Stepping up your graduate job search during a recession

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

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‘Gotta catch ‘em all’ was fine when you were hunting down Pokémon, but it’s not such a great approach for your job hunt.

The recession might be one of the most malign symptoms of the coronavirus pandemic where employers are concerned, yet it is certainly no reason to give up on your job 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. Follow our seven steps to be in with a good chance of success.

1. Stay motivated

It’s easy to get lost in negative thinking and despair about your career prospects, especially when there is so much in the news about the poor state of the economy and jobs losses – but reaching the point where you can’t even find the motivation to submit an application is self-defeating. The truth is that the first step to getting the job you want is to believe that you can get it.

That’s not to say that you should be unrealistic – there will be fewer jobs out there overall and you will need to do everything you can to make your applications as strong as possible (see below for advice on how to do this). But it’s important to remember that many graduate programmes are still running. The Institute of Student Employers reported in March 2020 that 73% of employers weren’t cutting graduate jobs for 2020, and it's likely that many will continue to recruit in 2021. Additionally, there may be entry-level roles that will still be suitable for graduates. In time, you may hear of other opportunities within the business or be in prime position to interview for their graduate programmes when they do become available.

So, do whatever you need to in order to maintain a positive mindset and good mental health, for example by making sure that you keep to a regular routine and rewarding 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. The Institute of Mechanical Engineers that the NHS needs more engineers so, for example, you might set your sights on the healthcare sector for now. Or maybe you’ll keep your sights set on the role of buyer but apply for jobs at supermarkets rather than fashion retailers.

On the other hand, you might take on a different role for the right 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.

3. Steer clear of a catch-all approach

Although it makes sense to apply for a few more jobs during a recession – and maybe to make some compromises – you shouldn’t just focus on sending 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.

4. Sell skills on your CV

Make sure those 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. Get skills gaps filled

When you think carefully, the chances are you’ll discover that you already have many of the skills you need. However, continuing to develop them will either fill a gap or prevent one from developing on your CV. This might be through work experience, volunteering or online learning courses (such as the free ones available from Coursera, FutureLearn and OpenLearn). Don’t worry if the state of the economy means you can’t get the exact 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.

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. Once you’ve joined a group on LinkedIn, you can send connection requests to other members – this is a strong way to build up your network in your preferred job sector or industry. Be sure to personalise your request with a professional-sounding note. See our article for more on how to use LinkedIn effectively.

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. 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.

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