The forecast for college graduates looking for work is expected to be stronger in 2020 than it’s been in more than a decade, with many companies planning to start recruiting for spring 2020 during the fall semester. But even in a strong job market, things don’t always go as planned. An abrupt turn in the economy, a transformation within your chosen industry, or a change of fortunes at the company that extended you an early offer, and suddenly you’re scrambling to secure a job in time to start paying back all those college loans. So how do you find work when your plans don’t work out? You make a new one.
When the job you’ve lined up falls through…
It may feel like the ground has just given way beneath you, but you’re likely in better shape than you think. After all, your application materials and qualifications must have been impressive to get you that initial job offer. Use the confidence you’ve earned from that accomplishment to motivate yourself to revise your materials and research other companies that might be a good fit.
Revise your résumé and cover letter
Make sure your résumé includes your most recent accomplishments, including courses completed, certifications earned, and projects accomplished since you received your now-rescinded job offer. Adhere to best practices for writing résumés and cover letters for entry-level positions. If the résumé you used to secure your first job looks stale to you now, consider using a résumé builder to repurpose your qualifications into the most appealing format possible.
Extend your online presence
Now that you’ve revised your résumé, you should upload it to professional digital networks like LinkedIn; job boards like Career Builder, Indeed, and Glassdoor; and specialized job boards within your industry (if you don’t know what these are, you need to do online research and become familiar with them as soon as possible). LinkedIn also allows you to expand upon your résumé by linking to digital portfolios, writing samples, research projects, and more.
Next, you’ll want to professionalize your online presence. If you don’t want potential employers to see your social media pages, make them private. For good measure, you should consider removing posts and images that refer to any unprofessional or potentially offensive behavior. Most HR departments check social media prior to or just after extending job offers to make sure a potential employee’s behavior won’t reflect negatively on them. If you’re wondering what foiled your postgrad job plan, this might be the answer. Finally, consider bolstering your professional online presence by creating an industry-focused website or blog. Create posts that highlight your professionally focused activities and provide links to professional sites in your field and companies where you think you might want to work. Start following industry leaders in your field on Twitter.
Retrace your steps
Get back in touch with the references you secured while pursuing your original postgrad job plan and let them know what happened. Ask them to keep you in mind if they hear about any other opportunities.
When the job market is tougher than expected…
When the media keep saying that the job prospects for graduating students are historically strong, it’s tempting to spend your final months of college enjoying the perks of senior year rather than devising a postgrad job plan. But even with the robust employment rates for college graduates seen in recent years, nearly one-third of college students opt to continue their education directly out of college or fail to enter the full-time job market for other reasons.
Create an action plan
Experts urge recent graduates whose postgrad job plans fall through to create a checklist of action items and work on one or more each day. Your list might include attending local career fairs, reaching out to former employers and mentors, or researching entry-level job opportunities for people with your academic background. As you progress, your action items might evolve to include sending out five to 10 targeted résumés a week, contacting two to three contacts in your field, or following up on applications you’ve already sent. Include a goal date—say, October 1—for when you hope to secure a position. Then set deadlines leading up to your final goal accordingly.
Create a strong template résumé and cover letter
Unless you have extensive part-time experience or multiple internships in your field, you’ll most likely want to use a functional résumé format to create your résumé. Many sites also provide templates for creating a basic cover letter as well. Most employers use automated applicant tracking systems (ATSs) that tally keywords from the job description that are found in résumés (and sometimes cover letters) and rank applicants accordingly. To make sure you make it past this first hurdle, you’ll want to assess 10–15 job descriptions for entry-level openings in your field to generate a list of keywords that honestly apply to you. Employ those keywords to describe your skills and accomplishments. To improve your chances even more, customize your résumé and cover letter for every position you apply to. This will give you an automatic advantage since many applicants fail to customize their application materials.
Adjust your expectations
It’s possible your postgrad job plans didn’t work out because you didn’t build your professional skills effectively outside of the classroom. Research indicates that recent entry-level job offers— both the number of offers and the salaries for those offers—are closely aligned with internship experience. If you didn’t have any internships while you were in college, it might be time to focus your search on a postgrad internship or fellowship rather than a job.
Sometimes life is going to throw some surprises at you, and things are definitely not going to go according to every plan you make. Accepting and embracing this now will allow you to better adapt and cope with these sudden course alterations later. You can still get back on the path to a great career and life. You may just need to pivot a little.
Find more great job search advice like this in our Internships and Careers section.