How to find your first job after university or college

Are you looking for your first job after university or college, but don’t know where to begin? Here’s a guide to getting started.

Entering the working world after university or college can seem scary. You want to feel positive, but may have a gut feeling that there won’t be a job out there that’s a perfect fit for you.

And yes, there is a chance that you may not find your dream job (or any job) straight away, but don’t lose hope because your search has only just begun.

If you’re unsure how to get started and find your first job after university or college, we’ve got some advice to help you.

Find out what help is available from your university or college

Most universities and colleges have a careers team who will be happy to help you start looking for your first job. So your first port of call should be to see what’s available at your university or college.

They’ll have advice and information on career options, job applications, and any events they run. They may also be able to help you with internships and graduate programmes. You can also find career advice on the UCAS site.

Ask friends and family for contacts

Ever heard the phrase: it’s not what you know but who you know? This is a good starting point for looking for your first post-university or college job.

The first question you need to ask yourself when starting your search is: who do you know that could help? There’s a chance you’ll know someone, or there’s someone in your extended network who knows someone who works in your desired industry.

Here are some people you can ask to find out: 

  • Your parents
  • Your friends
  • Friends of friends
  • Other relatives
  • Your friends’ parents
  • Your university or college tutors

When approaching them, you can say something like:

“I’d really like to work in [name of industry or type of role]. Do you know anyone who works in that sector/has a similar job who might be happy to speak with me and share advice?”

If you are lucky enough to find a connection, your next step would be to get in touch with that person.

How to ask for help to find work

Most people are kind and, when asked nicely, are often happy to help someone – especially a younger person trying to get their first professional break. So don’t feel shy about asking people for help or advice. The worst thing that can happen is they ignore you or say no!

And if it helps, remember that they too were one day in your position. If they’re rude to you, that says more about them than it does about you.

When you approach someone – by email, direct message or directly by speaking to them face to face or calling them – ask them if they would mind sharing some professional advice with you.

You might invite them to have a coffee with you, if that’s feasible. Or arrange a time to speak on the phone. They may even invite you into their office to speak with them.

When you speak with them, ask for advice on what they do. Some questions might be:

  • How they started their career.
  • What advice they would have for someone starting a career in their industry today.
  • Whether they know of any jobs or internship opportunities available or coming up.
  • What tips or contacts they have to help you get a job or internship.

What to do if you don’t know or can’t find anyone to ask for help

If you can’t manage to find anyone, and your relatives and friends don’t have any useful contacts, you can take your search to LinkedIn.

LinkedIn is a site where you can create a profile and search for jobs or people who may be helpful. It also enables employers to look for job candidates. So the better you present yourself on LinkedIn, the more people will want to employ you or find out more about you.

Once your LinkedIn profile is properly filled in, look for people who might be helpful to you – people you would want to work for, or who work in the industry you want to work in.

Send them a connection request with a quick note explaining why you want to make contact. And if they accept, you can send them a short message explaining you’re looking for advice to start your career, and whether it’s okay to ask them some quick questions.

Find useful contacts online

The internet knows almost everything. So try heading onto the web and search for employment opportunities.

Collect as many contacts as you can and start getting in touch with people; the more people you contact, the better. And don’t wait for people to approach you with opportunities – there is a chance that they will forget that you’re looking.

Instead, show that you’re keen and interested, and help them to remember you as ready and enthusiastic when an opportunity comes up.

To do this (without badgering them all the time) connect with them on LinkedIn and make sure you use your profile regularly and post and share content that demonstrates your knowledge and enthusiasm. This will gently keep you front of mind.

Apply speculatively to companies

Don’t wait for the perfect role to become available at your dream company. You may not be aware it’s being advertised, and even if you are, when you apply you’ll probably be competing with dozens, if not hundreds, of equally capable candidates.

Instead, get a head start on your fellow graduate job seekers and send a speculative CV to companies you’d love to work for. Find the person who would hire the kind of role you’d like and send them your CV with an email briefly explaining what you’re looking for.

If you’re not sure who the best person to contact is, call the company up and ask. You’re much more likely to have success with this approach if you have the direct email address of the right person to contact. Sending your CV to an info@ or similar email address can just risk it disappearing into a catch-all inbox or just being ignored or deleted.

If you want to show extra initiative, you can follow up your email with a phone call a week later if you haven’t heard anything. In the call, you can say you’re just checking they received your email (it may have got buried in their inbox) and politely ask if they have any opportunities that may be suitable for you.

If not, ask if they can keep your details on file and get in touch if anything does come up later.

Use a recruitment agency

You can also contact a recruitment agency to help you find a job. Specialist sector agencies will know your industry well, and be able to advise you on how to get started in it. They can also help you to improve your CV and cover letter, and give you advice on job interviews.

They will have plenty of industry connections too, and can send your CV out speculatively to companies on your behalf. And if you don’t get a job they put you forward for, they should be able to give you feedback you can use to ensure you improve your chances in future.

But it’s worth remembering that agencies are paid by employers, not you, so their main loyalty will lie with them.

When initiating conversations with recruitment agencies, ask them what kind of opportunities they have and how many candidates they put forward for roles. You also want to make sure that they put you forward for jobs you actually want, and don’t simply use you as a filler to keep employers happy with a particular number of candidates.

Look for graduate jobs online

Whether you’re emerging from university or college with a degree or other qualification, you can find plenty of graduate jobs online.

Here are some UK websites that list graduate openings and opportunities (in no particular order):

Be choosy about which jobs you apply for

When applying for jobs, don’t take a blanket approach and just churn out identikit CVs and cover letters for any role that vaguely looks interesting – and even some that don’t!

Instead cherry pick the roles you genuinely think you’ll be good at and enjoy, and spend time tweaking your CV and cover letter so your application stands a fighting chance of not just making it past the ATS, but actually landing you an interview.

By taking this more considered approach, you won’t waste your time applying for roles you’ll never be considered for, and missing the opportunity in roles you might have succeeded in, with a generic application that doesn’t stand out.

With so much competition, you need to make every application count. And the last thing you want to do is become disheartened and give up because you’ve applied for 2,000 jobs and not been invited for a single interview.

Get help from Jobcentre Plus

And finally, if you’re really struggling to find work, don’t be afraid to get help from Jobcentre Plus. You can also get help to find a job from the government in the UK here.

What to do next?

Ready to start your job hunt? The first thing you need to do is get your resume/CV up to scratch. While you should ideally tweak it for each job, it’s important to get the core of it prepared. To help you, here’s some advice:

Rosie Heath is a pupil at Chatsmore Catholic High School and aspiring journalist.