Navigating the Job Market after Graduation

Student exploring careers after graduation

A Comprehensive Guide to Landing Your Dream Job

While predictions show a slightly more challenging job1market for graduates in 2024, the overall outlook is still positive. According to these findings, employers are expecting to decrease hiring efforts by 1.9%2. However, this slight decrease is following two years of nearly exponential growth in hiring. So, even with this decrease, the job market is still overwhelmingly positive for new graduates. 

“To be sure, if the projections hold, members of the Class of 2024 are still entering a strong job market, although they may need to be flexible to attain the position they want,” said Shawn VanDerziel3, the National Association of Colleges and Employers’s President and Chief Executive Officer, in a statement.

Even with a positive outlook on hiring prospects, it is always critical for new and upcoming graduates to prepare themselves for the challenges of entering the job market after graduation. Whether it is job hunting, interviewing, or negotiating salary, there are several challenges one should be ready to tackle. Here is a step-by-step guide to getting yourself job market-ready.

Step 1: Assess Your Skills, Interests, and Career Goals

Before entering the job market, you should assess your skills, interests, and career goals. Taking the time to evaluate yourself will not only help you understand your strengths and weaknesses, but also enable you to make informed decisions about your future career path. 

One of the first items you can consider is conducting a career assessment. An assessment such as this typically involves reflecting on your academic achievements, extracurricular activities, and relevant work experience you gained during your studies. When you go through this exercise effectively, you can really begin to nail down where you excel and how these can be applied to a work setting—and where you may need some additional time to learn.

You can also use this time for additional self-reflection. Take stock of your personal attributes. How do you communicate with others in a professional setting? Are you a good problem solver? Do you work well with a team? One way to delve into these is by taking a variety of personality assessments. Each of these assessments will give you insight you can leverage to help narrow down your job search and identify reasonable career goals. 

Another great option is to meet with a career adviser, like the ones available to all St. John’s University students, to get a better sense of what paths may be available to you and how to improve your chances of success. When you have a deeper understanding of yourself, you can better apply these to a professional setting and get a sense of which industries may be the best fit for your personality and skills. 

Step 2: Craft an Effective Résumé and Cover Letter

When writing your résumé after graduation, focus on highlighting your education, internships, relevant coursework, and any extracurricular activities or leadership positions you held during your time in school. This will show potential employers you have the skills and experience needed for entry-level positions. When it comes to your cover letter, keep in mind recent graduates often lack extensive work experience, so you’re not necessarily expected to come across as a seasoned professional. Instead of dwelling on what you don't have, emphasize your enthusiasm and willingness to learn. Talk about specific projects or coursework that demonstrate your abilities and passion for the field as well as soft skills you have developed. This will help you craft a resume that will increase your chances of getting the interview—and then the job. 

It’s also important to avoid common résumé and cover letter pitfalls. Most importantly: do not forget to proofread! Spelling errors and simple typos will leave a negative impression on recruiters. When recruiters often have hundreds of résumés to review, mistakes such as spelling or grammar can quickly knock you out of the running. 

Also, be mindful of the format. Your résumé shouldn’t be more than one page as you are not going to have years of experience under your belt. Keep it clean and organized with clear headings for each section. 

Another common mistake is not completing or not taking the cover letter seriously. While typically not required, the cover letter is a place to not only show your skill set and eagerness to learn, but also your personality. This is an opportunity to let the recruiter get to know a bit about you and form some type of connection before the interview. If you skip this step, or complete it haphazardly, you could be missing out. 

Step 3: Leverage Online Job Search Platforms and Networking Opportunities

There are two key strategies that can greatly improve your job search that you should implement well before your Commencement ceremony: using job search platforms and networking opportunities. As it has been said, “It’s not always what you know, but who you know.” So, having a robust alumni network available to you can be beneficial to your job search. 

St. John’s University has an extensive network of 198,000+ alumni who continue to be involved with students. We offer the Aspire mentor program, where alumni assist St. John’s students and fellow grads through the career exploration and job search processes. The University also encourages alumni to post job and internship opportunities on its own online recruiting portal—Handshake. Handshake provides full-time, part-time, temporary, and internship opportunities targeted by employers to St. John's University matriculated, degree-seeking students and alumni. 

Additionally, Career Services offers several professional workshops each month to help you with important topics related to job searches, networking, and more. Career Services is also active on LinkedIn with their group @GetHiredStJohns, where they share career information and events with the St. John's community. 

Step 4: Nailing the Interview and Standing Out from Other Candidates

Nailing the interview becomes one of the most important parts of the job search process. And while this process may seem daunting for some—especially those who may be more introverted in nature—with a few key tips, you can master any job interview.

  • Conduct Thorough Research: One basic, but arguably most important, tip is to research the company for which you are interviewing. Research their values and industry. See what developments have happened in their organization so you can tailor your responses with the organization’s goals and objectives. Thorough research will also show your interest in the job, as well as an understanding of how your skills and background could fit into the organization.
  • Practice Answering Questions: While each interview and interviewer is unique, there are some similarities for which you should prepare yourself. For instance, almost every interview may have a question along the lines of, “What is your greatest weakness?” This is not the time to say you’re “too hard working” or “too focused on work.” Keep it real. Instead, give a thoughtful answer revealing a weakness you had and how you overcame that weakness. For example, if you initially had trouble with procrastination in college, but later developed a task list to keep you focused, this would be a great opportunity to mention how you conquered a problem and made it an asset.
  • Highlight Your Unique Qualities and Skills: In interviews for entry-level jobs, recruiters will not expect you to have extensive work experience, but they still need to know what makes you different from every other candidate. For example, did you participate in any research activities? Do you have any language proficiencies they could leverage? Use this opportunity to showcase any relevant coursework or projects that would be relevant as well.
  • Project Confidence: It’s not what you say, but how you say it. Never underestimate the importance of tone of voice and body language. Keeping good posture, making eye contact, and offering a firm handshake all convey self-assurance and professionalism. Similarly, speaking clearly and with conviction demonstrates confidence in your abilities and ideas. Employers are more likely to be impressed by candidates who appear self-assured and assertive, as these qualities signal readiness for the role and inspire trust and credibility.
  • Ask Good Questions: Almost every interview will likely end the same way, where the employer gives you the opportunity to ask them questions. Never say no. Asking thoughtful questions demonstrates not only your engagement, but also your genuine interest in the role and the company. It shows that you were paying attention throughout the conversation and have a desire to learn more. Moreover, asking insightful questions provides you with valuable insights into the company culture, expectations for the role, and potential growth opportunities. This information can help you assess whether the position aligns with your career goals and preferences.

Step 5: Negotiating Salary and Evaluating Job Offers

Navigating salary negotiations and evaluating job offers can be a pivotal step for recent graduates entering the workforce. While it may feel daunting, it's crucial to advocate for fair compensation that reflects your skills, experience, and the value you bring to the company. Approaching a salary negotiation requires a thoughtful strategy. Instead of presenting a list of demands, focus on building a strong case for why your skills and experience warrant a higher salary. Take the time to rehearse your arguments and anticipate any potential objections. Confidence in your ability to deliver value to the company is key, so make sure it's evident throughout the negotiation process. You may also want to consider the following when evaluating salaries in job offers:

  • Industry Standards: Research industry standards and salary ranges for similar roles to establish a baseline for negotiations.
  • Unique Company Considerations: Look into recent events such as staff reductions and gauge how long the position you're applying for has been vacant. If the company has recently undergone budget cuts or layoffs, your negotiating leverage may be impacted, depending on the role. Conversely, if the company has faced challenges in filling the position, you may have more negotiating power.
  • Consider More than Compensation: Look beyond just the salary and consider benefits, perks, and opportunities for professional development. Evaluate the company's culture, growth potential, and work-life balance to ensure it aligns with your career goals.
  • Ask Questions and Seek Clarification: Don't hesitate to ask questions during the negotiation process or seek clarification on any aspects of the job offer that are unclear.

Bringing It All Together

Navigating the job market after graduation requires preparation and strategic thinking. While 2024 may pose some challenges, it's essential to approach it with confidence and diligence. At St. John's University, we provide a range of resources and support to assist graduates in their job search journey. From refining résumés to honing interview skills and negotiation strategies, we ensure you are well-equipped for success in the professional world. With determination and the support of our community, recent graduates can confidently embark on their career path, ready to tackle the competitive job market. Check our Career Services for more information on how St. John’s can help you navigate the job market.