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5 student and graduate job-hunting pain points

November 2021

Half of student and graduate jobseekers lack motivation when looking for opportunities, and many worry that they don't have the experience and skills employers look for

At the start of 2021, Prospects surveyed over 7,000 of its users to get a snapshot of student and graduate career plans. We asked them about the challenges they faced when looking for a job or apprenticeship, and the findings identify areas where they may need more support, as well as highlighting the importance of careers guidance in higher and further education.

1. Work experience

The most common concern reported by students and graduates was 'having the required work experience' for a job (64%). Many young people had their work placements or internships cancelled due to the pandemic, leaving some at a disadvantage.

Students may benefit from advice on how to build up their skills and knowledge in alternative ways so they can still demonstrate their talent in their applications.1 Encouraging them to start early by applying for opportunities in their first of college/sixth form and university, instead of leaving it until their final year when time can be limited, may help them to feel more prepared for job searching.

When looking for a job/apprenticeship, 43% were unsure what kind of opportunities would suit them. This is where careers advisers play a crucial role in helping students and graduates.  

2. Finding opportunities

Three-fifths of respondents struggled to find a job to apply to. At the time of survey the UK was in lockdown, so many companies, particularly those in the arts and hospitality, had ceased or reduced their recruitment activities. Despite this, many graduate recruiters continued to hire and as restrictions ease more opportunities will become available.

A significant amount of UK employers don't look for employees with a specific degree, so a non-linear career path could be an option for graduates.2 They may find information on what they can do with their degree useful, so they can apply for jobs and work in industries where their degree isn't a requirement but their experience and skills are advantageous.3

3. Staying motivated

The jobs market can be extremely competitive, and jobseekers may find themselves applying for several positions before being successful. It's even more challenging during turbulent economic times, or if the desired role is highly sought after. This could explain why 50% of survey respondents found it difficult to stay motivated while job hunting. Developing skills such as resilience, and handling rejection could help students and graduates stay positive while navigating the jobs market.4

4. Lack of skills

Almost half (48%) of respondents were concerned about having the required skills for a job. It might be reassuring for students and graduates to know that most employers look at someone's potential, not just their skillset, and they are willing to invest heavily in their new hires.5 Employers do expect a professional attitude and a range of transferable skills, but students and graduates shouldn't be put off applying for a role is they don't meet all the criteria. Technical and workplace skills tend to be developed once they enter employment.6

5. Knowing what job/apprenticeship will suit them

When looking for a job/apprenticeship, 43% were unsure what kind of opportunities would suit them. This is where careers advisers play a crucial role in helping students and graduates understand what roles will best match their skills and attributes. However, some of the survey respondents said they hadn't received any careers advice from their school or college or university so they may not be aware that support is available.

Aside from these issues, respondents said they also struggle with 'nervousness and lack of confidence', 'writing a successful application form', 'knowing how to transfer my skills' and 'finding disability confident employers'. These are a just a few of the areas where students and graduates may need extra assistance.


  1. 7 ways to improve graduate employability, Prospects, 2021.
  2. Course does not (usually) equal career - let's celebrate, Wonkhe, 2019.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Resilience in adversity: supporting graduate careers during COVID-19, Wonkhe, 2020.
  5. A mixed bad: employer perspectives on graduate skills, Luminate, 2021.
  6. Ibid.

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