Some advice for struggling graduate job hunters

Last Updated on 11 January 2021 by Dan

Hello everyone! Today’s post is a little more personal than what I usually go for on here, and was inspired by this BBC My Money article which focused on what tips people who graduated in the last recession would give to those graduating now or about to graduate, especially given it’s a very different hiring environment to what you might find in a standard year.

My story

This has resonance for me – I graduated from my undergraduate degree at the University of Exeter in 2009 and massively struggled coming out of the gate, so I wanted to share my story in case it helps others.

I knew from the start that I wanted to be in financial services, and had full intention of going into a wealth management role and had a long term career aim of becoming a fund manager. I had all the right work experience and strong academics that matches, and would have been in a great position for most graduate schemes – but couldn’t have picked a worse part of the market to have wanted to enter.

Plenty of people wanted to fire wealth managers then, but not to hire! I simply found that many of the grad schemes had shut, which was scary. As a career minded person, it was tough to be faced with that. Seriously tough.

This isn’t a sob story though. I had to modify my expectations, what I’ve done with my career and open myself to new things, and I can honestly say when I look back I’ve had a fantastic career out of it, if not quite “the route” that I expected! So today I want to share some advice with anyone looking at the graduate job market now or next year.

The Tips

Think long term – as difficult as it may be.

Quite a lot of this advice focuses on thinking long term and making some compromises or changes in the short term.

That’s actually really difficult mentally to do as a graduate – you feel you’re just starting your career and don’t want to compromise your aims and ideals of what you want from a career right from the get go.

Try and think of some of the alternatives you’re doing now as beginning to pave a path to where you want to be. Recognise that struggling in the present market is not about you, this is an unfortunate situation you are going to have to (and will) hurdle.

Graduates throwing their hats in the air in celebration

2. Consider further study – it can really be advantageous.

In my plan I simply wanted to do my undergraduate degree and get into work. When I saw I wasn’t really getting anywhere with the graduate schemes, I applied to do a Masters degree – something which was always a bit of a backup if I’m entirely honest.

In hindsight, it was a much better decision than I’d realised at the time. The key thing it’s given is differentiation – I’ve gone for jobs in the past where the hiring manager has been open with me about the fact that having a Master’s degree helped me stand out when they were reviewing CV’s.

Secondly, whilst I really enjoyed my undergraduate degree and found it interesting, the Masters degree equipped me with much more in the way of technical skills that I do use more in my day to day working life.

Thirdly it simply allowed time. The brutal truth is that a recession takes time to clear out – so it was something useful to do in terms of being able to skill build.

Even if you feel a Master’s degree would be the right route for you, I’d still encourage you to try and do something practical to make yourself more marketable long term and demonstrate to potential employers you’ve been making the most of the time – you could learn coding for free, or brush up on a language. Just being able to show you have initiative and get-up-and-go counts for a lot (even if you don’t feel like it and have to force yourself to do it!)

If you do go down the Masters route make sure you investigate any potential scholarships on offer. They can often be relatively easy to obtain for minimal work. In my case I was asked to write a short piece on what I would like to use the Master’s for – by being able to demonstrate a genuine interest in the subject and that it was part of a long term career plan I got a scholarship for 40% of the course fees, which made a big difference.

The Government also offers a loan scheme to help fund either a full time or part time Master’s degree – you can find out more details on that scheme here.

3. Mentally prepare yourself.

This period of your life will be tough. I still didn’t get a job immediately after graduating, and whilst I was looking for work every day I found it was hurting my confidence to get rejection after rejection, especially having high expectations. It was not exactly the cheeriest part of my life.

It’s important to try and keep as much of a positive mental attitude as possible and keep those around you for support, even if you may feel down about the situation. When you get some success (like getting an interview) celebrate and be happy about it – but don’t let a rejection knock you down too much – unfortunately this will happen, and especially if you’ve been successful at most things it can come as a nasty shock.

Make sure you have a good support network – be that friends or family that you can speak to about these things. Especially if you’re in a peer group, you’ll often find friends going through similar experiences – don’t let it become a pity-party of misery but think of what you can do to have some fun and support each other – these are the people that will really lift you up.

Also be cautious of comparing yourself here – you can feel a mix of emotions when a friend gets something and you’re still struggling. See it as a sign things are improving slowly.

4. Don’t be afraid of temporary compromise

You might feel worried about taking a non-graduate job like shelf-stacking in a supermarket because you feel it may take you off the track you want to be on.

Firstly, swallow your pride – there can be many good things about roles like this and remember that it’s always teaching you skills. Customer service for example is a must in just about any business – nothing can test and boost your resilience and understanding like working with members of the public! It’s such an important skill to have and one that can be very marketable. Again, think how it can fit into the big picture of long term plans.

Taking a role that’s not quite what we expect can also be a great thing because it forces us to step out of our comfort zone and pick up something new. In corporate life, that’s something you actually often face and it’s those that can pick up and respond to that most effectively that win (a concept very much the centre of famed management book “Who moved my Cheese?”

5. But keep your eye on your end-goal

Doing other things will help get you there, but remember no-one is going to come along and magically give you that dream job – you have to keep working towards it as well.

That means not getting entirely distracted by whatever you’re going now, keeping your eye on those job boards, maximising any opportunities with people you meet and keeping yourself sharp – so when that opportunity comes along you can grab it with both hands.

Whatever your journey, just keep it mind that you are worth it and you will get there!

Over to you?

If you’re a graduate going through this and there’s any other matters you’d like advice on, or like myself you had the experience of graduating in 2008-9 and have advice to share, please do get in touch either by commenting below or using our contact us form.

And that’s it!

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