Millennial students finding meaningful employment after graduation

A research chat with MSc graduate April Dyrda

Tell us about your research project.

The goal of my research was to find out how recent graduates are finding work after finishing school.

As millennials, we are constantly faced with the message that the school-to-work transition is a difficult and daunting process. The media all too often encourages this perspective, creating a sense of fear and uncertainty about the future by referring to millennials as “the most publically denounced generation of all time,” “generation jobless,” and even “generation screwed.”

While much attention is given to the 40% of young adults who are overqualified for the work they do, or the 1 in 5 who are unable to find work at all, little is known about how individuals who have been successful at finding meaningful employment effectively navigated the transition from school to-work. I aspired to attend to the accomplishments of recent graduates, in both achieving success and effectively dealing with adversity, rather than the struggles that have more commonly been portrayed in the media and the literature to date.

For this study, I interviewed graduates from universities across Western Canada who were:

(a) employed in their field of study, and

(b) found their work to be personally fulfilling

During these interviews I asked participants what they believed helped them during the job search process as well as what made finding work more difficult or challenging for them.

What did you discover?

An analysis of the interview data revealed six key themes or categories identified by recent graduates as playing a central role in their ability to find meaningful employment. These included:

  • 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. However, young job seekers often felt they needed to work harder because of their age to prove themselves as worthy applicants.
  • Connections: Both networks and networking played a role in supporting the success of recent graduates. 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 as significant to 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: 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 as critical. Participants believed that being skilled in the logistics of the job search served as their best opportunity to stand out from other applicants.

Findings from this research may enhance an awareness of and appreciation for how recent graduates have been successful in finding employment within the current economic climate, including:

  • Students and recent graduates: How future graduates conduct their job search and make career decisions can ultimately improve their career prospects. 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.
  • Career counsellors and practitioners: Although existing career services primarily emphasize skills like resume writing, interview preparation, and job search strategies, students and recent graduates commonly express a desire for more diverse supports and resources. In addition to the standard services offered, findings suggest that career professionals might also (a) present a realistic image of the job search process, (b) acknowledge the intersection between career and personal counselling, (c) take a holistic approach to the career counselling process, and (d) recommend flexibility in how job opportunities are handled.
  • Post-secondary educators and other staff: For post-secondary institutions can better prepare students by not only acknowledging, but also valuing and even prioritizing, the application of learning beyond the academic environment. With the majority of university graduates seeking employment outside of academia, post-secondary institutions must attend to the ways in which their services and curriculum prepare students for the contexts in which they can expect to work.

By focusing on how students and recent graduates can be successful in the job search process, it is my hope to inspire a more productive dialogue about career development and career transition among recent graduates and within the larger community. 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.