New grads are making their professional debut in one of the most uncertain economic climates we have seen in a generation. So it is imperative to know how to find a job as a new graduate.
Latest numbers put the unemployment rate at a historic low, which traditionally means candidates have their pick of open jobs. But instead, companies are announcing layoffs, hiring freezes and spending cuts as signs point toward a looming recession.
It makes for a tough environment to get your first job out of college, there is no doubt about it; however, there are silver linings to be found as industries around the world have mostly rebounded from the global pandemic. Virtual interviews and more adaptable schedules are helping to move the hiring process along more quickly. Organizations have adopted remote work en masse, leading to greater flexibility and work-life balance for employees.
If you’re a new graduate wondering how to get your first job in this unique environment, we find ourselves in, do not lose hope just yet.
Is it hard to find a job as a new grad?
The United States has around 10 million jobs available. It’s a lower amount than at the height of the pandemic, but historically speaking, it’s an incredibly high number of open jobs. So, while economic reports might not be rosy, the jobs are still there.
Some of the industries with the highest number of openings include home healthcare, retail, food service, customer service, and shipping and receiving.
Economic conditions aside, new grads will need to overcome the same job searching challenges they’ve always faced: finding positions that are well-suited to their skills and convincing hiring managers they’re qualified despite having limited real-world experience.
When should new grads apply for jobs?
It’s customary for new grads to begin job searching two to three months before their intended graduation date.
The hiring process for most roles takes between 30 and 40 days; if you add on the additional time on your end to research open jobs and put together your application materials, it’s not uncommon for it to take at least two months to get hired. So, starting early ensures you’ll have a few prospects in the works by the time you get your diploma.
You don’t want to start much earlier than a few months ahead of time because most employers want to fill open roles as soon as possible. If you’re up for a job in March but don’t graduate until June, an employer isn’t likely to hold a slot for you for that amount of time and instead will go with someone who’s available sooner.
Tips and tricks on how to find a job as a new graduate
1. Tap into your network
You have probably heard the old adage “it is not what you know, but who you know that counts.” In a post-pandemic professional landscape, this saying rings true. Now is the time to turn to the academic, professional and personal contacts with whom you have spent your college career building relationships.
Consider reaching out to the following people, who may be able to point you in the direction of a job opportunity or connect you with others in their network who can help:
- Contacts from previous internships
- Managers from past part-time jobs
- College professors
- Guidance counselors
- Family friends
- Personal mentors
- Extracurricular group leaders
- Volunteer group coordinators
While you can get your first job out of college by cold applying to job listings you find online, do not rely on this as your only job search strategy. Wherever possible, seek out a personal introduction to a hiring manager or other employee in the company who can help get your resume in the right hands.
2. Be flexible
New jobs are out there—10 million of them, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. If you want to make one of them yours, be flexible in considering positions that aren’t the spitting image of the “dream job” you may have had in mind when choosing your major.
This advice is not unique to our current situation; even long before the pandemic, research demonstrated that college graduates tend to move in and out of different career paths during their first, second, and third jobs. Ultimately, only 27% end up working in a field related to their major. Being open to a professional pivot will vastly increase your job opportunities.
This does not mean the last four years were a waste—far from it. There is heavy evidence that people with bachelor’s degrees in any area out-earn their peers who do not hold degrees. You can still get a job that capitalizes on the diverse skill set you built during undergrad.
For example, maybe that elective course you took on American cinema might pique your interest in a job with an arts and culture nonprofit, or perhaps your extracurricular involvement with student government could be parlayed into an organizer position with a local political campaign.
3. Do your due diligence
If there is one thing that holds true despite the tough economic outlook, it is that the most prepared candidates are always at an advantage. Landing the job in such a competitive market means you need to work even harder to stand out from the crowd by doing thorough research and preparation for every interview.
Before an interview, do a deep dive on the company to learn not just the ins and outs of what it does, but its current market outlook. Has it recently made headlines for its struggles in a certain area, or is it garnering praise in the media? Find out what makes the company tick right now so you can craft a personal value proposition that speaks to how you can solve meaningful problems as an employee of the company.
4. Continue your education
Don’t know how to find a job as a recent graduate? Consider post-graduate studies! Now might be the time to pull the trigger rather than heading straight into the workforce.
If a graduate degree will help advance your future career prospects, it might be wise to delay employment for a couple of years until the market stabilizes. A lower starting salary in your first job, even if it’s the result of a recession, can negatively impact your earning potential over the life of your entire career—some say to the tune of $1 million or more. This is because your ability to negotiate your next salary is so often dependent on what you have made in the past.
We only recommend going the continued education route if you were legitimately considering doing so in the near future already, independent of the job market. It does not make sense to suddenly dive into, say, three years of law school—or the hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt that could potentially come with it—just because you’re facing uncertain job prospects. Data from the Department of Education shows that 27% of master’s degree programs result in higher debt than earnings. For medical and law degrees, that number spikes to 82%.
If continuing your education was not previously on your radar or would put you in a significant amount of debt, the better option is to take a job you know will be temporary to build your resume and skillset.
5. Transfer your skills
Not all industries were equally affected by the pandemic. Some, like technology, have been more shielded than others and perhaps even empowered by the shift. You can capitalize on this by transferring your core skills to industries that are in a better position for growth.
Working for a tech company, for example, does not necessarily mean you have to be a software developer or network administrator. Companies like Google and Facebook employ accountants, human resources personnel, publicists and even corporate chefs. Look to where the economic activity is and you will likely find a set of roles—albeit maybe unexpected ones—that could be a fit for your skills.
You can also benefit by what’s known as cross-skilling—training for an adjacent skill that can also be beneficial to an organization. This is a growing trend that will not only expand your skills, but strengthen you as a candidate.
6. Take some time off
It is not uncommon for young adults in Europe to take a “gap year” between high school and college or college and professional life. Amid the economic uncertainty, the trend is catching on among students in the U.S.
While some naysayers would condemn the gap year as an excuse to goof off for 12 months, it is gaining traction as a legitimate opportunity to volunteer for a worthwhile cause, work as an intern or gain real-world experience in a trade. The good news for candidates is that after the pandemic, hiring managers are likely to be much less critical of nontraditional career paths and gaps in employment.
To make sure a gap year helps rather than hurts your future career prospects, put together a deliberate plan for how you will spend your time and what you hope to gain from it. Will you learn a new language while immersing yourself in another culture? Do hands-on work on a passion project? Work part-time while learning to code or mastering photoshop? Demonstrating how you did something useful with your time off will be key in demonstrating its value to future prospective employers.