Graduated but don’t have a job yet? Tips and words of wisdom from VP at Robert Half

Posted May 14, 2018 by


If you’ve graduated from college and the reality of the job search has sunk in, you’re not alone. We spoke with Kathleen Downs, who is Vice President with Robert Half Finance & Accounting. She has advised many entry-level job seekers and professionals in launching their careers, and we offer her advice here. There is definitely light at the end of the tunnel–there are jobs for grads out there–and Downs has concrete tips for fixing some possible mistakes you might be making in your job search.

Don’t panic—you can and will find a job!

“You only have to make the transition from student to professional one time,” says Downs. “It’s the hardest move you’re ever going to make. You have to put as much work into the job search as you did into getting your education.” It pays to have this mentality and prepare for the hard work, she says, because if you know ahead of time, you won’t be surprised. If your friends have snagged jobs already, you might have an impression that it’ll be easy. For most people, it’s not.

You’re entering the workforce with little experience, and if you haven’t done an internship, you may have no formal work experience. But Downs insists that you have done something to show for yourself. Any experience you have volunteering, working with a student organization, a part-time job in high school or helping with a family business—all that is valuable. You have built skills through that experience and now you just have to think through how that applies in the working world.

Downs says that what gets people the job every time is what’s not on your resume, in fact. Your resume explains your work experience, your education and skills you’ve acquired. But “nowhere on the resume is your work ethic, leadership presence, an outgoing personality.” These kinds of personal qualities don’t necessarily shine on the resume, so it’s important to network and get in front of people.

Read our Definitive Guide to Networking for Students and Grads to Succeed in the Job Search

You will certainly apply for jobs online, but you must supplement that online activity with in person networking activities. Downs encourages job seekers to go to job fairs, even if the fair isn’t targeted to your field of study. Talk to the recruiters there and acknowledge that you’re not looking for those particular positions but you want to work for their company. This way, the recruiter sees your face and you can take their business card and follow up afterward. Those recruiters are likely seeking candidates for many jobs, not just the ones promoted at the job fair.

Downs often hears from graduates that they’re concerned about their lack of internship experience. If you didn’t do an internship because you had to work to pay for school, that is an important thing for recruiters to know about you. You are likely a remarkable candidate compared to others because of the professional experience and responsibility you’ve picked up along the way.

If you’ve had to work to pay for school, you are likely a remarkable candidate compared to others because of the professional experience and responsibility you’ve picked up along the way.

Advice for sticking out a job you don’t like while you search for a better one

Customer service gives you good experienceIf you’re working, say part-time in retail, says Downs, “the most important thing is to do a good job so that you have a really good reference when the time comes when you’re getting your professional job. You want to be known as the person who comes to work on time, somebody who’s prepared, somebody who gives good customer service, somebody who can be relied upon, somebody who represents the company well, somebody who is well groomed and well put together.”

Also read: How to get out of customer service and transfer your skills to a new career

If you are working in customer service, you have contact with a lot of people. Take advantage of those opportunities when someone asks you about yourself. Say you just graduated and that you’re looking for a job in a certain field.

Also, if you’re working somewhere that doesn’t make you jump out of bed every morning, remember that no job is perfect. There will be parts of every job that you don’t enjoy as much, and Downs encourages job seekers to expect and accept that.

One important tip from Downs is to find a mentor. A mentor could be someone who graduated a few years before you, an advisor or professor, a family friend, etc. Not only can they help you network, but they can help you understand and develop your own personal brand. “It’s really important to understand how others perceive you.” A mentor can help you describe yourself better or explain the choices you’ve made, which helps fine tune your personal brand.

“You want to be known as the person who comes to work on time, somebody who’s prepared, somebody who gives good customer service, somebody who can be relied upon, somebody who represents the company well, somebody who is well groomed and well put together.”

7 tips to fix mistakes that might be costing you the job

your resume must be perfect

  1. Your resume. Above all, Downs sees too many mistakes on job seekers’ resumes. Your resume simply cannot have any mistakes. Have copies of your resume in your car and make business cards for yourself. Bring them everywhere you go. Talk to everyone who will listen about your goals and skills.

Read our Definitive Guide to Resume Writing for Students and Grads

2. Your social profiles. Downs reminds job seekers to update your LinkedIn profile. Get people to recommend you (a surefire way it to recommend others first). Join groups that are related to your field. Put a professional head shot on your profile. Also, she says to make sure you clean up your voice mail and social media. Your goofy voice mail message that was fun in college has to change. It can no longer say, “you know who I am, you know what to do.” State your name. Have a professional email that identifies who you are.

Also see: What a job seeker should audit on their social media

  1. The interview. When it comes to the interview, don’t underdress. For an interview, you should dress more formally than others who work there. Also, you must prepare by researching the company beforehand. Bring a leather portfolio to take notes and insert business cards, Downs suggests. During the interview, don’t give yes or no answers. Give examples. “This is your chance to elaborate.” Think about those specific things you’ve done that demonstrate the skills required.

Send a thank you note that restates your skills. Downs has seen recruiters accidentally attribute positive qualities from one interviewee to another. A thank-you card that reminds them who you are will take care of that.

Also, Downs sees too many job seekers put their job search on hold while they wait to hear back after an interview, only to find out they didn’t get the job. Don’t wait to apply for other jobs!

Also read the Entry-Level Job Seeker’s Guide to Interviewing

  1. Does nothing seem to work? If you’re not getting invited to any interviews, it’s time to do some self-reflection. Talk to your mentors, family and friends to understand where your strengths lie, and whether you’re applying for jobs that really fit who you are.

Be positive to find jobs for gradsBe as positive as you can, says Downs. “Employers want to hire people who really want to work there. There can be no negativity in a job search.” It can be discouraging to be turned down for several jobs, but employers “don’t want to bring in someone who is negative.” “If you’re getting discouraged, reach out to your mentor or someone who cares about you,” says Downs. They can remind you what you’re skilled at and motivate you to keep going.

Take any negative experiences and learn from them. If your interview went badly, ask yourself what you can do better next time? “You have to realize that you’re going to fail, these are new skills that have to be developed. You get better when you do it more often,” says Downs.

  1. Don’t wait around to get some kind of experience. Sign up to volunteer somewhere. Not only will that organization’s network become available to you as you get to know them, but the experience can build relevant professional skills.
  2. Go back to your alma mater’s career fair. In fact, as someone with a few months of experience, be that volunteer or part-time work, and immediate availability, you may stand out among the undergraduate crowd.
  3. Read about what’s going on in your field of interest. Most major markets have a business journals, which publish the fastest growing companies. Find out which of those are near you and follow them, suggests Downs. Keep up to date in those companies and the business world.


Kathleen DownsKathleen Downs is Senior Vice President at Robert Half  International, which is the oldest specialized staffing agency in the country.

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