When I was in my final year at Manchester University in 2009, I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my career. There were lots of intimidatingly impressive people on my course, and everyone else seemed to have a much better idea about what career path they wanted to follow.
Having gone through a lot of confusion and overwhelm in my own early career, as a coach I now love helping graduates and professionals figure out what they want from their careers, and take steps to make it happen.
To the many final-year students approaching graduation – you are not alone. So many great people don’t have a job sorted out when they graduate.
My biggest recommendation? Don’t panic. Take a proactive approach, and focus on what you can control.
Here are my top five tips for those graduating who don’t have a job lined up.
- Get to know your strengths, preferences and values
Embarking on deeper self-reflection is a useful first step before you start applying for jobs. Write down what you enjoy doing, what experience – paid or voluntary – you have been good at, and what your personal values are.
Reflect on whether you prefer the idea of working remotely, for a large or small company, and think about what skills you enjoy using. Write these reflections down – they will be useful during recruitment processes later.
2. Talk to people
Having conversations with people who work in lots of different jobs is a great way to work out which industries and roles interest you. Talk to friends, family, and old colleagues to find out what a typical day involves, and what they do and don’t enjoy about their work.
Attend networking events and don’t forget to add people you meet there on LinkedIn. Where appropriate, ask for a follow-up chat to learn more about them afterwards.
3. Focus on quality (not quantity) of applications
Submitting a high volume of job applications quickly can feel like you’re making progress in the short term. However, you risk winding up with a higher volume of rejections, which will do nothing for your confidence and motivation.
Reflect on which employers you want to apply to, and tailor your applications. Don’t waste time applying to companies you can’t be bothered to research, or who you wouldn’t ultimately accept a job with. It’s a waste of your time, as well as theirs.
4. Create a plan
Whether you are researching roles, networking, or applying for jobs, it’s important to write down a plan to help keep you motivated and on track. When you feel overwhelmed – focus on small steps, and remember to focus on progress, not perfection.
Keep an eye on application deadlines and aim to submit applications as early as you can, without compromising the quality. Create an application tracker with target dates to submit your applications, especially if many employers have deadlines at a similar time.
5. Look after yourself
Applying for job takes time, effort and energy. There will be rejections and disappointments along the way, so it’s important you look after your physical and mental health while applying for jobs. Block out time to relax, exercise, eat well and see friends and family.
If you reach a point where your job search is having a significant impact on your wellbeing or mental health, talk to someone about it. Whether this is a friend, family member, or professional, don’t suffer in silence and hope for it to pass.
Remember that many people graduate without a job lined up, and focus on researching and networking to increase your knowledge and confidence in the meantime.
This is an edited extract from my book, ‘Graduate Careers Uncovered: Tools and insights from a former recruiter to demystify your job search’ which is available in paperback and e-book on Amazon.