Careers advice and planning

How to get a graduate job in a recession

Recession proof your job hunt by following these eight steps, which will help you to face the competition and stay focused.

A piggybank lying on its side, next to a man on a calculator

What is a recession and how will it affect my job hunt?

Recessions happen when a country’s gross domestic product (GDP – the value of goods and services) falls for two quarters in a row. When an economy shrinks in this way, it often results in job losses, fewer new vacancies and fewer start-up companies receiving the necessary financing to get off the ground. The competition for jobs typically becomes more intense.

As such, recessions and other economic crises make getting a job more challenging than it would be otherwise, especially for graduates seeking their first jobs. Yet this is no reason to give up on your career goals. Although it may take some extra thought and, perhaps, some short-term changes to your plans, finding a job that suits you is far from impossible. Even during the height of lockdown and the darkest days of the 2008 credit crunch, graduates were still being hired into their desired professions – recruitment never stopped, even if there were fewer vacancies overall.

Put yourself in the best possible position to get a graduate job during a recession by following our steps to success.

  1. Preserve your motivation
  2. Be clear on what you want and where you’ll compromise
  3. Steer clear of a catch-all approach
  4. Sell your skills
  5. Fill skills gaps
  6. Network online
  7. Seek unadvertised jobs
  8. Ask for feedback

1. Find a way to stay motivated

It’s easy to get lost in negative thinking and despair about your career prospects, especially if the news is dominated by the poor state of the economy and jobs losses, and it’s hard to find the motivation even to submit an application if you feel no hope. We suggest taking whatever action you can to avoid getting ‘stuck’ in these thoughts – the truth is that the first step to getting the job you want is to believe that you can get it.

Graduate programmes are still running and employers are still hiring into entry-level positions. Just take a look at the number of vacancies on targetjobs during peak recruitment season.

That’s not to say that you should be unrealistic about the road ahead – you will need to do everything you can to make your applications as strong as possible to beat the competition.

In the rest of this article we give you advice on how to become an even better candidate, but start by taking care of yourself, with the aim of maintaining a positive mindset and good mental health. For example, you could keep to a regular routine, with slots for job-hunting, work/study and play, and reward yourself for getting tasks done. Our article on structuring your job hunt after graduation will give you tips on how to do this.

2. Be clear about what you want

When it comes to focusing your job search, decide what you want and what you’d compromise on. Have you got a preferred sector, job role or certain employers in mind? If so, to what extent do you want to focus on getting ‘your dream job’ and to what extent do you want to explore other career options?

If securing the job role you are most interested in will mean facing lots of competition and you are a recent graduate, bear in mind that if you miss out this time around most employers will let you apply next year. But perhaps, because of financial pressures, you want to give yourself a timeframe in which you apply for a specific type of job, after which you will look elsewhere.

Remember, too, that you can look for your job role of choice with different types of employers. Did you know, for example, that the NHS hires engineers? Or that property professionals could work for airports and universities? Or that you could become a marketing executive at small start-ups as well as marketing agencies?

On the other hand, you might take on a different role for your preferred employer, with a view to moving into the dream job down the line. Recession or no recession, this sort of move isn’t unusual – many editors in the book publishing industry, for example, start in marketing before transitioning to editing.

Browse the top 300 employers in the UK, as voted for by students and graduates .

3. Steer clear of a catch-all approach

Although it makes sense to apply for more jobs during a recession – and maybe to make some compromises – you shouldn’t just submit as many applications as possible. ‘Gotta catch ‘em all’ was fine when you were hunting down Pokémon, but it’s not such a great approach for your job hunt. Increased competition should push you to put in the effort needed to avoid instant rejection: tailor each CV, application and/or covering letter to the role and check them over to ensure they are high quality, with perfect spelling and grammar and the right tone. If you send out hundreds you simply won’t have enough time. At the end of the day, you only need one job.

What do we mean by tailoring? Essentially, your answers to application form questions and your covering letter should show how you have the specific qualities that employer seeks and provide good reasons for wanting this particular job (not just any job in that sector). It means that your CV should emphasise how the skills you’ve acquired are particularly relevant to that specific job.

Get advice on how to write a successful job application , a compelling CV and a creative covering letter .

4. Sell skills on your CV

Make sure the skills you’ve built up through your studies, work experience and extracurricular activities are written up on your CV in a way that best promotes you as the person for the job. Our big guide to CV writing gives advice on how to do this. Remember to provide concrete evidence of when you demonstrated each skill.

When it comes to the abilities you emphasise on your CV and in applications, you should always be guided by the job description, alongside research into the particular company and sector. Nonetheless, times of rapid change or crisis for employers – such as recessions – mean that the skills that enable employees to cope with change and contribute to the business are more important than ever. These include:

5. Fill skills gaps

When you think carefully, the chances are you’ll discover that you already have many of the skills you need to secure a job. However, you might find that you want stronger or more recent examples of them. Or you might find that there are a few gaps. You can gain evidence of your skills through undertaking work experience, volunteering or online learning courses (such as the free ones available from Coursera, FutureLearn and OpenLearn), as well as through pursuing your hobbies and interests.

Don’t worry if the state of the economy means you can’t get the exact form of work experience you’d like; the trick is to find any opportunity that will allow you to demonstrate or build the skill, and then write it up as evidence of the ability on your CV. For example, if you set and achieve a target to raise money for a charity dear to your heart, you will have evidence of your initiative, drive and determination, creative thinking and persuasiveness among other skills

6. Perfect your profile and connect with professionals

Taking a step back and reviewing your online presence in full is a good place to start with social media. Decide on the platforms you would and wouldn’t be happy for a recruiter to view your activity on, set the appropriate privacy settings for any profiles in the ‘wouldn’t’ list and then focus on promoting yourself as a job-worthy candidate on those parts of your online presence that can be seen by employers.

In order to benefit the most from them, you should use online platforms to build your personal brand (how you are perceived professionally), network and gain information about employers. LinkedIn is particularly effective for each one of these things, so make sure you have a profile and perfect it. Joining industry-related groups, writing posts highlighting your career-related interests and commenting on any relevant posts will demonstrate your enthusiasm to potential connections.

Reach out to professionals working in the sector or job role or for the employer you’d like to work for. By connecting with them and asking for their advice on how to get a job you might hear of upcoming vacancies or even have them recommend you for a role. Be sure to personalise your request with a professional-sounding note. Get more tips on how to use LinkedIn effectively our article for more on how to use LinkedIn effectively in our guide.

Consider other networking opportunities. If you’re a member of a professional body, for example, you should be able to access networking events and the advice of experienced professionals through publications, webinars etc. Contacting alumni from your university may be another option – this could be through your careers service or on LinkedIn (connections will be suggested based on your academic and employment history).

7. Seek unadvertised vacancies

As mentioned above, if you build up a strong network on LinkedIn or in person, you may well hear about opportunities that haven’t yet been advertised or you wouldn’t have otherwise – but you can also try your luck and send speculative applications to employers in your areas of interest. This is where you send your CV and a tailored covering letter to an employer not currently advertising a vacancy, asking whether they could offer you some work or keep you in mind for future opportunities. As the application needs to be tailored to stand any chance of success (see above), this does take time and effort – and it’s not a guaranteed route to success, but you never know what it might lead to.

Read our advice on, and an example email for, applying speculatively for work experience .

8. Actively seek feedback

If you’re declined after the application or interview stage of the process, your natural instinct might be to just push forward. However, reflection is crucial. Considering how you can improve your performance will mean you go into the recruitment process for the next job with a better chance of success – as you’ll know what changes to make.

If the ‘thanks but no thanks’ email mentions that the employer is willing to offer feedback, send a polite reply taking them up on this. If it doesn’t, consider replying asking for feedback. Some large employers only offer this to those who have reached the final stages of the recruitment process and some won’t respond, but (unless the email makes it clear that it isn’t offered) there’s no harm in trying. If you have further questions based on this feedback, you can send these – but do be patient when waiting for a response.

The employer isn’t your only source of feedback, however. You might reach out to your careers service, a recruitment agency or people in your network. Saving the job description and any work you completed for an application (you might want to copy text into a MS Word document) and noting down what you said during an interview will mean you have plenty of material to gain feedback on.

Read our full advice feature on asking for feedback and responding to it .

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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