Updated: May 19, 2023
You spent years in school earning your degree and looking forward to the day when you graduated and got an amazing job in your field. But no matter how many résumés you send out, you just can't seem to find a position. What should you do?
You shouldn't panic, says Jill Tipograph, an expert career coach for students and recent college graduates.
"Getting a job is a job," she says. "Be realistic about how long it takes to get a job post-college. It takes most grads I see approximately seven-and-a-half months to get a job once they have actively committed to the process."
Tipograph, who is the parent of two millennials, started her coaching service because she saw a lot of young people struggling to find the right jobs after they graduated. She wanted to use her decades of experience in marketing to help job seekers better market themselves.
If you're struggling to find a job, don't jump ship immediately. Tipograph suggests instead that you take practical steps that will help increase your odds of getting the right position. That could include getting more experience, taking inventory of your skills, or moving.
Here are a few tips on how to land your dream job—no matter what you studied.
When it comes to entry-level jobs, it can seem like there's a catch-22. Employers demand experience, but you can't get experience if no one will give you a chance.
"Don't confuse experience with paid work," says Tipograph. "Actual paid employment is wonderful, but you can gain experience in many other settings."
The tips she gives to her clients include volunteering with non-profits or membership organizations to do things like plan events or organize social media campaigns. These show that you have in-demand skills such as leadership and an understanding of marketing. You might also volunteer in the labs of former professors or look for internship opportunities, paid or not. These should be in the field you're hoping to pursue or doing a task that will be crucial to the job you want.
Focusing on positions where you can take a leadership role is key. Tipograph believes things like starting a small business or launching a networking organization for recent grads are more likely to get the attention of hiring managers because they show that you have initiative.
If you already have these types of experiences on your résumé, you might just not be selling them as well as you could.
"Make your experience make more sense," says Tracy Timm, a career coach in Dallas. "I was working with a woman who had 20 years in insurance, but her passion was working with women."
She wanted to transition to a job in counseling since she had been informally counseling female friends and colleagues for years.
To help her get such a position, Timm suggested she tweak her résumé to emphasize the counseling she had given colleagues and to focus on volunteer work that involved counseling. She also recommended that she do a lot of networking to find her next job since people would be better able to see her in the role if they got to know her personally first.
"That's why networking is so important," says Timm. "It gives you a chance to tell your story to a human being." Then you are no longer a résumé, she explains, but a dynamic person the hiring manager can imagine filling their opening.
Sometimes one degree isn't enough to get your dream job. But how do you know if you're giving up the job search too early to go back to school for a master's degree or a diploma that you might not need?
"Continuing to higher education, simply because you don't know what you want to do, or have not yet found a first job, might be simply delaying a life experience, which is choosing your career path," says Tipograph.
If you want more schooling, Tipograph suggests you test drive additional education first. Try taking online or local courses to add certifications or learn about degrees that have trajectories to your chosen professions before committing to a costly and time-consuming graduate program.
Timm also believes those thinking about going back to school should give it careful consideration before enrolling.
"Only go back to school if someone is literally not willing to hire you because you lack a specific degree," she says. "The other instances that formal education will move the needle for you is if you have a clear and specific purpose for going back to school or it's formally required for your profession."
Tipograph says that moving can be a great strategy for finding work and it's one of her tips for getting a job without experience.
She suggests job seekers research their fields to figure out which cities have the best long term growth prospects and the lowest unemployment rates for people in that profession. Even if you don't end up moving right away, it's useful information to know when you're ready to advance your career. She believes you should look first for a role and move only after you have a committed offer. Indicating a willingness to move on your résumé is key.
Jane Scudder, CEO and career coach at The New Exec, a Chicago-based consultancy that works with new and rising corporate leaders, believes moving might help you find work, but that it also has to be the right move for you personally.
"Moving can open up options," she says. "Just like everything else it comes down to what you want. Moving taps into personal values in a very real way. Does geographic location matter to you? Do you want to be near family or friends? Do you want to be in a city?"
Your particular degree might be limiting your understanding of your career options. Maybe you have skills from your major that can be applied to another field or maybe you just don't realize the types of opportunities in your field.
"Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater," says Scudder. "So many young professionals I work with are terrified that they are going to have to begin their careers from scratch. However, if you can identify skills, knowledge, or expertise that you gained from either an educational or work-related experience, you can leverage that added benefit going forward."
Tipograph recommends a skills inventory so that you have a better idea of what you can offer employers.
"Do you have soft skills employers are seeking that cannot be readily learned, or learned quickly, such as collaboration, creativity, critical thinking, problem resolution?" she says. "Do you have hard skills that are used across different industries, such as Microsoft Office, coding, online newsletter software, sales software, project management applications, social media certifications, public speaking?"
Including this skills inventory in your résumé is another one of her top tips.
While it might feel like getting that first job is taking forever, it's important to stay positive and busy with other things while on the hunt. Volunteer, take classes, and work part-time jobs while you search. And keep searching, says Tipograph.
"Working hard toward a goal feels good, and will help you keep up your energy level," she says. "Engage with others, volunteer locally, help family members solve problems, offer to help someone in your city or town address an issue. You will build skills, meet people, and can share your job search goals with them as part of your expanding network."
Timm also encourages job seekers not to give up. When it comes to your job search, she says that persistence is key.
"In today's world, there are more options for gainful employment than ever before," she says. "If you keep taking consistent action, you will absolutely find a job."