Finding your way into the workforce after graduating college can be difficult. The job search process can often feel like a full-time job. Here, we explore ways to put your foot in the door so you can start your dream career.
By Lora Korpar
Graduation might be the end of your college experience, but it is only the beginning of your career.
Finding a job after graduation can be difficult. According to the University of Washington (UW), “it takes the average college graduate three to six months to secure employment after graduation.”
To pay the bills or obtain extra experience, 73% of 2020 graduates surveyed by Monster took a job that did not fit their career goals. The UW data added that 53% of college graduates were unemployed or working a job that doesn’t require a bachelor’s degree.
So how do you break this trend? Everyone has to start their career somewhere.
I spoke with Casey Dozier, the program director for career advising, counseling and instruction at Florida State University, as well as Lesley Mitler, a career coach for college students and graduates and the co-founder of Early Stage Careers, to discuss how to land a job after graduation.
Why the Post-College Job Search is So Rough
According to Intuit, people struggle to find a job after graduation for many reasons. Perhaps they did not prepare for the workforce by taking advantage of networking opportunities while in school. Or they didn’t do enough research on the employer before job interviews.
Dozier said another issue is making search criteria too specific.
“Generally, the more flexible and more open you can be, that can open up opportunities,” Dozier said. “But it does help to have some criteria because with many portals, some of the first things they ask you for are location and industry. So having some of those criteria set but also remaining flexible can help you.”
Also, Mitler said graduates often do not account for the employer’s needs when applying for a job.
“Students who are graduating really don't know how to position themselves for an effective job search,” Mitler said. “I think one of the major things is the needs of employers in terms of skills and experience don’t always align with the skills and experience that college graduates have because what they're learning in school is not necessarily what employers are looking for in terms of skill sets.”
Job Search Resources for College Graduates
Mitler suggests gaining a head start on the post-graduation job hunt struggle by beginning early.
“The earlier you can start preparing, the better and stronger your resume is going to be,” Mitler said. “I think by the time sophomore year comes around, you should start thinking about … talking to people who do the kinds of jobs you might be interested in, learning about them, learning about the companies that hire those people and trying to get some relevant experience.”
North Central College says to practice interview skills and prepare a resume by the start of senior year. That way you are ready if your school offers career fairs or if you find any career opportunities during the year.
Dozier also recommends landing an internship while you are still in college. Internships are great resume-builders and some internships can turn into full-time employment.
“[Internships are] an important outlet to be able to get to know an organization,” Dozier said. “They can often be mutually beneficial, as a student can try that organization out to see if that's something they want to do and something they're interested in.”
Online job posting aggregators are the most common places to look for open positions, but they are not the lone available resource. Mitler says to look for specialized job boards. These specialize by career field, location or both. Or search the website for a company you are interested in because some companies don’t post their open positions anywhere else. Also, Dozier said to look at postings at the nearest chamber of commerce if you want to work for a local business. Staffing agencies are also a viable option to submit your resume to top companies.
Mitler said LinkedIn connections can be a great resource if you aim to work for a specific company. See if you have any first- or second-degree connections to someone who works at the company or if any alumni from your college work there. Then network with them so they think of you when new job openings arise.
“Networking is a critical component [of the job search,]” Dozier said. “And it's not necessarily about who you know. It can often be about building and making those connections.”
Dozier recommends keeping a log of every position you apply to. Wait two weeks after applying, then call or send an email to follow up with the employer. This will clarify whether the position was filled and is an opportunity to speak to the employer.
“You can then ask [the employer] for tips or advice for someone like yourself who's searching,” Dozier said. “That may give you more information, and if they have a position open in the future, they can keep you in mind. In my experience, sometimes if they do have an opening a month later, two months later, you can pick up that phone and call them again and you'll be at the top of their list for an interview.”
“If you are recommended internally by an employee, then you're going to get humanized on your application and are more likely to get an interview – at least at the first level – because of that,” Mitler added.
Mitler said networking is most effective when the person you contact is close to you in age. Also, someone who is a few years out of school will be more knowledgeable about the interview process and making the transition into the company.
“[Networking] is a necessity right now,” Mitler said. “And if you're going to have the opportunity to network with somebody, you have to do your research, be prepared and be focused in terms of what you want to learn from that call. Have two or three questions – keep it short. Let them know you've prepared for this.”
Making a Job Search Plan
Before diving into the job search, Mitler recommends making a plan to keep yourself motivated and treating the job search process like a job.
“You have to establish some sort of schedule for yourself [because] you can't do this 40 hours a week,” Mitler said. “But what you can do is work out a weekly schedule where you have blocks of time when you're going to be networking, job searching and doing applications.”
Mitler and Dozier also recommend documenting the job search process by keeping a list of jobs you applied for and people you networked with.
“If you track your progress, that will be a good motivator,” Mitler said. “So you can look at the end of the week and say, ‘I applied to 10 jobs, I networked with five people.’ And those kinds of things make you feel like you have some forward momentum.”
Dozier suggests setting a weekly application goal.
“Set a manageable number, because sometimes even applying to three to five positions a week is time-consuming,” Dozier said. “So keep a log, know what positions you apply to each week and set that goal.”
Sometimes we have to find a “for now” job that isn’t in our field despite our best efforts. Dozier said the “for now” job has become more common since the pandemic began. We might value working from home or making a higher salary more now than we did before, so it is important to weigh those values during the job search.
“At the end of the day, it's really looking at what is most important and where those values fall, but also needing to put food on the table and pay those bills,” Dozier said. “And that's where sometimes temporary positions or temporary staffing can help with paying those bills in the meantime.”
Another way to escape a job search slump is to widen the scope. Dozier suggests expanding your search to multiple cities if you are struggling to find a job in your area. Mitler said you can also find more work options by obtaining online certifications in different skills.
“You may have to figure out a way to fill the gap between what your resume says and what the employer is looking for,” Mitler said. “There are a lot of online opportunities to build those skills and to be able to showcase them.”
Though rejection is rampant in the job search process, other options are always available. Dozier and Mitler say to keep moving forward.
“If you get enough applications, if your resume is strong enough, you are going to get interviews,” Mitler said. “And the more interviews you get, obviously the more likely that one of them is going to result in an offer. But you have to keep yourself on a plan.”
“Keep persevering through,” Dozier added. “It helps to have a person to bounce ideas off of and be your advocate through the process because there can be a lot of soul-searching during that time.”
How to find a job after college
- It can take months for college graduates to find a job in their field, so flexibility is key.
- Start preparing for the job search before you graduate by finding internships and networking opportunities.
- Keep a log of all the jobs you apply for, and follow up with the company after two weeks.
- Connect with alumni from your college in your desired career field and network with as many relevant people as possible.
- Do not be ashamed of finding a “for now” job or widening the job search scope.