What to do if you're newly qualified and can't get your first job

In the early nineties I managed to time my emergence from college to exactly coincide with the beginning of the last recession.

It wasn’t a nice time. Jobs were in short supply and the jobs that were advertised were usually deluged with applicants.

Newly qualified people are bound to feel a downturn the hardest. You don’t have a track record, your skill set may not exactly match what is required by industry. In addition, people with work experience, who’ve been made redundant, start applying for entry level jobs.

I sat out the entire early nineties recession. I did washing up jobs, mowed lawns but basically not what I’d trained for.

What can you do if you are newly qualified but can’t get a job?

  • Don’t blame yourself – it isn’t your fault the banks managed to lend money to people who couldn’t pay it back so don’t beat yourself up. Fortunately, most employers will understand a period of unemployment during a recession and won’t hold it against you;
  • Keep your hand in – learn new skills and brush up existing ones that are in demand by employers. Show some initiative, learn skills that are new enough to be in short supply. That’s how I got my first job (Windows programming in C). Participation in an open source project wouldn’t hurt either. You need to be able to put a positive spin when the inevitable job interview comes up and you’re asked what you’ve been up to for the last x months. Saying that you’re an expert on the Jerry Springer show won’t work I’m afraid;
  • Keep up a workmanlike routine – whilst you might feel like watching daytime soaps all day, don’t! Keep up a regular routine. Get your ass out of bed in the morning and get into a job search routine. Scan the internet for jobs and the local and national press. Your local library can supply you with plenty of free resources;
  • Network – keep in touch with your college buddies and attend networking groups related to technologies that interest you. A lot of jobs are never advertised so to get a look in you need to know the right people. My first job wasn’t advertised, my Father got talking to somebody from a software house who needed Windows programmers fast. They had just started their first Windows based product. Happily I’d been learning how to program Windows (in the Windows 3.1 days) for about a year so I was pretty well clued up. As things turned out, of the five people on the team, I knew the most about Windows programming even though I was technically the junior. The product we created has sold more than 500,000 licences in the last sixteen years;
  • Earn money wherever you can find it – careers are all very well, but in the end you are just earning money. If you are earning enough money to pay your bills then you get time to figure stuff out;
  • Compromise, compromise, compromise – it’s that ‘C’ word again. You may have spent your college years dreaming about Bill Gates begging on bended knee for you to go work for Microsoft, but unfortunately, that ain’t gonna happen. You don’t have to take the first job offered but, after a while, what you would have looked down on as a rubbish job may start to look a lot more attractive. I very, very nearly ended up a nurse maid to an old (no make that ancient) Burroughs mini computer for a fish processing company. It was only because the company took 3 months to decide to hire me that I didn’t end up there. I wouldn’t have liked it, but it was very nearly the only option.

By far the biggest lesson I learned was not to be too hard on yourself. Sometimes things just aren’t your fault but that doesn’t mean you can’t do something about the effects upon you. Be proactive in your search, keep up on the industry and try to do something interesting so that when you finally do get an interview you are positive and enthusiastic. You don’t want to give the impression of being miserable in your interview even if that’s how you feel. The interviewer isn’t interested… they just want somebody to fill a vacant post not to be your sounding board. That’s what friends and family are for… 😉