5 tips for recent grads looking for work

Experts say these five tips will help recent graduates find a job this September, instead of sitting around and watching their friends head back to school or work.
Jordan Smith, a graduate of Memorial University in St. John's, took his job hunt to the streets of Halifax in 2009. As employment numbers are still bleak, many graduates are trying to explore new ways to find work, experts say. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

Christopher Grandy knows how maddening the job hunt can be for a recent graduate.

"I'm a little less sane right now," says Grandy, who has been searching every day for four months. "It gets really depressing. I don't even want to look at a resumé for days — but I know I have to."

Grandy finished his business administration degree at Cape Breton University in April. Bolstered with a diploma in marketing from Newfoundland's College of the North Atlantic, he set out with high hopes to try to find a job.

Months later, he's much less optimistic. "I'm always wondering in the back of my head if my resumés are even getting read," he says.

Grandy's story isn't an unfamiliar one. Hordes of young people are about to head into their first September without school — but without a steady job, too.

According to the latest data from Statistics Canada, the unemployment rate for people age 15 to 24 is 14.8 per cent, more than double the 7.3 per cent for the nation as a whole.

But management and human resource experts say there's hope — and gave these five tips to help grads find work this September.

1. Don't get discouraged

Even if you've been applying for months, it's important not to get down on yourself, says Hugh Gunz, a professor of organizational behaviour at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto.

"It's terribly easy to get distressed and discouraged by the whole thing," Gunz said.

"We've been in a substantial downturn since 2008," he said. "There just aren't the jobs around and rejection is tough."

But there's no better time to start searching in earnest than right now, says Jennifer McCleary, the director of the Centre for Business Career Development at McMaster's DeGroote School of Business in Hamilton, Ont.

"It's never too late to start looking for a job, whether you graduated in April or are graduating next April," McCleary said.

"It's all about a state of mind, how well you want to prepare and how motivated you are to stay focused on the process."

Though youth employment numbers have been gloomy, McCleary says the market is starting to pick up — especially for new grads.

"Employers are always looking for engaged, eager new hires," she said.

2. Job seeking is a full-time job

According to experts, new graduates already have a full-time job — it's job hunting.

"Get up in the morning and have a routine," advises Blair McMurchy, the director of continuing education, placement and promotion at Humber College's School of Media Studies and Information Technology in Toronto.

"Get up at six as if you're going to work and start looking — because looking for a job is a full-time job."

Though it might be easy to slide into a half-hearted routine, McMurchy says avoid that at all costs. "Don't get up at 10 and stop at two. Put in your eight hours and stay in the rhythm."

Then there are resumés. McMurchy says students will often send out four or five a week — a pittance compared to the 20 or so they should be sending.

'Get up at six as if you're going to work and start looking — because looking for a job is a full-time job.'— Blair McMurchy, Humber College's School of Media Studies and Information Technology in Toronto

And forget copy and pasting. Each job requires a resumé and cover letter that is individually tailored to each position, he says.

3. Pound that pavement

While sending out applications is important, McMurchy also says that graduates have to be even more proactive.

"Students have to get out and pound the pavement," he says. "Sixty-five per cent of jobs out there are never advertised."

Gunz agrees, adding students have to push beyond faceless job applications. "It's a numbers game," he feels. "For every one job advertised there are hundreds of applicants, so you have to get creative."

Students have to find people in the industry they want to break into and make some calls, he says.

"Find out more about what they do and make yourself known," Gunz said. "Often people are very happy to talk to you if they think you're interested in their occupation."

McCleary says the students she sees that are most successful are those that are willing to step outside their comfort zone and ask for information from people in the industry.

"The more people they know, the better off they'll be," she says. "By asking for help and advice, students are demonstrating they're curious and can present themselves professionally. That can generate interest from individuals who want to introduce you to someone who is hiring, even if they aren't."

4. Follow up

An interview that doesn't result in a job is still an opportunity, says McMurchy.

"Students need to follow up," he said. "Call the employer and politely ask what it is you were lacking — so that if you upgraded your skills, you'd be the person they hire next time."

"Employers like to see someone that doesn't give up, as long as you're professional and courteous."

That kind of call can be daunting for many new graduates. But you need to make it, McMurchy says. "Be the graduate that keeps falling down, but learns from his mistake every time. Then you'll be successful."

5. Use all resources

Students pay thousands of dollars for an education, so they should try to squeeze every penny out of it — including using the resource centre after they've graduated, Gunz advises.

"Talk to somebody professionally qualified who can help you with your approach — because maybe your approach is wrong," he offers.

"It could be you're beating your head off a brick wall and you're not realizing it."

Most schools continue to give support to students a year or two after they've graduated. "So make use of it," Gunz says.

"Get somebody who knows what they're talking about to look at your resumé and look at the cover letters you're writing."

McMurchy also heralded the virtues of continung education courses if students can afford them.

"You have to be life-long learners," he says. "When you leave school, you can't stop learning."

"So when you go to an interview and they ask what you've been doing, you can tell them you've been upgrading your skills, as opposed to 'I've been sitting around.'"


Adam Carter


Adam Carter is a Newfoundlander who now calls Toronto home. You can follow him on Twitter @AdamCarterCBC or drop him an email at