While unemployment rates for college graduates over age 25 was just 2.4% in August 2017, the unemployment rate for recent college graduates ages 21 to 24 was 6.8%. That’s still better than it has been in recent years, but being unemployed months after graduation can be discouraging. Add the stress of looming student loan payments, and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed.
“The first piece of advice I have is that it’s fairly normal [to not have a job a few months after graduation],” says Valerie Sutton, director of the Career Services Office at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. “I think there’s some anxiety that ‘It’s only me,’ and it’s not. There are plenty of people in the same boat.”
That’s an important realization because the more demoralized you get, the harder it is to make a great impression on a prospective employer. So if you’re still job hunting months after getting your degree, take heart—and try these seven steps to get your job search back on track.
Make Job Hunting Your 9-To-5
Even if you’re not working typical office hours, act like you are, and make job hunting your full-time gig, says James Reed, author of Why You? 101 Interview Questions You’ll Never Fear Again, and chairman of Reed, a U.K. provider of recruitment and staffing solutions. “Failing to stay on some sort of schedule could be seriously affecting your well-being—and, consequently, the effectiveness of your job search.”
Reed recommends waking at the same time each day, and showering and getting dressed as if you were going to work. Have a clear to-do list every day. “If you treat your job search like a full-time job, it’ll only increase your chances of finding the right role for you,” he says.
Tap School Resources
Sutton recommends getting in touch with your career services office. Many will provide everything from free resume consultations to ongoing job search support via phone or Skype appointments. It’s like having a free career coach who also gets regular behind-the-scenes job leads from other alumni.
Your fellow graduates are another great source of potential referrals and leads. While many of your peers may not be in a position to help you, finding more established alumni through online or in-person alumni networking groups can be helpful, too. And if you were involved in activities on campus—Greek life, sports, honor societies, or others—look for those alumni groups, too, which may provide connections across a range of school alumni.
Perfect Your Packaging
A job hunt is very similar to a sales campaign, so you’ve got to “package” yourself properly to make the sale, says Angela Middleton, author of How to Get Your First Job and Build the Career You Want, and founder of recruitment, training, and apprenticeship firm Middleton’s. First, do some housekeeping. Make sure all of your social media profiles are cleaned up and professional. Share stories and posts that are relevant to the area in which you’re job hunting to show potential employers and recruiters that you’re engaged in the industry. Strengthen your LinkedIn profile with a strong summary and great head shot. Compare your profile to your resume and ensure that titles, companies, dates of employment, and other details are aligned—discrepancies here can potentially raise red flags.
While you may have a generic resume, be sure to create customized versions for the jobs for which you’re applying, highlighting specific, relevant skills.
Create A Target Marketing List
Of course, you’re keeping an eye on job ads, but Middleton suggests taking matters more into your own hands. Get clear about the type of company for which you want to work. “So, for example, if you decided that you want to go into law, part of the questions that you would ask yourself is, ‘Do I want to get into a big firm, a small firm, or a medium firm, or do I not care?’ ‘Do I want it to be in the city, in the suburbs, in this country, in another country?'” she says.
Once you’ve answered those questions, Middleton recommends creating a list of 100 companies for which you want to work. Then, use your personal contacts, LinkedIn searches, company websites, and online searches to find five contacts within each company related to the job you want. Then, start sending your resume and a letter of introduction.
Head Back To School
Take a look at noncredit courses at your local community college or university. Chances are, there are some skill-building offerings that could make you more marketable, says Tom Gimbel, founder and CEO of recruiting firm LaSalle Network. So whether you need to get more advanced Microsoft Excel skills or want to learn basic HTML, enrolling in a class can help you feel like you’re back in the swing of things while you make yourself more marketable. If taking a class isn’t feasible, try one of the many online offerings for what you want to learn.
“At least when people say, ‘What are you doing to keep busy?’ you can say, ‘I realized I probably should have better Excel skills, for example, so I’m taking a class to learn them,'” he says.
Don’t Forget Temp Agencies
More than 45% of the temps Gimbel’s firm sends out on assignment get hired permanently, he says. While new grads may bristle at the thought of temping, Middleton also says it’s a great way to make new contacts and get a sense of what it’s like to work for a company before going full-time.
“If you can sign up with an agency that specializes in your sector, they then can place you on lots and lots of short-term placements, and that means you can get lots of experience,” she says. Plus, you’re making some cash while you job hunt.
Deal With The Emotions
Don’t overlook the emotional component to this experience, Sutton says. Being unemployed or underemployed can do a number on your self-esteem. And the longer the situation goes on, the more it can affect how you come across in interviews. She recommends creating a “developmental network”—a group of roughly five to seven trusted mentors, advisers, and professional friends who can give you both the psychological support and the professional advice you need. You might include your executive recruiter, with whom you need to be strictly business, as well as your best professional friend who’s going to cheer you on before a big interview.
The most important thing is to keep going, Sutton says. Graduates today are in a relatively healthy job market, so it’s often a matter of persistence to find just the right fit.