You’ve just finished your degree and invested the last 4+ years of your life into making sure that you’re prepared with the skills and expertise to land a job in your field. You’re ready and willing to work, but nobody seems ready or willing to hire you. Sound familiar? With 40% of recent university graduates overqualified for the work they do1, and 1 in 5 unable to find work at all2, this is an unfortunate reality for many. In fact, when the career prospects of Millennials are discussed in the media, these young job seekers are often referred to as “generation jobless” and even “generation screwed3.

Post grad illustrationWe know that the school-to-work transition is a difficult and daunting process, but what do we know about those individuals who have been successful at finding employment? What can we learn from how they have navigated the job search process? This is what I set out to discover as a researcher with the University of Calgary. Through this project I interviewed recent graduates across Western Canada who were successfully employed in their field of study to find out (a) what they believed helped them during the job search process, and (b) what made finding work more difficult or challenging for them.

Six key themes emerged from this research that explained what helped, and what hindered, young job seekers during the job search process. From their perspective, recent university graduates felt that the following factors played a pivotal role in their ability to find employment:

Previous Experience: Participants found their previous occupational, academic, and personal learning experiences to be critical in helping them find employment; particularly when said experiences were relevant to their field of interest and/or added unique value to their application. In contrast, perceived experience (i.e., the beliefs or perceptions of others) presented a challenge to young job seekers, who often felt they needed to work harder because of their age to prove themselves as worthy applicants.

Connections: Both networks (i.e., a person with whom one has a pre-existing relationships beyond the context of work) and networking (i.e., potential contacts sought out for the purpose of furthering one’s professional growth and advancement) played a role in supporting the success of recent graduates in finding employment. Whereas networks proved to be more closely related to specific job offers, networking more commonly provided job seekers with information about unique opportunities for work.

Personal Qualities: Four personal qualities were identified by participants as relevant to and impacting success in the job search, including (a) concern (i.e., proactivity, planning, and forward thinking), (b) control (i.e., making decisions and taking responsibility for one’s actions), (c) curiosity (i.e., observing and exploring different ways of doing things), and (d) confidence (i.e., the ability to efficiently perform the task of conducting a job search).

Unexpected Opportunity: Participants often considered luck or chance events to play a role in their ability to find employment, commonly citing being in the right place at the right time as a contributing factor in their job search success.

Labour Market Conditions: Though a barrier for many, recent graduates expressed feeling particularly disadvantaged by poor labour market conditions. Participants indicated that a low level of supply and high level of demand for entry-level jobs often left them disadvantaged due to their limited experience compared to other job seekers.

Logistical Skills: An ability to navigate the process of applying for jobs, as well as having a strong cover letter, resume, and/or interview, were all identified by participants as critical to supporting their ability to secure employment. Serving as the most direct, and often influential, means by which to make an impression on a potential employer, participants believed that being skilled in the logistics of the job search served as their best opportunity to stand out from other applicants.

Understanding how recent university graduates have successfully navigated the job search process allows current students and future graduates to learn from these experiences and integrate similar strategies into their own search for work. For those embarking on the transition from school-to-work, clarifying how to successfully conduct a job search and approach the job search process in a modern economy is an essential support. In learning from the successes and struggles of those who have effectively navigated this transition process in the past, we open the door to better understanding how to create a more hopeful future for those to come.


1 Lao & Scholz, 2015
2 Statistics Canada, 2017
3 The National, 2014
Image retrieved from

April Dyrda, MSc
Research Assistant
Calgary Career Counselling