What if You Can’t Get a Job After College?

Become Team
Become Team
Updated November 9, 2020

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College graduates leave school with a degree in their hands and enthusiasm for the career they want to build. But when they start looking for employment in earnest, sometimes getting that career started doesn't go as well as planned. Fortunately, there are things you can do if your job hunt stalls. Find out why you may be having trouble landing a job after graduation. Plus, get expert perspectives on common mistakes recent grads make, and discover tips to stay motivated when morale is low.

The Current Job Landscape for Recent Grads

Graduates looking for work should keep in mind that they're in a much better position than job seekers who haven't completed degrees. For example, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that in January 2017, the unemployment rate for high school graduates was 5.3 percent—which is more than double the unemployment rate for recent college graduates with at least a bachelor's degree. Similarly, those who completed some college or an associate degree had a 3.8 percent unemployment rate, compared to a 7.7 percent rate of unemployment for those who had not completed high school.

And although most recent grads may not be able to land their dream jobs straight out of college, these statistics illustrate that employers are indeed willing to hire workers fresh out of school.

Why You May be Having Trouble Landing a Job

Finding a job as a recent college graduate can be challenging in the best of circumstances. However, there are some mistakes many novice job seekers make that may be getting in the way of getting hired.

Diana Brush, Associate Director of The Center for Career and Professional Development at Clarion University, and job search coach Dana Manciagli offer the most common mistakes they see recent grads make when looking for work.

Not knowing what to look for

“College graduates need to select one to two job goals. If they don't know what types of jobs are available, then they should conduct an organized exercise of ‘window shopping' for jobs that they are suited for and they will enjoy doing,” says Manciagli.

“And while securing a college degree is fantastic, the major in college does not define the type of job they can look for. For example, I was a political science major, but went into sales and marketing.”

Poor preparation

“Start early to develop your resume, gather supporting application materials, practice interviewing and acquire interview attire,” says Brush. And don't forget to “research how to dress for an interview,” she adds.

Not being proactive enough

Many recent grads apply for jobs and never follow-up, which can lead to missed opportunities. “Too often, they apply to one job and wait…and wait…and wait. They need to change their game and project-manage their job search and take it much more seriously,” says Manciagli.

“College graduates need to be organized to apply to 10 jobs at a time. A simple job tracker and use of their calendar for follow-ups would be a great start.”

Lack of experience

“Your resumé is a marketing tool that provides a summary of your knowledge, achievements, skills and experience. Relevant internships, co-op, externships and work experience are valued by employers,” says Brush.

“In fact, employers cited internship experience with the organization as the top factor influencing their decision when choosing between two otherwise equally qualified candidates, followed by whether the candidate has internship experience within the hiring organization's industry.”

Making the search about themselves, not the employer

“The job search process is all about the ‘buyer' or the hiring team at a company. Everything you do and say should focus on their job description, their company values and knowing what the business does,” says Manciagli.

“As an example, when asked ‘Why should we hire you?', most graduates answer ‘I can do this, I can do that and I have a degree in X'. Pivot the way you present yourself by saying ‘Well, there are three reasons you should hire me. One, you are looking for someone who is analytical and I have strong analytical skills. Two, you need someone who ...' See the difference?” asks Manciagli.

“Study the job description and make yourself relevant and paint yourself as the best square peg for their square hole. You don't have to have every skill on their job description to win that job!” she adds.

Not starting the search early enough

“On average, an entry-level job search can take from three to six months. When to apply depends on the field of study,” says Brush. “The job seeker should not wait until earning their degree to start the job search. Begin to apply for jobs three to four months before graduation. Develop a timeline for your job search.”

If you've already graduated and are just getting started, don't lose hope. It may just take a bit longer than you expected to get hired.

13 Things to Do

All job hunters make mistakes at some point, and even if college graduates have had some of the job search hiccups above, they can still get back on track and land the position they want. The following tips can help recent grads boost their chances of getting hired.


“Tap the hidden job market and make connections through social networking. It has been reported that 80 percent of jobs are never advertised. Your challenge is to find out where those jobs exist,” says Brush.

“Networking is one of the best ways to find employment. Start with family members, friends, neighbors, coworkers and professors to inquire about opportunities and get some leads. Join and attend professional organization meetings in your field. Ask, “Who do you know that would know about finding a job in *list your field of interest*?”

Don't wait

“As a career coach, my least favorite 4-letter word is W-A-I-T. College graduates often say ‘I'm waiting to hear back', or ‘I've applied to 10 jobs online and nobody is calling me back,'” says Manciagli. “It is so much more motivating to know that you have the action item in your calendar to follow up in five working days from the day you applied. Ask your college alumni on LinkedIn for their help if they work for your target company.”

Do market research

“Once the graduate has a job goal, they need to research what the hiring companies are looking for,” Manciagli says. “Find 10 job descriptions and highlight all of the key words and phrases that are most commonly repeated. Then, that graduate can highlight those skills in their resume, cover letter and during their interview.”

Spend time volunteering

Spending time on volunteer activities is not just a great way to contribute to the community. Job hunters who volunteer for causes they believe in also gain new skills and meet people -- including potential employers -- who could eventually help them find a job.

Expand your search

Sometimes job seekers may need to expand their requirements to find the right fit. In some cases, it may mean looking for positions in another city or state. Other times it may mean considering jobs outside their college major. Although making some of these decisions may not be ideal, they can be a jumping off point for entering the career world.

Get in front of employers

“Take advantage of every available opportunity to connect with employers in person, such as job fairs, campus interviews and other networking events,” says Brush. “A resume can't tell your whole story to an employer, so an in-person meeting (no matter how brief) gives you an opportunity to provide details about your skills and experience. Employers tell us that face-to-face situations help them to confirm if a candidate will be a good fit for the job and organization.”

Use a computer, not a phone

“For any communications job-search-related, only sit down and use your computer. Why? Too many errors are made with thumbs, communications look unprofessional via phone and the message to the recruiter or hiring manager is ‘this is not that important to them,'” Manciagli says.

“More importantly, college graduates should type their important communications in Microsoft Word first, remove all typos, then copy and paste into their communications. Formal formatting and grammar are critical.”

Create a personal website

Creating a personal website can help job seekers show off their expertise and build their brand. Recent college graduates can use a website to blog about issues related to the field they want to enter, display class projects and share their resume. This can also be a great way to stand out from other applicants who don't have their own website.

Do an internship

Job seekers can never get too much experience, and an internship is a great way to get it. Although it can feel like taking a step backwards to do an internship after college, more and more workers are using internships as a way to sharpen their existing skills or learn new ones in order to change careers. This is an especially good idea for graduates who didn't have an internship while they were in school.

Consider a part-time job

Although it's not ideal to work part-time, it can help to bring in money while you actively pursue full-time options. Also, employers appreciate candidates that demonstrate a strong work ethic.

Don't neglect LinkedIn

Most recruiters use LinkedIn to find job candidates, so it's important for recent graduates to devote job search time to connecting with potential employers on the site. In order to get the most out of LinkedIn, completely fill out your profile, connect with other alumni from your school and participate in groups related to your field.

Get advice from campus career center

Even after graduation, you can still take advantage of the career center on campus. “Make an appointment with one of the professionals in your career center to discuss your goals and learn how they can help you prepare and, possibly, redirect your job search,” says Brush.

“Show them your resume and cover letter for feedback. Is it error free? Share with them a few job postings to which you applied and the strategies used. Did you focus on appropriate employers and jobs that need the skills you have to offer? Have you restricted your search too much geographically? Learn about the variety of resources available to you as no single job-search strategy can guarantee success.”

Take a class

Taking more classes might not sound like an exciting prospect to recent graduates. However, taking a massive open online course (MOOC) on a site like Coursera, edX or Lynda.com can help students continue to learn about topics related to their major or fill in knowledge gaps.

Looking for more tips?
Check out The Grad's Guide to Getting Hired.

How to Stay Motivated if You Can't Find a Job

Not being able to find a job can be disheartening, and it's easy for job seekers to start feeling inadequate as they continue their search. But recent graduates who are looking for their dream job don't have to feel that way. The following are tips to stay motivated as you look for a position.

Keep it in perspective

“Don't take a rejection personally as you often do not know the real reasons behind an employer's decision,” says Brush. “Unfortunately, a job search can be a frustrating and discouraging process. A job search takes an average of two to six months of organized effort.”

Find a mentor

Having a mentor can help job hunters learn more about a field and gain a perspective that graduates aren't likely to get when they're in school. Also, mentors can provide encouragement that can help recent grads keep their spirits high during their job search.

Block time on the calendar every day

“College graduates have not yet developed advanced time management skills. Now is the time. They need excellent time management and project management skills in any job for a company,” says Manciagli. “Using their calendar, they need to block time, remove distractions and focus on improving their job search steps. This will avoid frustration, since they will now be busy and productive.”

Practice healthy habits

When dealing with stress, most people tend to let healthy habits fall by the wayside. By continuing to eat healthy foods, exercise and get enough sleep, job hunters can keep their bodies and minds functioning well enough to combat stress.

Stay away from the news

While it's important to stay informed about current events, recent college graduates may want to consider cutting down on watching or reading the news as they look for a job—or temporarily avoiding it all together. Constantly hearing about the economy and what's going on in the job market can create unnecessary stress that won't help in the job search.

Join a job search group

Joining a job search group through a website like MeetUp.com can give recent grads the chance to vent their frustrations with others who are going through the same thing. People in these groups may meet locally to talk about prospects and get feedback on resumes and cover letters. Also, these groups may hold members accountable for meeting job search goals and provide encouragement.

Read success stories

By learning about the stories of successful people, job hunters can see how far some people have come. Highly accomplished people suffer setbacks on their road to success, and reading the biographies of these people can help empower recent grads to focus on the future they want to create.


2 More Career Podcasts to Help Your Job Search

These two episodes of the Voice of Job Seekers address job search tips for students who are about to graduate.

5 Job-Hunting Survival Tips for Recent Grads

Fast Company provides tips on how to jump start a job search after graduation using social media and other techniques.

5 TED Talks for Job Search Inspiration

This list of TED Talks covers topics to keep job hunters motivated as they look for work.

10 High-Paying Side Jobs for Job-Hunting Recent College Grads

This list from FlexJobs can help recent college graduates find a part-time telecommuting job that can bring in income as they search for a full-time position.

12 Ways to Stay Motivated During a Job Search

This article provides tips from FlexJobs on how to stay enthusiastic while looking for a job.

College Central Podcasts: Career and Job Search Advice

This podcast gives advice on how to find an entry-level position with information on internships, resume writing, job interviews and workplace etiquette.

Graduate Job Podcast

Graduate career coach James Curran hosts this podcast that contains job hunting advice. Episodes cover topics such as job fairs, internships, salary negotiations, social media job hunting techniques and psychometric tests.

How I Overcame the Millennial Job Hunting Barriers

Jenny Siu, graduate of the University of Southampton, discusses the job hunting challenges recent graduates face in this TEDx Talks video.

How to Make the Job Search Successful

This TEDx Talks video features Anna Wicha, General Manager at Adecco, who provides advice on how to get the most out of a job search.

Important Business Skills For New Graduates

Monster.com advises new graduates to develop specific skills in order to land a job in this article.

Job Hunting for College Grads

This course on Lynda.com helps recent college graduates sharpen their job search skills. Topics covered include personal branding, leveraging internship experience, networking, identifying target employers, and cover letter and resume writing.

Looking for a Job? Highlight Your Ability, Not Your Experience

Recent college graduates can benefit from this video featuring TED Resident Jason Shen, who explains how job seekers can focus on their abilities to impress hiring managers, rather than career experience.

New Grads: Don't Make These 5 Job Search Mistakes

This PayScale article outlines job search mistakes.

Skills Employers Look for in College Graduates

In this Monster.com piece, college graduates can find out what skills employers want most.

Staying Positive While Looking for a Job - 3 Key Lessons

This video includes tips from career strategist Linda Raynier.

Success Strategies for New or Recent Grads

Tips from Monster.com on how recent college grads can get their careers started.

These Are The Biggest Skills That New Graduates Lack

Discussion at Fast Company on the skills employers want to see from new grads.

Top 5 Job Hunting Tips for New Grads

This video includes job hunting advice from LinkedIn Learning Solutions.

Why Your Job Applications are Getting Ignored

This TEDx Talks video features Jean-Michel Gauthier, CEO of InternsME.com, who describes the common reasons why employers ignore certain applications and what job hunters can do to get noticed.

Yes, You Can Get a Job Outside of Your College Major

Monster.com provides advice on how to land a job that isn't related to what graduates majored in.

Become Team
Become Team
Contributing Writer

LearnHowToBecome.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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