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No job after college? Here are 13 proactive steps you can take

Published April 5, 2024| minute read
Dhara Singh

Senior Associate, JPMorgan Chase

    According to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, at the end of 2023, the unemployment rate for recent college graduates was 4.8%, more than double that of all college graduates in the job market, which stood at 2.3%.

    Getting a job when you’re newly out of college may be uniquely challenging for various reasons. Many entry-level roles require prior experience, leaving those fresh out of college struggling to meet these expectations without having had full-time professional opportunities yet. Additionally, recent graduates may face challenges in effectively communicating their skills and value to potential employers as they’re just beginning to learn how to navigate the nuances of job searching and interviewing in their chosen field.

    So, what should you do if you’re on the job hunt after college? While there isn’t one golden recipe that works for all graduates, let’s break down some strategies that may help you boost your chances of full-time employment after college.

    13 proactive steps you can take to find a job after college

    There are different steps you may consider taking if you’re looking for a job after college.

    1. Use your network to its fullest

    Networking can be a highly valuable way to get job leads, recommendations, and to start establishing relationships in your chosen field. While you may understand how important this is when it comes to getting a job, how do you go about it?

    Sometimes, networking can be as simple as attending a professional development event that’s being held by your college's alumni association. Alumni associations are college-specific organizations where former graduates come together to meet other graduates, promote ways of helping one another, and remain connected to their school. You can visit your school's website to find information about your local alumni association and events it may be holding.

    Beyond networking with the help of your college, consider searching for professional in-person or virtual meetups where you may meet employees in your ideal line of work and even hiring managers.

    Lastly, as you start your networking journey, make sure to utilize the network you already have in place – your family members and friends. Don’t hesitate to tell this network the kind of jobs you’re looking for and utilize them to pass on leads to you and reach out to their extended network for potential assistance on your job hunt.

    2. Continue to build new skills

    Sometimes, the difference between someone who gets a job offer and someone who doesn't is a matter of skills. For instance, the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) in a 2024 report found that 88.7% of employers wanted a candidate with problem-solving skills, 67% wanted technical skills, and 54.6% wanted someone with computer skills.

    If you’re out of college and looking for a job, this may be a good opportunity to build skills or get certifications that employers in your industry may find valuable. Taking the time to build skills doesn't necessarily guarantee you’ll get a job, but it may grab the eye of recruiters or employers looking for candidates with specific skills.

    3. Consider internships to get your foot in the door

    Having a high-grade point average (GPA) from college may not be as helpful when it comes to getting a job out of college as hands-on practical experience. For instance, you may have decent grades in, let's say, chemistry, but recruiters in your field may want someone who’s had real-world experience working in a professional lab.

    This is where internships can come in – even for college graduates. If your resume lacks real work experience and that’s what’s holding you back in your search, you may want to consider applying for internships.

    Internships can be a helpful way to build your resume, build practical skills needed in your industry, network, and potentially set you on a path to receiving a full-time job offer.

    4. Apply to a big range of jobs (your first job doesn’t need to be your dream job)

    Applying to a wide range of jobs may be beneficial in your search for full-time employment, as it may increase the likelihood of you securing a position.

    It’s important to recognize that your first job doesn't have to be the perfect fit for your long-term career goals, but rather a stepping stone that provides valuable experience, skills, and insights into your job preferences and professional aspirations.

    Being open to and applying to a large range of jobs may lead to quicker employment, help you reduce the gap in your resume, and provide financial stability, while you continue to explore and transition to roles that better align with your ultimate career objectives.

    5. Consider graduate school

    If you’re a new college graduate looking for a full-time job you may also want to consider graduate school as a strategic move to enhance your qualifications and stand out in a competitive job market.

    Pursuing further education may provide specialized knowledge and advanced skills that are highly valued in many industries, potentially leading to better job prospects and more rapid career advancement. For certain careers, such as those in academia, medicine, and specialized technical fields, a graduate degree may even be a prerequisite for entry-level positions.

    6. Make your resume and the portfolio the best it can be

    Your resume is often the first impression you’ll make when you apply for jobs. Even details such as bad grammar can deter a recruiter or hiring manager from advancing your candidacy. According to a 2023 study by MIT Sloan, job seekers with more than 99% of the words in their resume spelled correctly were hired nearly three times more than those with fewer than 90% spelled correctly.

    If you’re on the hunt for a job after college, consider getting feedback from mentors or others on your resume who can help strengthen its appeal and check that everything about it is in good shape before you send it to prospective employers.

    Beyond working on your resume, consider building a portfolio or a website to highlight your work and accomplishments.

    7. Explore freelance and contract work

    Exploring freelance and contract work may be a strategic move if you’re aiming to secure full-time employment. Taking on this kind of work may allow you to gain practical experience and showcase your skills in a real-world setting, making you a more attractive candidate for full-time positions.

    Freelance and contract jobs offer the flexibility to work on diverse projects across different industries, providing a breadth of experience that may enhance your resume and expand your professional network. These opportunities may also enable you to develop a professional portfolio, demonstrating your capabilities and achievements to potential employers.

    8. Research the current state of the job market

    Researching the state of the job market may be worthwhile as it may help provide a comprehensive understanding of current employment trends, high-demand skills, and growth industries.

    Building this knowledge may help you align your job search and skill development efforts with the market’s needs. Understanding which sectors are expanding may help guide you to focus your applications on industries with a higher number of openings, thereby improving your chances of securing a job.

    9. Consider building a profile on a professional social media site

    Building a profile on a professional social media site may be a helpful step as these profiles can serve as a digital resume, enabling you to showcase your education, skills, and any work experience to a vast network of potential employers.

    By creating a detailed and engaging profile, you can make yourself visible to recruiters and companies actively search for fresh talent. The platforms also facilitate networking with industry professionals, alumni, and peers.

    10. Leverage your college’s career center for help

    Career centers offer a wealth of resources tailored to the needs of students and recent alumni, including resume and cover letter reviews, mock interviews, and career counseling. These services can significantly improve your job application materials and interview performance.

    Additionally, career centers often have established relationships with employers across various industries, providing access to job fairs, networking events, and job listings. The career center can also help alumni connect with a network of peers and professionals, opening doors to opportunities through referrals and recommendations.

    11. Consider part-time jobs

    You may want to consider part-time work, even if it isn’t directly related to your desired career path. There are a few reasons for this. First, part-time jobs can provide essential income, helping to alleviate financial pressures while you search for a full-time job in your desired field.

    Additionally, any work experience at this stage in your life can be valuable, as it helps develop soft skills such as communication, time management, and adaptability, which are highly regarded in the professional world.

    Part-time roles may also offer networking opportunities, potentially leading to unexpected career paths, or valuable connections that could assist you in landing a more desired position.

    Lastly, engaging in part-time work can fill employment gaps on a resume, helping to present you as proactive and hardworking to future employers.

    12. Consider training programs aimed at new college graduate

    Applying for employer training programs can be a strategy for new college graduates seeking full-time employment, especially for those looking to enter industries that highly value specialized skills or on-the-job training.

    Participating in these programs may allow you to bridge the gap between academic knowledge and practical skills, making you more competitive and job ready. Furthermore, employer training programs may lead to permanent positions within the company.

    13. Explore informational interviews

    Informational interviews are a valuable tool, offering a unique opportunity for you to gain insights into your desired industry, company, or specific roles from experienced professionals.

    These conversations provide an inside look at the day-to-day realities of working in a particular field, which may help you set realistic expectations and tailor your job search accordingly.

    Moreover, informational interviews allow you to build relationships with professionals in your field, expanding your network and increasing the likelihood of discovering unadvertised job openings or getting personal referrals for open positions.

    Final thoughts

    If you're jobless after college, remember that you're still starting your professional journey. Sometimes, it takes learning a few new skills, making valuable networking connections, or tweaking your resume, among other techniques, to land your first role.