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Help! I've graduated from uni but still can't find a job!

Ian Cooper

Career Counsellor
We’ve come up with a list of ten action steps you can use to push through the challenge in front of you and start seeing results.

You did it! You worked hard, spent long nights studying or writing papers, and earned your degree.

The world is your oyster, right?

Err, not quite. Because now you’re watching with a growing sense of dread as one by one, your friends accept offers for their first graduate jobs… all while you’re checking your email fifty times a day with nothing to show for it.

The weeks, maybe even months, are starting to go by and you’re wondering, “What do I do now? What’s it going to take for me to find a job?”

Well, we’ve got some ideas that will help. We’ll take you through ten different action steps that can help you focus and refine your application process so that it starts to produce results.

But first, we want to reassure you: going through a difficult or drawn-out job search is normal. 

The truth is that finding a good fit often takes time. The average person needs to apply to anywhere from 21 to 80 openings in order to get even a single job offer, while roughly one-third of all fresh grads still haven’t landed a job four months after finishing university.

Sure, some people get lucky and discover a match after sending out their first few applications. But that’s not typical. Ask almost anyone who’s happy in their role today and they’ll likely have a story or two about the winding journey it took to get there. 

Maybe — whether as a grad or as a more seasoned worker applying for a new opportunity — they navigated a dozen interviews before finally getting an offer. Maybe it was two dozen. 

It could even be that they had to take a job or two they hated in order to discover that the role they thought they wanted was a bad match and only then start down the path toward a better option.

Each story will be different, but almost everyone will have one. Like true love, the course of a successful career rarely does run smooth. 

So be gentle with yourself. If you’re feeling scared or stressed, well, that’s natural! Don’t be afraid to talk about what you’re going through or ask for help — and never beat yourself up about any of it.

You’re just feeling the things that people feel when they look for work. But be patient and persistent and good things will happen.

10 steps that will get you an offer if your graduate job search is failing

Now, a lot of basic graduate career advice boils down to a simple formula. Pick a sector, send in as many applications as possible, and take the first offer you get. 

And hey, sometimes this can work! However, if you’re struggling to get anywhere in your job search, it’s probably time to try a more refined, thoughtful approach. 

That’s why we’ve come up with a list of ten action steps you can use to push through the challenge in front of you and start seeing results.

Each step will help make you a stronger applicant. You’ll be able to get clearer on what you’re looking for, how you can help a potential employer, and what you need to do in order to stand out from a crowded field of grads all eager to start their careers.

Let’s dive in!

We'll cover:

  1. Give yourself runway by signing up for JobSeeker Payment
  2. Focus on process instead of outcomes
  3. Choose quality over quantity
  4. Get clear on what you’re good at
  5. Figure out how you can use your strengths to generate value for potential employers
  6. Use your personal network
  7. Leverage LinkedIn
  8. Ask for feedback when you do get rejected
  9. Try freelancing to demonstrate your skills
  10. Search based on qualifications rather than sector

1. Give yourself runway by signing up for JobSeeker Payment

First, let's talk about how you can lower the level of pressure you may be feeling. Did you know you can get paid while searching for a job?

Assuming you’re an Australian graduate, you’re entitled to benefits from JobSeeker Payment while you look for work. Issued every two weeks by Services Australia, this can be a valuable source of income that will give you a little more breathing room during your search.

(Note, if you’re not an Australian citizen, research whether your country offers similar benefits. Some do.)

To qualify, you need to be hunting for full-time work and meet certain requirements. This includes agreeing to a specific Job Plan, actively applying for jobs each week, and reporting any income you do earn from part-time work.

Unless you’re married or have a child, you’ll probably earn a maximum of just under $1,400 a month in payments. While that’s not enough to live on, it may help you to stretch any savings you have further or give you the ability to get by on part-time gigs or freelancing until a full-time opportunity arises.

2. Focus on process instead of outcomes

Here’s an unfair truth: It’s usually easier to get a job if you already have a job.

If you’re actively employed, you’ll typically feel less pressure when you’re interviewing. You’ve already proven you can bring value to an employer, you’re likely in a more stable situation financially, and unless you’re literally interviewing for your dream role, you probably don’t care as much about getting an offer.

And of course, whoever is interviewing you or reviewing your application will be able to pick up on all of this — and find you all the more attractive as a candidate because of it. 

(Think of it in terms of going out on a date with someone. Would you be more interested in the person who’s desperate to date you or the one who’s expressed interest but also clearly has options? Probably the latter.)

But knowing this doesn’t have to make you feel hopeless. In fact, there’s a way you can use it to your advantage — a simple shift in mindset that can make a big difference.

Ready for it? As of right now, you do have a job. Your job is mastering each of the tasks that go into getting an offer letter from an employer. 

In other words, as of right now, you’re going to start focusing on process instead of outcomes.

In practice, this means coming up with a list of steps you need to take each day or each week and then giving each of those steps your full attention. For example, you’ll want to submit 10 applications, contact 5 friends asking for referrals, and send out 10 cold outreach messages on LinkedIn. 

Each week, without fail. 

The exact numbers will vary depending on your situation, of course. But the more you commit to a specific process and stick with it, the more you’ll be living in action. 

Every time you go into an interview, you’ll know that no matter how it goes, you’re going to keep sending out your weekly applications, doing outreach, asking for referrals… No matter what, you won’t have everything resting on any one outcome. 

In other words, you’ll be somebody who is already working — and more appealing for it. 

3. Choose quality over quantity

Now, we touched on this above, but let’s elaborate further. 

Many graduate job seekers take what’s sometimes called the spray-and-pray approach. This means applying for every opening you're even remotely qualified for and hoping that you land an offer through sheer weight of numbers.

However, if you’ve been doing this but are still struggling to find a job after graduating, you should consider that spray-and-pray is probably not working for you. After all, any competent hiring manager can tell if you’re simply copying and pasting the same application answers for multiple jobs.

The truth is that you won’t stand out from the crowd by being generic. Instead, we suggest making the effort to focus on quality over quantity, and take a measured, mindful attitude towards where you choose to apply.

While, as we said above, we strongly recommend that you submit a consistent number of applications every week, that doesn’t mean you should aim to maximize your volume. Instead of rushing through 20 or 30 applications, take the time to write up 10 thoughtful ones that include things like an original cover letter. 

Put more care in and you’ll be far more likely to get a good outcome.

4. Get clear on what you’re good at

Another problem with spray-and-pray? Nobody wants to hire someone who isn’t excited about taking on the job. 

Faced with two candidates of similar ability, a hiring manager is going to choose the enthusiastic one 100 times out of 100. So if you’re filling out yet another round of applications after months without an offer, start by asking yourself: do I actually want any of these positions I’m applying for?

Now, we know that isn’t always an easy question to answer. Even the best jobs can be boring, frustrating, and tiring at times — and as a fresh grad, you may have little to no idea of what you can reasonably expect from a given role.

How are you supposed to know what you want? Well, a good place to start is by figuring out whether a job would ask you to do something you’re actually good at or like doing. 

This takes some self-awareness, which may not come easy at any age (let alone fresh out of school). But you don’t have to do anything perfectly here, just dip a toe in the water. 

Think about your life. Which parts of it feel the most natural to you?

You can begin with your time at university. Maybe you earned the jealous admiration of your friends because you could crank out a 10-page paper the night before it was due. Maybe you found it simple to organize your time even while taking a heavy course load.

But you don’t have to stop there, either. If you’re a hit at parties, always finding yourself in the middle of the action, take note of that. If you’re someone your friends always look to when they need to open up and talk, pay attention to that too.

You can also try using a free online tool like PrinciplesYou or the Holland Career Test to give you additional insight into what you’re good at and where your interests lie.

There are no right or wrong answers here, of course. But the more you can identify your strengths, the more you’ll be able to apply for roles that suit those strengths.

Do that and you won’t be able to help but feel a little more excited — because you’ll know that you’re applying to do something you’re good at. And that feels good.

5. Figure out how you can use your strengths to generate value for potential employers

Once you’ve got a little more clarity on what you’re good at, you can start thinking about how you can use them to create value. In other words: how can you take something you like doing and use it to benefit a potential employer?

Now, you may not be able to translate your passion perfectly into a specific role. If you love writing short stories, for example, well, we hate to say it, but you won’t find too many employers lining up to pay you to do that.

However, you can deliver a massive amount of value with your skill set. Your ability to craft a narrative and paint a picture with words would make you a natural fit as a marketer. If you’ve got a knack for identifying patterns, you’d also do well as an analyst, using your storytelling ability to turn a big, messy pile of data into something that makes sense to decision-makers.

Similarly, if you are always the life of the party, you’re probably born for a career in sales. So much of succeeding in a sales role is simply about being able to connect with new people in a genuine way.

If that’s what you do every weekend for free, you might as well get paid for it, too.

These are just a few examples, of course. But take the time to think through which roles are suited for the stuff that comes naturally to you, specifically.

This might take a little imagination. If your big passion is ballet, say, then you may find yourself wondering how that translates to working for a company. But to succeed, you’ve had to demonstrate tremendous discipline, focus, and work ethic. 

You think those might be useful to employers? Yeah, us too.

6. Use your personal network

Did you know that up to 70 per cent of job openings are never posted — and as many as 80 per cent end up being filled by someone who used their network to gain an introduction rather than simply submitting a cold application?

That means that the single best way to get a job is through a referral. Whether you’re competing with other applicants for a role you did find on a jobs site or want access to openings not listed in public, nothing will open more doors than a personal recommendation on your behalf.

So as we touched on above, a big part of your job-hunting process should be reaching out to friends, family, and acquaintances and asking them if they know anyone who is hiring.

You can try putting up posts on social media, of course. In fact, we highly recommend it. 

But that sort of thing can also get lost in the shuffle. So we also strongly suggest reaching out individually, via phone, text, DM, email… the medium doesn’t matter as much as the fact that you’re taking the time to personally contact people you know and ask for their help.

Make this part of your weekly routine. Depending on the size of your personal network, try contacting five, 10, or 20 people each week and then politely following up if you don’t get a response to your initial query. 

Keep your message both friendly and short — everybody is busy, after all — but make it clear you’d be grateful for any help, ideas, or advice.

Most people won’t have anything for you beyond good wishes. But all you need is one person who knows someone. 

And that can happen more often than you may think.

7. Leverage LinkedIn

This is the next step up from asking for help from your personal network: doing the same with people you connect with on LinkedIn.

Now, we know that LinkedIn is not exactly the most exciting platform on social media. But it is by far the most helpful for anyone looking for a job (although some industries, like tech or journalism, make heavy use of Twitter as well).

Why? Because everyone on LinkedIn is open for business — they’re all specifically there to find new opportunities for either themselves or their companies. And that means you’ve got a better shot at making and leveraging connections on the site in order to find a job.

Here’s what we suggest doing.

  1. Make a list of ten companies you’d genuinely like to work for and that are actively hiring for a role you want.
  2. Submit your initial applications.
  3. Use LinkedIn to find two to three people at each of those companies who currently work in a similar role.
  4. Send one person at each company a short, polite message sharing:
    1. That you’ve applied for X specific role 
    2. Giving a brief description of why you want to work there and how you can bring value. Be as specific as you can.
    3. Asking if they would have any advice for how to stand out as a candidate.
  5. If you don’t hear back from the first person you messaged, then after a few days, message another person you’ve found at the company.

Now, sometimes, you won’t get a response from anyone. But some people will be impressed with your initiative and want to help. 

This can make all the difference in getting your application to the top of the pile.

Try finding a mentor, too

As many alumni are eager to give back, you can also use LinkedIn to connect with more experienced graduates from your university who work in your desired sector. (Some universities also have programs in place to connect fresh grads with older alumni.)

Try reaching out to a few people who seem appealing, introducing yourself, and asking if they’d be willing to get coffee or hop on the phone to give you some advice about breaking into their field. If you click with one of them, ask if they’d be willing to check in a little more regularly.

Who knows, you just may find a mentor!

8. Ask for feedback when you do get rejected

Humility is one of the most valuable life skills there is. And lucky you — here’s your chance to practice it!

Seriously, we get it. After finding out you’ve been rejected for a job, you’d probably rather forget and move on. 

But rejection can be a valuable opportunity to learn how you might do better the next time around. So we recommend swallowing your pride and following up on a rejection letter to ask for feedback.

Now, this usually applies only if you made it to the interview stage of the recruiting process. If your application was rejected before then, you’re probably not going to be able to find anyone to give you answers.

However, if you met with an interviewer (or several), then you’ve developed at least the beginnings of a relationship with someone involved in making a decision on your application. You’d be well within your rights to send them a short, polite email, and ask if they would be willing to give you some advice on how you could strengthen yourself as a candidate going forward.

Sometimes, you won’t hear anything back. Some hiring managers may be hesitant to comment for legal reasons or because of company policies. 

But if you’re respectful and genuinely open to feedback, you’ll also find people willing to offer it. This can be incredibly useful because it will help you think about yourself as a candidate in new ways — and give you insight into what, exactly, companies are looking for when they do meet with interviewees.

Take what you hear with a grain of salt, though, too. Sometimes, you and a particular interviewer just aren’t a fit and you may be dealing with a personality issue more than what you do or don’t bring to the table. 

9. Try freelancing to demonstrate your skills

Like we’ve already said, it’s easier to get a job if you already have a job. So here’s another way to do that: start freelancing.

Now, we’re not saying you need to full-on launch your own startup. That’s a move often best saved for after you’ve got some work experience under your belt. But you can start looking for freelance job opportunities that give you the chance to display your talent and get paid to improve your skills right away.

To do this, figure out if you want to work in a role that can be done on a freelance basis. This will most commonly be something in digital marketing — like content creation, copywriting, social media management, or a related field — but can involve anything from serving as a virtual assistant to web design or coding to project management and more.

Consider taking an online course in whichever role you decide to focus on. Not only will this make you a more attractive, competitive applicant for full-time positions, but it will help you deliver more effective freelance work from the get-go.

Then create a profile on freelancer sites like Upwork, Expert360 or Freelancer.com. You can also use LinkedIn to find freelance gigs. See what work you can find and what you enjoy doing and then go after more work like it.

Not only will this give you a stronger portfolio to display your skills to potential employers, but you might find it a backdoor route to a job offer. Even large, established companies regularly hire freelancers. 

If you find a good fit, ask if you could join their team full-time. Should there be an opening, you would likely be at the top of the list. 

And you never know — you might find yourself making enough through freelancing that you don’t need to find an employer after all!

10. Search based on qualifications rather than sector

If you’re like many grads, you may be looking for a job in a specific sector, like banking, accounting, or management consulting. 

Now, this can be a good way to approach your search. However, if you’re struggling to get an offer, then you should consider taking a different tactic and applying for roles based on your degree.

Doing this will often significantly widen your pool of options. Instead of limiting yourself to only roles in, say, the health or law sectors, you may find that even if your degree is in health or law, there are a lot of companies in other fields who are eager to hire grads with your background. 

We make this simple for you. Use Prosple Australia to search for job openings based on your qualifications, sector(s) of choice, or both at once. 

Be open to the unexpected

Now that we’ve given you a concrete series of action steps, let’s end by throwing it all out the window. When you’re looking for a job, always leave room for the unexpected.

The truth is no one has any real idea where their life will take them. Maybe you have a plan, maybe you don’t — either way, we promise you that things will never go exactly how you think.

That awareness can be stressful if you try to fight it. But it can also be liberating. You don’t have to try to control outcomes — just do what you can in the moment and let the cards fall where they may.

Take that attitude and you’ll often be pleasantly surprised by what does come along. You may end up working a job you’d never even considered during your school days and find that you love it.

And if that doesn’t happen right away, that’s okay too. Learn what you can and move on to the next thing.

We wish you the best of luck in your journey!

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