Help! I’m leaving university and haven’t got a job yet

This is an edited extract from Hannah Salton’s 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 

Hannah is a qualified executive coach, career consultant and former graduate recruiter. She spent the first eight years of her career recruiting graduate talent for top international corporations, including telecoms giant BT and elite law firm Allen & Overy. 

A recruitment and career development expert, Hannah authors a popular careers blog, and her advice has featured in The Guardian, The Independent, The Telegraph and ITV News. To find out more about Hannah’s coaching programmes you can visit her website, and for more job search tips you can connect with her on LinkedIn.

When I was a final year student at Manchester University in 2009, I had no idea 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 take. 

After landing a place on BT’s graduate programme, I spent eight years working in corporate graduate recruitment, and have spent the last six years working as a career coach. Having gone through so much confusion and overwhelm in my own early career, I love helping graduates and early career professionals figure out what they want to do, and take steps to make it happen.  

Many people don’t have a job lined up when they graduate, and many have no idea what they want to do for their career. Using my 14 years’ experience in graduate recruitment and career coaching, here are my top five tips for those graduating who don’t have a job lined up:  

  1. Get to know your strengths, values and preferences  

Deeper self-reflection is a useful first step before you start applying for jobs. Write down what you enjoy doing, what experience – either paid or voluntary – you have been good at, and what your personal values are.  

Reflect on whether you like the idea of working remotely, for a large or small company, and think about what skills you enjoy using. Be sure to write these reflections down – they will be useful during recruitment processes later.  

  1. Talk to others  

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, old colleagues, friends of friends 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.  

  1. 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. 

Spend time reflecting 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. 

  1. Create an action 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. Consider creating an application tracker with target date to submit your application, if many employers have deadlines at a similar time.  

  1. 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 you feel your job search is having a significant or long-term impact on your wellbeing or mental health, talk to someone about it. Whether this is a friend, family member, or a 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. Also remember that you can continue to use the Careers Service for up to two years after you graduate.