular, milk your LinkedIn profile for everything it’s worth: blog, comment, like, share… get noticed and then converse with the right people. 
  • Consider the joys of the small business graduate scheme.
  • Some employers – KPMG, for instance – allow previously unsuccessful candidates to reapply. But make sure first you’ve invested time and energy to boosting your appeal as an employee.
  • Finally, do you want to take a gap year? Is postgraduate study an option?

Coping with job rejection is never easy, but it is a fact of working life. Keep your resolve, be kind to yourself and build your employability – it will all help.

Consider the context

Thinking about the context in which you’re applying to graduate jobs could help you to stay focused and to make the work you put in more likely to lead to a job. Our articles on job hunting during the coronavirus pandemic and how to get a graduate job during a recession should help to guide you.

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