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Why is it so Hard to Get a Job After College

Natasha Serafimovska

Career Coach, Professional Resume Writer, Freelance Writer

For many, it was easy finding a job while in college. But after job hunting for weeks, you may wonder why it is so hard to get a job after college. After all, you’ve put a lot of time and effort into getting your degree. But don’t get discouraged. The University of Washington found that 53% of graduates are either unemployed or working a job that doesn’t require a degree. Other studies also show that landing your first job can take between 3 and 6 months. So, getting your first job takes time.

The overall unemployment rate among graduates has significantly decreased since 2020(from 13.3% to 4.1%). Yet industries are still reeling from the pandemic’s aftermath. So, some industries are more difficult to break into than others. Here we look at the current labor market landscape and what you can do as a job searcher to up your chances of landing your first job.

What’s the Current Landscape Like?

Even though the graduates’ unemployment rate has come down, it’s still higher than the national average of 3.5%. A survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) found that only about 60.2% of graduates in 2021 landed a job within six months of graduation. Meanwhile, 12.5% were still job hunting. 

There are several reasons for this. Many graduates underappreciate how much effort it takes to land a job. As a result, they start the job-hunting process relatively unprepared. Things like having a results-based resume and a professional cover letter are a must if you’re to be even considered for an interview. 

What’s the Average Time of Getting a Job after College?

How long it takes to land a job depends on many factors, including the industry you’re trying to get into, the current labor market conditions, and the amount of time and effort you put into sending out applications.

For instance, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has found that the applicants who send out between 21 and 80 job applications have the biggest chances of getting a job offer. Yes, your efforts need to be targeted. But applying to as many jobs as possible increases your chances of being hired. 

Your First Job Out of College Matters

Your first job out of college can set the tone for your whole career for the next five to ten years. The past experience listed on your resume will be the first thing future employers evaluate.

While your first job out of college doesn’t have to be your dream job (it rarely is), it should at least be within the same industry or line of work you’d like to pursue as a career.

Why Is It So Hard to Get a Job After College

Getting a job out of college is challenging for many reasons. In most cases, these reasons can be prevented with a little bit of foresight and planning.

Stiff Competition

Let’s call a spade a spade. We live in a world with the most college-educated population in the history of humankind. Education has become more accessible, and technology has drastically evolved. As a result, more people are getting degrees now than they were a few decades ago.

Currently, there are more jobs than unemployed people in the U.S., but not all jobs will attract the same interest. On average, there are about 118 applicants for a single job vacancy. So, that’s a lot of competition to beat to get that coveted offer. 

Lack of Skills and Experience

Another overseen factor is the lack of skills and experience recent grads have. Higher education is far from agile in developing labor market skills. This means that it’s up to the graduates to develop and update their skill sets.

Finally, let’s not forget that just because you’re a graduate, you can come in without experience. What’s more important is your commitment and willingness to accept responsibility. For instance, having a part-time job within your department or retail will demonstrate that you’re committed, able to manage your time, and hold down a position.

Lack of Commitment

How many jobs have you applied to so far? If it’s anything below 20, you still have some work to do before you get to the goldilock zone of hiring (21-80 job applications). 

You may have graduated with honors and were convinced that getting a job would be a breeze. But think about it like this. In the classroom, you were competing with 50-100 other students. Now that you’ve entered the labor market, you’re competing against hundreds, if not thousands, of candidates. Dedicating more time and effort to apply to more jobs and stand out will be vital in getting a job.

Small Network

What does your network look like? Do you have an active and up-to-date LinkedIn profile? If most of the people you know and talk to are other graduates and professors from your degree, you don’t have enough social capital to tap into to land a job. 

Research shows that 85% of jobs are landed through networking, so your small network could be actively hurting your chances of getting a job. 

How to Get a Job Faster Out of College?

Looking at the reasons above, you’ll see that you can control most of them. This is good news. Regardless of where you are on the job-seeking journey, you can improve your chances of getting a job out of college. Here’s how.

Stand Out from Day One

This doesn’t mean typing your resume in pink ink or using your cover letter to talk about your puppy, Barney. Instead, it means reaching out to your employer uniquely yet professionally. For example, suppose you want to apply for a graphic designer job. Even if you have no work experience, you can create mock designs using company colors to demonstrate your skills. 

Likewise, always follow up with your prospective line manager via LinkedIn. Thank them for the opportunity, and let them know you’re looking forward to chatting with them about the role. 

Invest in Your Skills and Experience

Always watch for the skills your desired jobs are listing in their ads.

Are you studying C++ at university only to discover that most of the jobs you’re looking at are looking for Python knowledge? You would only know that if you do your research beforehand. Luckily, there are so many online courses out there that can help you close this skills gap even before you leave school.

Treat Your Job Hunt Like a Job

Full-time jobs take about 35 to 40 hours per week. So, treat your job hunt like a full-time job. Instead of applying to only four or five dream jobs, widen your pool and apply to similar positions. Dedicate several hours daily to identifying the right jobs and tailoring your resume.

Grow Your Network

Whether you’re still in college or actively looking for a job, start working on growing your network now. Find conferences or trade shows you can attend and establish connections with industry professionals. You can also look for webinars and Facebook groups related to your work. You never know where the next opportunity will come from, but the more you invest in your relationships, the more benefits you can reap. 

How Much Can You Expect to Make at Your First Job?

According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, the mean salary for graduates sits at $58,862. Still, this is only a rough indication of what you can expect. It varies drastically per industry, state, and company. For example, while the mean salary for education graduates is $39,772, the mean salary for engineers is $71,516. 

While money is important, the biggest win is finding a job aligned with your career goals. 

How to Not Get Frustrated?

We get it. Getting rejection after rejection after so much time and effort can be frustrating, even more so if your savings are dwindling and you need a cash injection soon. However, there are a few things you can do to make sure you power through the process with the least emotional strain possible. 

First, manage your expectations. If you know that getting a job takes months and tens of applications sent out, then focus on doing the work as quickly as possible. Second, make sure you have enough funds for the first six months out of college that can help you apply without feeling pressured. If possible, save on rent by living with family and friends and cut down on unnecessary expenses. 

What are Your Other Options?

After months of applying, you must consider other options. Maybe you should apply for a job outside of your industry. It may not be ideal, but it can still give you much-needed experience and funds.

Another option to consider is further education. Professional school or graduate degrees are a common option among most graduates.

Key Takeaways

Getting a job has always been challenging. Rising costs, inflation, and economic uncertainty make it more challenging. Even though the labor market is brimming with job vacancies, the coveted positions are stifled by competition.

To find your first job out of college, you must be persistent, plan ahead, and be patient. Getting a job after college is a job, so make sure you invest as much time and effort as possible.

10 Best Jobs for College Graduates for 2023

  1. Health services manager
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  3. Junior project management specialist
  4. Junior software developer
  5. Elementary school teacher
  6. Human resources representative
  7. Sales representative
  8. Junior business development
  9. Software engineer
  10. Customer service representative

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