When to Start Looking for a Job for College Seniors

Overhead view college student studying
••• Hero Images / Getty Images

How early in your senior year of college should you start applying for jobs for after graduation? Prospective graduates often wonder when they should begin applying for jobs since they won't be available to start work until after they have graduated.

Recruiting windows for college seniors will vary greatly by employment sector, so the answer is that it depends on the type of job you are applying for—and it's never too late, even if you didn't start your job search early.

Some students will elect to wait until the spring of their senior year to get serious, while others will begin planning as early as sophomore year.

A Note About Applying for Jobs During a Recession

Wondering if you should press pause on your job search due to economic uncertainty? Most experts advise against waiting out a recession or other economic crisis.

Companies Are Recruiting

During the coronavirus pandemic, 47% of companies surveyed by Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc. said that they were hiring right now and an additional 10% reported that they are hiring for critical positions. Only 10% said that they were revoking offers.

"College grads with in-demand skills, particularly in biosciences, health care, and engineering backgrounds, will find job prospects more easily, especially as many companies in the U.S. work to provide medical equipment, testing, and treatment to COVID patients," said Andrew Challenger, SVP of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, in a statement.

Further, Challenger said, by waiting until the crisis passes, grads may find themselves competing with millions of other applicants.

Employers Are Still Hiring College Grads

The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) reports that most employers aren't revoking offers to full-time recruits or interns. In addition, recruiting isn't expected to slow down during the next academic year. Employers plan to recruit the Class of 2021 at the same levels as the Class of 2020, with more of a focus on virtual recruiting.

Employers With Early Deadlines

Many organizations with competitive training programs will begin recruiting early in the fall and start making offers as early as late November.

Industries such as investment banking, consulting, and accounting are well known as early recruiters. Investment banks now recruit very heavily from their own summer internship programs, so juniors should start applying for these opportunities early in their junior year.

Hiring managers from these fields often begin recruiting early because there are multiple rounds of interviews and testing to complete.

Additionally, those typically interested in banking, consulting, and other business management roles are usually involved in a business track with internships or development programs, making it easy for companies to recruit already interested students.

Employers Recruiting Later in the Year

Seniors who start late shouldn't give up hope since there are still many opportunities available during the spring semester:

  • Smaller companies that don't have training programs tend to recruit later in the year.
  • Employers in fields such as broadcast communications, advertising, public relations, social media, the arts, and publishing often hire later in the year.
  • Some employers also prefer to wait until the spring to hire recent graduates, after promoting current employees internally and assessing the company's needs.

In addition, many graduates start out in support positions (as trading assistants, human resources assistants, editorial assistants, gallery assistants, or broker's assistants, for example)that are filled as vacancies occur throughout the year.

These support positions usually are not based around a fiscal year or busy season, so these vacancies are great starting points for students year-round.

Start as Early as Possible

Start your job search as soon as possible, and invest as much time and energy as you can if you are committed to finding a job by graduation. Since many graduates find employment outside of their college's formal recruiting program, which can take time, it makes sense to start as early as the summer before senior year.

If you start early, you will have plenty of time to review job descriptions, understand company missions, and get a better understanding of what you want for your first post-graduate role.

Companies today are working to make their entry-level roles seem enticing, and many will offer the chance for personal growth both vertically and laterally. However, you can still find a great opportunity late in the game, even if you have not quite decided what you want to do for the rest of your life.

Depending on your interests, for example, you may get hired by a company as a part-time executive assistant, but you could move to a full-time human resources specialist role after an initial probation period.

Applying for Unadvertised Jobs

When reaching out to employers that haven't yet advertised a job, you can send a resume and cover letter indicating your interest in an entry-level job. When you follow up, ask when they might be scheduling interviews for their entry-level jobs.

If the interviewing period is several months away, you can always send an updated communication at that point. It's always better to be early than to miss a deadline.

Introducing yourself early is a networking strategy that can demonstrate your interest, tenacity, and determination to be considered for potential new employment.

Build Your Experience

Not sure how best to use the time before graduation? In addition to applying for jobs, networking with potential contacts, and polishing your resume, you can also continue building your experience:

  • Volunteer with organizations that are meaningful to you. Challenger says that “volunteer work tells prospective employers a lot about your personality, character, work ethic, and commitment.” So don’t neglect to include your volunteer work on your resume, even if your efforts seem unrelated to your field.
  • Learn new skills and package the ones you have. While you’re in school, you’re constantly adding to your skill set. Take opportunities to add new job skills, and don’t forget to showcase them on your resume.
  • Freelance to build expertise and gain experience. Looking for ways to bridge the gap between graduation and landing your first full-time job? Investigate freelancing opportunities in your industry. You can get started freelancing in many fields with very little capital investment. You may even decide that you want to freelance full-time.

How to List Your Degree on Your Resume

If you haven't finished your program yet and are wondering how to list your degree on your resume, you have a couple of options.

It is acceptable to simply list the month and year of your expected graduation next to your degree and the date:

Sampson College, Sarasota, NY
Bachelor of Arts, Business Administration, May 2020

Another option is to write:

Franklin University, Martinsville, SC
Bachelor of Arts, Marketing, May 2020 (Expected Graduation Date)

Employers know that you won't be formally graduating until the graduation date on your resume.

Article Sources

  1. Marquette University. "Find a Job or Internship Timing: When Should I Start My Search?" Accessed April 23, 2020.

  2. Challenger Gray & Christmas. "2020 College Grads May Fare Well If They Can Adapt Amid COVID Uncertainty." Accessed April 22, 2020.

  3. NACE. "Quick Poll: Employers Optimistic, Colleges Less Certain About Fall Plans." Accessed April 23, 2020.