Graduating into a recession: How to find a job in a recession

How can recent graduates looking for work in the midst of a recession improve their chances of securing a job? Read on to find out how you can adapt to the challenges posed by the economic situation and boost your job prospects.

Rhiannon Philps Last updated on 12 November 2020.
Graduating into a recession: How to find a job in a recession

A recession can be a stressful time for new graduates. Many employers will reduce the number of graduate schemes and entry-level positions they have available, resulting in more limited opportunities for those entering the world of work, and graduates may also be competing for jobs against seemingly more experienced and qualified candidates who may have recently been made redundant.

However, while job-hunting in a recession can be tough, that doesn’t mean there aren’t any opportunities out there.

The government announced some employment measures in the 2020 Summer Statement to help young people get into work, but what else can graduates do to improve their chances of finding a job during a recession?

Here are some tips to get you started.

Tailor each application

Your CV should be accurate, up-to-date, and ideally no more than two sides of A4. But, just as importantly, you should tailor your CV for each job application, focusing on your skills and experience that are most relevant to the position rather than sending a generic CV to every employer.

It is worth spending more time on each application to make sure you identify the specific skills you have that demonstrate exactly how you meet the requirements of each job, as listed in the advert. Because the criteria will be different for every job, every application should be different to make sure it focuses on what the employer is looking for and to show how you would be a fit for that particular position and company.

But you should also look beyond the job advert and familiarise yourself further with the company you’re applying to, as Sharon Walpole from Careermap and spokesperson for explains:

“It is also important to show you know the company inside and out; make yourself their number one fan so that you know everything about them, from who they are and who they have worked with, to what they have done and are currently doing. If you were to get to the interview stage, you can then speak about how you would carry out the job being asked of you and how you could succeed in said position.”

Emphasise your strengths

When you apply for any job, make sure you demonstrate how your individual skills make you the best candidate for the role. But don’t just state your strengths. Make sure you give an example of how each skill has helped you in different situations and how it relates to the job you’re applying for.

Remember too that underselling your skills and achievements won’t help your application; talk about them and be proud of them!

Even if you have limited real work experience, you should still have plenty of transferable skills that you can use to show your suitability for the role, as Sharon Walpole discusses.

“Where you lack the experience that your competitors may have, you can make up that deficit by showing how your skillset and the little experience you have makes you the perfect candidate for the role. It is important with any job application that you play to your strengths and show a willingness to learn, because when you are at entry level it is important to sell the best version of yourself and speak about how relatable your experience and skills are.

“Don’t be afraid to show them examples of your past work or create some examples for the company you’re applying to in order to show how your skills can be translated in the workplace.”

Charlotte Tomlinson, Media Director at Hallam and University of Oxford 2010 alumna, explains further how you can make up for a comparative lack of experience at a job interview by "showing a huge amount of enthusiasm for and interest in the role, the company and the industry. This goes a long way and from my experience can actually be a more important deciding factor than specific examples of relevant experience. At the end of the day, people want to work with someone they like and think their team will get along with, and if you don’t convince them of that, no amount of experience will save you!”

Gain new skills

Your degree will provide you with lots of transferable skills, but to make your application even stronger, consider learning some job-specific skills.

The kind of skills that will be of most value will depend on the sector you wish to work in, but, for example, good computer skills will be crucial for many jobs.

Internships and work experience are valuable ways of learning work-specific skills. However, if these aren’t possible, you could boost your application by completing an online course, doing volunteer work, or simply conducting your own research into a subject and showing what you’ve learnt in your application.

Being proactive in this way will help you to stand out and will show your willingness to learn- a quality which all employers will value.

Be flexible

It is unlikely that your first job after graduating will be your dream job. Although it’s good to have a plan, it’s important to be flexible and be open to different opportunities, so don’t limit your job search to graduate schemes or your “perfect role”.

Drawing on her own experience, Charlotte Tomlinson believes that you should be “open-minded about opportunities, flexible and willing to try new things. A lot of people graduating don’t have an “obvious” career path, especially Humanities students, in comparison to someone who’s studied medicine, for example. This can be quite daunting but also a blessing as it’s an opportunity to broaden your horizons and dip your toe into a few different roles to find something which interests you.”

She also underlines how the apparent shift by businesses towards more flexible working arrangements, including a rise in working from home, can actually benefit new graduates.

“One key difference between now and 2010 which I believe is certainly a positive is that as a whole there has been a move to greater flexibility for remote working, especially in certain industries (digital definitely being one of them). This means that graduates can cast their net a bit wider and not be as bound by geographical location as graduates were in 2010.”

Sign up to recruitment agencies

When job hunting, it can be useful to join one or more recruitment agencies.

Agencies can source suitable jobs for you, including positions that may not be advertised elsewhere, and they may suggest opportunities that you might not have thought of.

They work with a lot of employers and understand what each of them are looking for, which can make them incredibly useful for graduates in their job search. As well as finding potential positions, agencies can also offer feedback on your CV and your job applications and help you to prepare for interviews.


Make the most of any contacts you have in the workplace, whether these are formed by personal relationships, through mutual acquaintances, or via social media. Don’t be afraid to reach out to industry professionals for a chat; many will be happy to give you some advice even if they can’t offer you a job.

Ashley Freidlein, founder of Guild, confirms the importance of networking in boosting your job prospects:

"Recent graduates can navigate the current situation and get a head start on their career by networking. In today’s world it’s not about the volume of likes or contacts though, it’s about curating a select group of valuable contacts on niche sites and online communities that could be really beneficial to your career – both now, and in the future."

Make the most of the help that’s available

You can find help for your job hunt from many different places. As a minimum, you could always ask your family and friends to proofread your applications and to help you practice your interview technique.

But there are several organisations that can offer more professional help with your job search. John Watkins, Director of Employability at The University of Law underlines how useful expert advice can be for planning your career and creating an application strategy:

“There should be professionals available to assist with this and to support you in fulfilling it – take full advantage; expertise and experience is key. Those that have worked during a downturn, supported students in difficult market conditions and/or had their own career setbacks are invaluable.”

Don’t forget that your university’s career service will be on hand to assist you even after you graduate. They can give you interview prep and advice on your CV, as well as helping you to decide on a career path and providing opportunities to network with a host of people (especially alumni) in a range of jobs and industries.

Look at “recession-proof” jobs

Of course, no industry is fully immune to the difficulties posed by an economic recession, but some industries are likely to be more robust and offer more job security during a recession than others. By spending time researching the industries and jobs that could thrive in a recession, you may find a position that you hadn’t originally considered that may turn out to be a good fit for you.

Some sectors that might offer more “recession proof” jobs include education, public services, civil service, healthcare, and computer and technology, among others. Events, hospitality, and not-for-profit organisations may particularly struggle in a recession, possibly resulting in more limited opportunities for graduates, but this will vary depending on the circumstances.

Don’t give up!

You shouldn’t feel disheartened about rejections, especially as competition for each position is likely to be higher during a recession.

Rejections are all part of the job application process, whatever state the economy is in. You should try not to dwell on them and look forward to other opportunities, although this can be hard to do in practice.

If your application is unsuccessful, you may want to contact the employer to see if they will explain their decision further. You may not get an answer every time, but if you do, this feedback could help you with any future applications.

Make time for yourself

Applying for jobs, especially during difficult circumstances, can be a very stressful experience. Although you might think you should spend every waking hour on your job search, this will not help you in the long-term.

The constant process of looking for jobs, sending applications, sending follow-up emails, going to interviews, and getting rejections can take a toll on your mental health, so you should make sure you carry on doing things you enjoy to help you to de-stress.

As with any kind of work, you should take regular breaks and make sure you set aside time to relax so you are in a better frame of mind and more motivated in your job hunt.

About the author:

Rhiannon is a financial writer for NerdWallet, with a particular interest in personal finance and insurance guides for consumers. Read more

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