This is a comprehensive, no-nonsense guide for graduates who want to find a job after university or college. Don't read this if you are not serious about finding the job of your dreams.
So, you've graduated from college or university? Congratulations! You are now ready to get out into the big, bad world of employment and secure the job role you have spent the past few years studying for. Great! You've come to the right place for my top tips to find a job after university or college.
Before we start
Before I launch into teaching you how to find a job after university or college, there are a few things you should know.
- I don't provide fluffed up advice or guidance 😉 If you have read my blog posts or books, listened to my podcasts or met me before, you will already know that I offer no-nonsense direct advice that gets results. Please don't be offended by (or take personally) the facts I have detailed from my 25+ years of experience
- This is not just a do and don't list. I will provide links to other posts throughout this one. Read them! They will help you in today's tough employment market
- I have provided more links to free services and products that my clients and I use that work. I have spent years researching products and services that work and deliver results fast so you don't have to. I only recommend ones I have tried myself or my clients have and provided excellent feedback on.
- It's tough out there. Gaining a degree or diploma does not guarantee employment. There's no magic fairy waving a wand. You need to implement these strategies to stay ahead of competing graduates
- You MUST stay positive if it's taking longer than you expected to succeed
- Combine positivity with determination and you WILL get there
- Finally, this is a long blog post. Your Uni dissertation was probably 10,000 words. This is over 5,000 and just as valuable! There is a lot of information and tips to help you succeed. I highly recommend you bookmark this page if you don't have time to read it now but also because you will be able to come back to it at your leisure to find the links to all the additional information and external resources.
Ok, so how do you find a job after university or college?
Setting your mindset to find a job after university or college
I have already stated above that you need to stay positive and determined. It's a tough market out there for graduates right now. Every day, I get emails and calls from graduates seeking my help because they graduated months or years ago and haven't found their ideal job. Most have given up and are looking for a ‘career change.' They feel despondent and lacking in confidence, believing their degree or diploma was a waste of time. If that sounds like you, STOP RIGHT THERE! Let's set your expectations and mindset on the right path so you don't give up when times are tough.
You have just spent the best years of your life so far with your head in books, studying for your passion and believing you will make it. You WILL make it if you truly believe you can.
Finding the job of your dreams is often times a full-time job in itself. You need to work at it. You need to plan and execute the plan on a daily basis. No more 16-hour weeks with super-long holidays and lie-ins. No more mid-week, banging hangovers. It's time to get serious.
I told you I don't mince my words, didn't I?
Employer expectations of graduates
Here's the nitty-gritty – right now, you are feeling puffed up because all your hard work has paid off and you gained your degree or diploma. That's fantastic, but do you know what? So did thousands of others this year, same last year, and there are currently millions of graduates around the globe applying for jobs and searching Google for articles on how to find a job after university or college.
Employers know this.
Employers have the upper hand.
They can be picky, choosy and dictatorial over who they hire and when. The ball is in their court.
Employers have 2 choices:
1. They can look for an experienced employee who can add value to their organisation with their years of experience, transferable skills, (possibly) strong work ethic and industry knowledge
2. They can opt for a graduate who is fresh out of training (with potentially new ideas) that they can mould and develop their way in line with projected company growth.
The first is likely to be more expensive but will require less training (or hand-holding.) The latter, the graduate, is likely to be cheaper and require more investment. Depending on the organisation's long-term strategy, they may or may not take a look at both options. Fortunately, there are ways in which you can bag your ideal job and add value to the employer from both perspectives but first, I would like you to consider this…
Disadvantages of hiring a graduate
I promise this will be the last section where I am being a tad (!) negative but I want to drive my point across in order to help you see why there are so many unemployed graduates out there right now.
Many employers in recent times have veered towards hiring workers with a solid career history. In my experience, I am seeing a growing trend for employers stating dissatisfaction of their graduate hires. In short, they have made hiring mistakes that have proved costly and time-consuming for their business that they can ill afford.
Here are some of the reasons employers cite as the disadvantages of hiring a graduate. Don't panic! We will address these concerns in the following paragraphs so that you stand the best chance of showing your next potential employer that you are the right person for the job. I promise!
- Lack of work ethic and professionalism – It's tough to go from college or uni into a job. Graduates not used to working 35-40 hours per week are tired! They are likely to take the most sick days or lack the stamina to get through the working day. Most graduates are not used to the professional working environment but employers just don't have the time to coach their staff on behavioural requirements that perhaps seem obvious to their more seasoned personnel and clients.
- Lack of practical skills – Most college and degree courses focus on lectures and research. This is great as you need to learn the subject but often they lack the practical experience required to transfer to the work place. Yes, I know, I can hear you now shouting at the screen that you did have practical experience. I believe you! Practical learning is very different from putting your learning in to practice in the work place. Most employers are stretched for time in terms of training their new cohorts so tend to favour candidates who can hit the ground running. Bear with me.
- Lack of transferable skills – Whatever you learned at college or university is termed as ‘hard skills' but employers also look for ‘soft skills' or ‘life skills.' In one of the sections below, I will detail why it is important to be a ‘good all-rounder' to set you apart from competing candidates.
- Communication skills – This is connected to the above bullet point. No matter how intelligent you are academically, many employers complain that graduates lack experience in applying communication skills that are appropriate for their business.
- Expectations vs reality – We now live in an age where we have access to most things quickly. Whether it's at the click of a mouse, a quick phone call or other audio/ visual piece of equipment or software, if we want something, we want it now. One of the biggest gripes I hear from employers is that their graduate hires (not all, of course!) are impatient and ambitious (not a bad thing in some circumstances, in my opinion) and have unrealistic expectations surrounding their job role and salary. Don't worry, I have a plan for you to alleviate employer concerns. Keep reading!
- Over confidence – This is a tough one but I fully understand why employers aren't keen on over confident graduates. There's nothing wrong with being confident in the work place. I coach clients to build their confidence, after all. It's the channeling of the confidence that is the most important aspect of being successful at work. When a graduate enters the world of work, they are often lacking in confidence, which can cause a ‘fake-it-'til-you-make-it' mentality. That's fine to a point but if your confidence is coming across as ‘cocky' or arrogant, your boss and colleagues won't like it. On the flip side of the coin, projecting you are the best employee on the planet or ‘know-it-all' because you gained a First Class Honours Degree, will not serve your career well.
What you need to do to find a job after university or college
Right, are you ready? The following sections are the steps you need to take to find a job after university or college. They are the steps you need to take to get an employer to sit up and take notice of YOU. The steps you need to take to show the employer that you will ADD VALUE to their organisation.
Sort out Your CV or Resume
I read hundreds of CVs every month and I have to say, graduates are among some of the worst. Sorry! Don't worry, though, I am here to help.
You probably had a career's advisor at school, college or university that helped you to write your CV?
You've probably also scoured the internet for CV writing tips and templates?
I can feel you nodding!
Think about it for a second. The advice proffered during your education years and the templates downloaded have been implemented by every other graduate. In other words – your CV is probably the same as every other graduate who is applying for the same job role.
Now imagine the poor person that is reading the applications. Recruiters don't read CVs fully in the first instance. Shocker! They scan through for, on average, 6 seconds, to make a quick decision on whether or not to read later or instantly decline the candidate. 6 seconds. Not long to make an impact and stand out, is it?
Remove these words from your CV, resume & application
I bet your CV has some (or all) of the following words/ phrases on it – team player, works on own initiative, passionate, flexible, reliable, hard-working, self-motivated, pays attention to detail, excellent, proactive, dedicated. Am I correct?
I am not psychic. Far from it – just experienced and have read enough CVs over the years to know when I am reading unsubstantiated fluff.
You need to remove the words above and anything similar before you send your next CV. Read my post here on words I ban from CVs and why.
Don't forget to individualise your personal statement and cover letters too. You MUST send these with each application. No excuses. For me, it's a deal breaker. No cover letter & personal statement = candidate can't be bothered = lazy employee.
Be an individual, not copy-cat
Your CV, resume or application form MUST be individualised and contain content that makes you stand out in 6 seconds. If it's the same as every other graduate, then you will not get past the pre-selection stage. Just to be clear, though, your CV must be professional. Do not, I repeat, do not try to stand out by adding colour, pictures or anything naff. That is definitely how to be rejected!
If you are serious about bagging your dream job, I would highly suggest that you have your CV professionally written. A CV expert will talk through your goals, aspirations and achievements and cross reference these with the career path you want to take. Of course, I am bound to write that as I offer a CV Writing Service but I also know that from years of experience working with graduates that have been rejected so often they are on the verge of giving up, writing a CV for them turns things around quickly.
Avoid high-volume content mills
Avoid ‘content-mill' CV writers. They tend to offer ‘free CV reviews' then sell you a cheap CV, which is just like the last 3 they wrote that morning. Choose a CV Writer that takes the time on the phone, in person or via Skype to truly understand you, your career and personality. A true expert will cater your CV to be bespoke to the industry and role to which you are applying and teach you how to edit or tweak it for future applications. The time and money invested will reap dividends.
If you would like to go-it-alone and write your own CV, great! Just remember that you must make it individual to you. Download instantly, my eBook CV Creator to find out exactly how to do this and learn what employers are really looking for in a candidate's application. If you would rather have a paperback copy, you can find it here. Both versions will give you access to lots of free downloads and worksheets to help you to craft an individualised CV that will pass the 6-second test.
What to do if you have never had a job
If you haven't had a job before, you will need to do one of the following:
- Write about your transferable skills
- Get a job! Any job will do.
Many graduates omit jobs that are unrelated to their chosen career from their CV. This is the wrong thing to do. As detailed in one of the earlier paragraphs, employers favour candidates with a strong work ethic, professionalism, and good communication skills, which can be proved with any job. Any job can demonstrate these attributes, so don't leave them out of your CV just because you feel they are unrelated.
Any job counts
If you haven't had a job before, get one! Any job will suffice. It is much better to be in employment when you are are on your mission to find a job after university or college. Not only for the skills you will gain but also for the contacts you may make while there. Having a job, no matter how boring, menial or unrelated to your educational studies will show prospective employers that you are proactive, have a good work ethic and some get-up-and-go.
If you can find a role that's related to your dream job then great but don't rely on that to come along. If you are too picky, you may remain unemployed and the longer you are unemployed the more unemployable you will become. It's a vicious circle. Any job is better than no job.
Volunteer and non-paid jobs
Voluntary work is also ideal. Once again, it will make you more employable than sitting on your bum doing nothing or having a weekly jaunt to the Job Centre. What about Babysitting in your spare time? Babysitting is a job whether paid or not and can demonstrate that you are a person of trust. I recently coached a student who could demonstrate psychology skills purely from babysitting. Every job counts.
Paid or unpaid work will give you the opportunity to gain a professional reference, which is often a sticking point for applicants without this experience.
If, for whatever reason, you can't get a job while you are looking to find a job after university or college, dig deep and think about transferable skills you have that are related to the job role/ company. Have you completed work experience, helped at any clubs or cared for a relative? Which brings me nicely onto…
Hobbies, Interests & Achievements
I am not a huge fan of adding hobbies and interests to CVs of candidates who have a solid career history as their work experience should be enough to pique the interest of the employer. If, however, you don't have a career history, then detailing your extracurricular activities can serve you well. I recently recruited some graduate, entry-level roles for a major, global corporation where they insisted they only receive CVs of candidates who had a well-rounded set of transferable skills before, during and after graduation.
Quite simply, it gave them an insight into the candidates' characters and quantified any ‘fluff' so often littered throughout applications ie. the words I ban from applications.
The pros and cons of adding hobbies and interests on your CV are detailed in the CV Creator eBook but as an overview, if you don't have a career history, you need to include these to show the employer you have skills and experience in the real world and you have valuable life skills. It shows you have achieved something even if you haven't won any traditional awards or recognition.
Finally, for this section, read the bizarre mistake that lots of candidates make on their CV so that you don't do the same. If you have applied for roles and haven't had a response, read this blog post for the most common reasons.
Use a Recruitment Agency
Take the time to find and contact recruitment agencies within your niche. Don't just fill out a registration form. Agency Central is a comprehensive database of recruitment agencies in a variety of sectors. Book an appointment and talk with them about your career aspirations. Before you do this, take the time to read the following 2 articles.
Create a Linkedin profile
If you haven't heard of Linkedin, it's a business networking portal used by organisations and recruiters. Recruiters and headhunters use it ALL THE TIME to search for candidates BEFORE they advertise their job roles. If you aren't on it, you are missing a trick.
Register for job scraping updates
If you haven't heard that term before, it probably sounds a bit painful! It's not! A job scraper is a service that searches for jobs based on the criteria you request and sends you new jobs as and when they appear on a variety of job boards. I love technology!
I've partnered with Zip Recruiter to provide this free, no spam service. All you have to do is use the box below to enter your details, the job you want eg. graduate, trainee accountant, media assistant etc etc and where you want the job. Then, when new jobs appear, they will be sent in one email direct to your inbox and you can apply directly. This saves you hours of searching. You can change your search criteria or location whenever you want. Easy peasy and totally free.
Do it now and the scraper will set to work and look for jobs for you while you are still reading this guide. Fabulous!
Use a CV distribution service
This is another great tool and it's absolutely free with this link. I have also partnered with Free My CV, which is a time-saving tool that distributes your CV to multiple job boards. You enter your details, upload your CV and they will suggest which job boards to free your CV to. You can choose. You can then make amendments with each job board to drill down and target your niche, all free of charge!
If you are from the US or overseas, or indeed, looking to find a job after university or college in the USA, then I can highly recommend Resume Robin. You can choose to have your resume distributed to 500+ job boards and recruiters. That's not all, you can also have your resume distributed to major corporations and recruiting firms, including Apple, Manpower, Fortune 500 companies and many more. All at the click of a button.
Resume Robin is a paid service with prices starting at $25 for local area coverage up to $75 for nationwide coverage but I have a special discount code which will give you a $5 discount. Sign up here and use the code 2u93n at checkout.
I have had many candidates who have had success with Resume Robin. It does take a couple of days for traction while your resume is distributed but the feedback has been very positive indeed.
Use Job boards
If you prefer to take your time, upload your CVs individually, and search and apply for jobs one at a time, that's absolutely fine. Here are two to get you started.
For jobs in London and the South East visit www.jobsinthesoutheast.co.uk
For lots of other jobs in all sectors, visit CV Library to firstly register your CV then search.
Always be a student
Just because you have finished university or college and gained your qualification, that doesn't mean you should slow down your learning. If you can demonstrate to an employer that you have continued to learn about your industry or sector, that will set you apart from those who haven't. Personal development is also a major plus point. Showing you are continuing to grow as a person and not just academically, will impress any recruiter or prospective future boss.
Make sure you add any professional or personal development to your CV and talk about it in your next job interview.
I am a huge fan of audio books. I love reading paper books but don't always have the time to relax and fully absorb the information. Audio books work for me because I can slot them into my day easily. When I am walking my dog, driving my car or using public transport, you can bet your life, I am listening to an audio book. If I have to get up super early in the morning, I tend to shove my headphones on and listen to a motivational audio book to wake me up and inspire me to keep moving. Well, that and a bucket load of coffee!
Always be a student. You have nothing to lose by learning and growing.
Another special offer for you that's free! If you click on the banner below, you will receive a free audio book from Audible (the service I use for audio books) when you sign up for a free trial. You can cancel at any time.
Don't forget, there's also the mighty Google, where you can find articles on your niche so you can show your employer you have good, up-to-date market knowledge.
Listen up! (Or rather read-up!) Remember one of the gripes of employers when hiring graduates was expectations versus reality? This is where you must be realistic about your job searches and applications. In other words, you need to start at the bottom and work your way up the career ladder. You may have a BA (Hons), BSc, MBA or higher qualifications but without the relevant work experience, your qualification is just a price of paper. Harsh but true.
Research the path you need to take to get to your end goal. If you would like to be a partner in a law firm, it's highly unlikely that you are going to go from Uni straight to that level. What do you need to do to get there? What jobs do you need to start with to get your foot in the door?
First jobs of successful business people
Simon Cowell didn't become a multi-millionaire, music mogul overnight. His first job was as a runner for Elstree Studios. His second job was in the mailroom at EMI Music, where after leaving briefly to work as an Estate Agent (I know!!!), he returned to EMI and met Pete Waterman who became his mentor and started his journey to where he is today.
Billionaire entrepreneur Richard Branson started his first business at the age of 11 breeding and selling budgies with his friend.
Marissa Mayer, superb Information Technology Executive of Yahoo fame started her career as a Grocery Clerk yet is now worth an estimated $540 million. Nice work if you can get it!
Indra Nooyi, CEO of Pepsico paid her own way through college and even though she graduated from Yale University, her career path started as a lowly receptionist.
My first job was sweeping up hair in my dad's hairdressing salon. I then worked in a fish factory shelling scallops (gross!) and as a cafe waitress during school holidays. At college, I worked in McDonalds and as a cleaner in a hospital. These roles were so far removed from my career goals it's crazy but what they did do was instill a strong work ethic in me and a determination not to go back to these jobs, ever!
It's not what you know, it's who you know
Do you think the above successful business people could have easily given up on their dream career? Of course! Fortunately, they didn't give up but perhaps, more importantly, they took advantage of their entry level (or menial) jobs and expanded their network. Who you know will always help you to succeed more than what you know in the early days. Combine your continued learning with getting out there in the field and talking to everyone you know.
Taking the lowliest of jobs within a company that's within the sector in which you desire to work is a great strategy to build knowledge and contacts. If you can't secure a role within such an organisation, look for ones within the vicinity, which could mean that you may have the opportunity to socialise and network with people who know people who do.
Another option is to take a role within a sector that is complementary to your chosen one. If you want to scale the career ladder of retail but can't find your perfect role, take a look at logistics and distribution. Different sectors, same contacts.
Want to work in financial services? Take a look at payroll or HR admin to get your foot in the door or a retail banking role.
Lowering your expectations can sky rocket your success
I hate this phrase (and all corporate speak, as it happens) but ‘think outside the box.' As demonstrated above, it's not always a direct career path that will lead to your end goal. Grasp every opportunity you can and analyse how it may lead you to where you want to be. Remove your pride and ego. In 10 years from now, no one will care that your first job was making tea but you will be laughing all the way up the career ladder knowing it started you on the right path to meeting the right people and seizing the opportunities presented to you.
Prepare for job interviews
If you feel nervous about job interviews, read these tips to reduce your nerves.
The next step for you is to listen to my free weekly podcast on job interview tips. More free stuff – you lucky graduate!
Each week, I cover the most common job interview questions through to the nightmare ones. If you can't wait, download my eBook instant access download which covers over 200 job interview questions and their variations. Again, just like the CV writing tips, it will teach you how to be individual in your answers and add value to the employer.
As a special bonus, if you subscribe to my weekly podcast updates (one email, which tells you what the latest episode is and my weekly career tips email – NO SPAM!) you will get a free bonus download of how to answer the job interview question ‘What is your weakness.' It's not what you think and certainly not what they taught you at school, college or Uni. It's over 20 years of research and tried & tested methods. What they teach you in school is rolled out by every candidate. It's naff.
Follow my steps in the bonus download page and you will smash the question in your next job interview.
A final note
I have already written about employer gripes but what about graduate candidates who are on the path to find a job after university or college? What is their biggest niggle?
From my experience with graduate coaching clients and the emails/ calls I receive, graduates typically get annoyed that companies and employers haven't moved with the times. They are stuck in the past and haven't modernised in pace with the behaviours and requirements of the next generation.
Part of me tends to agree BUT until you are in a position to influence and change the world of employment, you need to structure your strategy to find a job after university or college to give the employer what they want, rather than what you want.
Follow ALL the steps in this guide and be open to rejection, acceptance, and change, and you WILL succeed faster than your graduate colleagues (and competition) that don't have a strategic plan in place.
I would love to know how you get on and what you did to find a job after university or college. Please tell me in the comments box below and share this guide to your brother, sister, cousins, boyfriend, girlfriend and anyone else you care enough about to not only successfully land the job of their dreams but who needs a helping hand in shaping the future of our economy and ultimately give graduates the positive reputation in the workplace they absolutely deserve.