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

Last updated: 11 Jan 2024, 12:17

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 and whether you can claim Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) or Universal Credit in the meantime.

A graduate looking at her computer screen in frustration.

Getting a graduate job after graduation can be a slog. There’s the job hunt itself, but at the same time, you also need to consider how to stay afloat financially while you search. This is not always a quick or straightforward process and if you’ve been applying for jobs for a little while but not yet been successful, you’re probably thinking ‘why can’t I get a graduate job?’. Take some time to step back and reassess your approach – ask yourself if you could tackle your job hunt in a slightly different way

A job hunt can be broken down into three separate stages – deciding what you want, planning and applying. There are proven ways in which you can boost your chances at each stage and the following questions can help you to find out what you might be missing:

Along with considering the previous questions, set aside some time to also see how you can earn an income while you graduate job hunt. You may already have a part-time job and so decide to keep it up. Or you may turn to the government for financial support. Many graduates will be eligible for either Jobseeker’s Allowance or Universal Credit – which can help to take some of the pressure off. And, in some cases, graduates may be able to work part time alongside claiming benefits.

Start with the basics: do you really want the job?

Experienced recruiters can tell when a candidate genuinely wants the job and will be reluctant to make a job offer to a candidate who seems unenthused, even if they have all the skills required. Before we go any further, ask yourself:

  • 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. Now ask yourself questions such as what are you good at? What do you like doing? What inspires you? What are your values? Also think about what you want to get out of your first graduate role and what is most important: for example, are training and development opportunities more important to you than salary or job location?

Not sure of the answers to any of these? Ask friends for their insights or contact your careers service. Most careers services will support graduate alumni and are well placed to help you work out what you want to do. Some provide you with resources to prompt self-reflection before you meet a careers adviser; others immediately offer you an in-person or virtual appointment to explore your thinking.

If you are looking for career ideas, our job descriptions give you snapshot views of what you’d do in different roles and the skills and qualifications you need – or have a read of one of our career idea round-up features, such as creative careers , green careers , jobs with ethics or future jobs in demand .

But maybe you are passionate about the jobs you are applying for, but are in a rut. If so, shake up your routine to regain motivation – our advice on structuring your job hunt will help, as now-employed graduates share the routines that worked for them.

Shortlist and tailor applications

Are you simply applying to too many different types of jobs because you’re in a panic? If the result is rushed applications that do not show why you’d be good in the role and why you want to work for the employer, they are almost certainly doomed to fail.

Rather than applying for every vacancy in sight, focus on a select few jobs that you really want. This will give you the time to put together applications tailored to each role.

To decide which jobs to focus on, create a list of potential ‘target’ jobs (or employers), rank them according to what is most important to you (based on the self-reflection we went through above) and then shortlist between three and five that top the list. Once you’ve made the strongest possible applications to those few, you can move on to your next five.

And what is the strongest application, anyway? It is one that shows that you have the skills and attributes on the job description, one that show that you have researched the company, and one that connects what you have found out about the company to your personal motivations for applying.

Do you need more work experience?

Many graduates wonder if they have ‘enough’ work experience or the ‘best work experience’ to get a job in their chosen sector. And it’s a difficult question to answer because it depends on what else you have on your CV.

Fundamentally, employers look for evidence that you have the skills and behaviours to succeed in the role and that you have a genuine interest in working in the sector and for that employer.

As such, it is advantageous for you to have related work experience – it is an easy way for you to show that you are interested in the sector and that you have developed sector-specific skills. It can be a particular boost in competitive sectors, such as law and investment banking .

However, having relevant experience isn’t always essential if you have gained the skills employers seek in other ways (for example, through part-time jobs, extracurricular activities or personal projects) and you can demonstrate an interest in the sector (for example, by showing that you have followed industry news). Editors here at targetjobs have spoken to quite a few successful graduate employees who have told us that they ‘didn’t get an internship’ but were able to evidence their skills through writing about when they were on the committee of a student society or working in a café.

So, look at the essential and desirable criteria listed on relevant job adverts and do some honest self-evaluation: do you have evidence of each skill? If not, work out a plan for how you can acquire it – could you take an online course ? Get involved in a community activity? If you work part time, could you volunteer for some extra responsibility? Or maybe you do need to focus on getting more work experience in the sector – if so, you might need to apply speculatively .

Of course, it might be that you have sufficient evidence but you are not doing yourself justice in the recruitment process. Read our big guide to CV writing for tips on making the most of your experiences and skills in your applications and read our guide to the top nine tricky interview questions for tips on interviews. Turn to our advice on selling yourself if you are a shy job hunter and how to deal with gaps on your CV due to Covid , too.

What about widening 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 already, register with and complete your profile to get the most out of our feed. Get email alerts for jobs that meet your criteria, read tips on applying to specific employers and advice on applications and interviews.

  • Check our job listings for vacancies open to students of your degree background and, if appropriate, discover how to job hunt if you get a 2.2 when you graduate .
  • Remember to look for vacancies outside of the traditional employers, too: not all engineers work for engineering companies, for example.
  • 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 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.

How are you dealing with job rejection?

Graduate job hunts rarely go perfectly to plan, and we’ve put together a special advice feature on how to deal with graduate job rejection and keep going , which is well worth a read. Many graduates fail to seek out feedback, but it’s the best way to learn from the experience and boost your chances of getting the job next time. Our advice on how to get feedback from employers, and potential sources of other feedback, is another great starting point.

Can I claim benefits after finishing university?

So how can you earn some form of income during your search for a graduate role? Well, after the last day of your final term of university, you’re no longer classed as a student and so you should be eligible for either Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) or Universal Credit – as long as you meet the basic requirements.

When can a graduate claim Jobseeker’s Allowance?

There are three different types of Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA):

  • Contribution-based JSA.
  • Income-based JSA.
  • New style JSA.

New applications can only be made for new style JSA. You should be eligible if you:

  • Are aged 18 or older but also under the State Pension age.
  • Are available for work.
  • Are not in full-time education.
  • Are unemployed or work less than 16 hours a week on average.
  • Have previously worked as an employee.
  • Have paid Class 1 National Insurance (NI) contributions in the last two to three years.
  • You don’t have an illness or disability which stops you from working.
  • You live in England, Scotland or Wales.

As new style JSA is based on NI contributions, if you didn’t have a job during university, then it’s unlikely that you will be eligible. Instead, you can apply for Universal Credit.

When can a graduate claim Universal Credit?

Universal Credit helps low-income earners with living costs. As a graduate, you can apply whether you’re employed (part-time or self-employed) or unemployed.

To claim Universal Credit, you’ll need to:

  • Be at least 18 years old.
  • Be under the State Pension age.
  • Have no more than £16,000 in money, savings and investments.
  • Live in the UK.

You may be eligible to claim Universal Credit and new style JSA at the same time . If you get both payments, for every £1 of new style Jobseeker’s Allowance that you receive, your Universal Credit will be reduced by £1.

Can a graduate claim benefits and work part time?

If you’re already supporting your job hunt with part-time work, or plan to, then you may still be eligible for new style JSA or Universal Credit.

Graduates who work less than 16 hours per week on average can claim new style JSA. Although, keep in mind that in this case your NI contributions over the previous two to three years will still determine your eligibility.

Claiming Universal Credit while also working a part-time job works a little differently. Instead of your payments stopping once you begin working at least 16 hours per week, they are reduced in line with how much money you earn from your job. This will only begin only once your job earnings are greater than the work allowance that you receive from Universal Credit.

The government updates allowances every year and entitlement depends on your personal circumstances, such as having a disability. So, head to the official government Jobseeker’s Allowance and Universal Credit web pages to see how much you may be able to claim as a graduate.

targetjobs editorial advice

This describes editorially independent and impartial content, which has been written and edited by the targetjobs content team. Any external contributors featuring in the article are in line with our non-advertorial policy, by which we mean that we do not promote one organisation over another.

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