What Really Stops You From Getting a Job When You Graduate

There isn’t a clear path to many careers.

Which means, for some, post-graduation life can be a terrifying prospect—like being dropped in the middle of the woods with no survival gear.

That was certainly my experience. Altogether, I spent almost 6 years job hunting, and I made a lot of mistakes that slowed that process down.

I didn’t make the obvious mistakes. While I was stressing over the perfect resume or cover letter, I was ignoring some glaring flaws that were truly holding me back.

So I’m writing an article that I seriously wish I could send to my 20-year-old, fresh out of college self. It would have saved me a lot of time and stress.

I made every one of these mistakes. Please don’t do the same.

Being impatient

“Macro patience and micro speed,” is a concept that social media entrepreneur, Gary Vaynerchuk talks about a lot.

It means that you have to put your big goals in the long view. It doesn’t matter if your goal is to just land your first job, buy a new car or be a billionaire-playboy-philanthropist. It’s not going to happen overnight.

I thought my diploma, proudly highlighted on a clean, templated resume was my golden ticket to a well-paying gig. So I would read job descriptions that said, “Entry Level position, 2 – 3 years of experience needed” and ignore it.

But here’s the thing. They’re not just saying that. Which means you need to find ways to gain that experience.

I found this out the hard way when I kept losing opportunities to people with more experience in their field.

Think of it this way. If you want to skip those 2 – 3 years of experience and apply, you’re competing against someone who probably does have those 2 – 3 years of experience. I found this out the hard way when I kept losing opportunities to people with more experience in their field.

“How am I supposed to get a job that requires experience if I can’t get any experience in the first place?”

You might need to work for free. Freelancing or making your own project are good, and you’ll definitely need to network your butt off (we’ll get to all that later). For now, just realize that the path to getting a job is longer than just making it to graduation.

My advice is to learn to savour, and indeed get addicted to, little victories. Learn to love the grind and look to achieve the mini-milestones as frequently as you can. For me, it was having each freelance opportunity lead to the next one, landing part-time opportunities, and eventually, a full-time position.

PR mastermind, Ryan Holiday also talks about the small steps you make to work toward your goal.

Not showing your work

So you graduate and think, “Right, I’ve got my degree, that should tell employers that I’m AWESOME. How could they not want to hire me?”

The assumption being that those check marks on your resume make you a credible candidate—that you’ve accomplished enough and are ready for “all the money now please and thank you.”

But employers want to see what you’ve actually accomplished. What you’ve done. What you’ve built. What you’ve made.

It can be hard to rack up accomplishments when it seems like gatekeepers are keeping their respective gates good and shut. Or if you feel like you don’t have a platform to showcase yourself.

 “Say ‘yes’ a lot. Especially early in your career.”

To fix the first problem, I’ll quote some great advice from a great mentor (a dude who has worked in everything from advertising to TV comedy writing to video games) who said, “Say ‘yes’ a lot. Especially early in your career. Try a lot of things and take every opportunity to build your portfolio. You never know what will lead to the next thing.”

Since then I’ve always tried to snag interesting opportunities to showcase my work. That’s meant long train rides to underground music venues and weird parties. It’s meant staying up until 5 a.m. to get an article and photos submitted by a deadline. It’s meant spending my whole weekend finishing a screenplay, or doing yet another rewrite. It’s meant taking every part-time or freelance opportunity that popped up, but it’s also meant doing a lot of work for free.

The payoff? I got to go to dozens of cool concerts and conventions for free. I met a few cool bands and creators. I grew my network, developed my skill set, failed (free of consequence)  and built my portfolio. I’m still not (and never will be) done to saying “yes” to cool and interesting opportunities.

 Start your own blog, or YouTube channel, go out and use that as an excuse to meet with people…

But what if no one will give you a shot and you don’t have that all-important platform to showcase yourself, make one yourself. Start your own blog, or YouTube channel, go out and use that as an excuse to meet with people, to get into events, to build your own portfolio and your brand, and focus on making that awesome—until someone gives you a shot based on what you’ve done.

A lot of students want to jump right to the top after graduation. But you have to know that every little thing can lead to something slightly bigger. Accomplishment comes in many, many baby steps. Not a few giant leaps. .

Not continuously learning

Pat Riley, one of the greatest NBA coaches, once said, “Excellence is the gradual result of always striving to do better.”

When school ends you can sometimes have this false narrative of, “Well, I know all the things I need to know or will ever know.”

That is dangerous bullshit. Too much confidence can be a poison.

Schools sort of need to make you believe you’ll be an absolute pro by the time you graduate, because they need your money.

Walking into my first gig as an editor, I thought I knew it all. I had a lot of confidence and like felt I had all the answers.

It was about a day before I realized I was way the fuck over my head, and I no clue what I was doing.

I had been a published writer and section editor for about two years, so I thought I could handle running one little blog for a Student Union. It was about a day before I realized I was way the fuck over my head, and I no clue what I was doing. I got better, but it probably took a year to build the skills I really needed.

School doesn’t end and you’re just done with learning. Besides learning through practical application, you should be studying your field constantly—staying current with news and trends and trying to learn new techniques and philosophies.

Your school curriculum probably didn’t move nearly as fast as your chosen industry so you’ve got to get a head of it.

Say you want to work in Social Media. It’s not enough to be a good writer with a marketing degree.

You may also need to research other skills that will help you get your desired job. Say you want to work in Social Media. It’s not enough to be a good writer with a marketing degree. You should be learning how to cut video, record audio, edit photos, create illustrations.

You can’t be one thing, and you can’t ever stop learning. And if you do stop, just remember, a lot of people who are applying for the job you want won’t.

In any endeavour (even if you do score that job) be ready to fail, eager to learn, stay humble and thankful of your mentors.

Not growing your network

I know. If one more person tells you that you need to network, you’re gonna puke. Then your puke is gonna puke.

But I can’t emphasize enough how much of an understatement, “It’s all about who you know” is.

It goes so much further than, “I met a dude at a thing one time.” The relationships you cultivate and the people you get to know, the mentors you work for and learn from are going to shape you moving forward.

Sometimes this means doing a lot of work for people for free, especially if you’re in a  creative field. It means getting your ass kicked and getting brutally honest feedback. Feeling bad, but then picking yourself up and trying again (see above).

Volunteer work can be so important here, because the consequences of failure are low, but the potential gain is so high. Think of the work you put in like an investment. Except you’re the stock.

Sometimes, networking means chasing people down for weeks or months before they agree to have coffee with you so they can pick your brain. Sometimes it means going to some organized industry event where you don’t know anyone and you have to go up and talk to strangers.

Good networking is investigation and curiosity. Besides giving you a leg up, and a foot in the door, it lets you know where you might be a good fit.

You say you want to work for Nike, or Ford, or Google or Student Life Network… but do you have any idea what their culture is like? What the people who work there are like? Can you stomach being there 8, 9, 12 hours a day?

Not asking how you could help

The default method to being in a job interview is to try to sell yourself and your skills.

Don’t. Do. That.

If you’re sitting in a job interview, chances are your interviewees have already determined you have the skills to work there.

They’re interviewing you to find if you can actually help them. Are you actually going to help solve problems within the organization?

I can tell you how many job interviews I blew (including, my first one at SLN) because I never shut the fuck up about me and asked, “So tell me what you guys need help with?”

This isn’t just a good method for job interviews. It’s good for your career and your life.

People want to collaborate with people who can help them, and they want to help people who have helped them.

Your gut instinct before anything might be to ask, “how does this help me?” when applying for jobs or trying to connect with a potential mentor.

But what you should really be asking is, “how does this help them?”

*Opinions expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Student Life Network or their partners.
Chris D’Alessandro

Chris D’Alessandro

Chris D’Alessandro is the Communications Manager at Student Life Network. He puts words together in fancy ways and has more cover-up tattoos than he'd care to admit.