Too often, the voices of young people are left out of the noise that proliferates about jobs and employability. Partly because many stakeholders in this space have competing agendas that lose sight of how they affect young job seekers. So, I asked graduates from my LinkedIn connections and wider network what it’s like job searching in your 20s. Their voices reflect a qualitative snapshot in August 2017 of their experiences, perspectives, and opinions. Graduates describe how the job search feels, what it’s like engaging with employers and recruitment processes, and what helps and hinders. This post gives you a flavour of the research findings.

Psychologically, it can be so tough, destabilising, and demoralising going through the job hunt – Graduate

researchIn total, 20 graduates commented with varying degrees (5 with Masters), in different jobs and sectors (not all Graduate-level). Of these, 12 are employed permanently and full-time (2 yet to start), 4 part-time (1 on a fixed-term contract), 1 self-employed, 1 internship, 1 not in work, 1 about to go travelling. The age range is spread evenly from 21 to 30.

Research themes

In summary, there are 13 themes arising from the responses:

  • There are jobs out there.
  • Work experience matters.
  • Mentors and peer support make a difference.
  • Networking is important for leverage.
  • Being resilient helps.
  • Learning from trial and error.
  • Job searching feels demoralising (unhelpful recruitment processes).
  • It takes time and dedication.
  • Lack of responses from employers is frustrating.
  • Effectiveness of careers support is patchy.
  • Gap between employers’ desire for experience and graduates’ offer of potential.
  • Competition is fierce.
  • Showing who you really are is a challenge.

I know loads of people in their 20s who don’t have a particular laid-out profession from their degree. It’s hard when doing an application that it’s really obvious you don’t have direction. People are finding their feet and trying to find things out. For me, it’s a source of insecurity – Graduate

Research conclusions

The evidence from this group of graduates suggests a haphazard journey of finding a job that fits, picking up skills and insights through trial and error, and managing expectations in the light of experience. While every individual’s experience, approach, and ambitions are personal, there are some common themes around relationship-building and self-management.

ResearchHappily, most of these graduates are succeeding in spite of perceived barriers around existing recruitment processes and the quality of career advice. Nonetheless, dull assessment and conformity to playing the game can stifle authenticity. Every generation deserves attraction, selection, and retention by employers in effective and engaging ways. Everyone wins when hiring is designed deliberately to enable young people to show their full capabilities and potential.

In conclusion, what stands out from these graduate voices is the desire not to settle for less, persistence, and adaptability. Life after graduating can be exciting and daunting. Some struggle more than others with navigating their way through uncertainty and fragmented career advice. Yet, graduates have a greater chance of success when they:

  • recognise and adopt a balance between optimism and realism in finding meaningful work;
  • have a mix of the right support and guidance, personal initiative and responsibility, and the know-how you need to engage with an ever-changing job market; and
  • take ownership of their ongoing learning to stay up-to-date and be employable.

That’s a solid platform from which to explore during your 20s. It’s a time to learn about who you want to be, to identify your contribution to the world, and how best to manage yourself along the way. Because career navigating needs 21st Century skill sets and mindsets in an uncertain world.

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Read the paper. I got asked at interviews the current interest rate, and 3 major things in the news this week, for example – some graduates don’t know this stuff! – Graduate

Finally, the graduates gave tips that helped them (like the one above) and, also, what didn’t help during their job search. Explore these 23 takeaways in this free e-book, Graduate Voices: Job Searching in Your 20s, including their full unedited views.

If you are in your 20s, what’s your experience of job searching? How does it feel? What helps and hinders?