By April Dyrda

 Understanding how recent graduates have navigated the job search process will better equip career professionals when helping students and graduates make informed career decisions

The generation of students currently graduating from university was expected to experience the luxury of economic stability, where integration into the labour market from academia would be assured and essentially seamless.[1] However, the recession of 2008 brought extreme economic decline to the country, with the Canadian job market still struggling to rebound. Fortunately, unemployment rates on average have decreased since this time; however, youth unemployment has continued to rise in recent years. Although obtaining relevant employment after finishing school is a common goal for university graduates, these individuals are increasingly finding themselves without work.

While not all university-educated individuals are jobless (with a post-secondary education providing, on average, benefits regarding employment prospects), those with jobs are commonly involved in work that does not align with their career goals. One-third of employed 25 to 29-year-olds in Canada with a university degree are overqualified for the work they are doing, employed in jobs that are either low-paying, part-time, or that do not require post-secondary training.[2] According to the Certified General Accountants Association of Canada, the proportion of this population employed in low-skilled occupations has remained relatively unchanged over the past 20 years despite the number of highly educated youth having increased substantially in that time.[3]

The Costs of Unemployment

University graduates who are temporary workers, underemployed or unemployed often suffer a number of occupational and psychological costs as a result of their economic position. Recent research has found unemployment and underemployment to be associated with disengagement in not only the labour market, but also political processes and the community more generally.[4] Ultimately, as youth begin to feel apathetic towards the economy, these same feelings of indifference tend to be projected into other areas of life. Additional costs include the erosion or loss of previously developed skills, knowledge and abilities, diminished current and life-long income, as well as general job dissatisfaction.

Beyond these occupational risks, unemployment and underemployment have also been associated with personal and social concerns, many of which are known to worsen over time. These include, but are not limited to, deteriorating levels of self-efficacy, social support, optimism, and achievement motivation.[5] Negative effects such as these have been shown to contribute to a variety of mental health issues and physical health concerns among unemployed youth and young adults.[6]

A Call to Action

It is clear from the literature that a gap has emerged between how a post-secondary education is expected to benefit the future careers of students, and the realities of our economy. Higher education may be seen as necessary to obtaining a good job (with up to 80% of the work created in Alberta over the next 10 years requiring a post-secondary credential[7]), but it is by no means sufficient. While the risks of unemployment and underemployment are commonly understood, little is known about how new-entrants to the workforce are navigating the process of finding work, and particularly why some graduates are successful in this search while others are not. Given our current economic climate and the contextual constraints placed on employment, the value of understanding the diversity of influences on the job search process is now more pronounced than ever.

Research currently being conducted by myself and Dr Nancy Arthur at the University of Calgary, entitled Beyond generation jobless: How recent university graduates are finding meaningful employment, has been exploring factors that promote and discourage the ability of graduates to find meaningful employment (i.e. work in one’s chosen field of study deemed to be personally fulfilling). Findings from this study are believed to aid in the identification of critical factors and events, beyond an academic degree, which provide university graduates with the necessary means to successfully become employed. With an analysis of how recent university graduates have navigated the job-search process to find work, a better understanding of their perspectives as new entrants to the workforce can be realized, encouraging students and university graduates alike to make more informed career decisions.

Anticipated Benefits

The application of this research is broad in scope and should be recognized for the potential benefits provided not only to students and graduates, but also to the field of career development and to the community at large. Some of these benefits and their implications for practice are discussed below:


  • Develop a more informed approach to their job search and a better understanding of what contributes to success in this process
  • Benefit from enhanced competitiveness in the job market and a more seamless transition from academia to the workforce
  • Experience heightened occupational and psychological wellbeing (e.g., levels of optimism, self-efficacy and social support)


  • Increase effectiveness in their approach to the process of career counselling and development with clients in a stage of transition
  • Develop job-search strategies and other counselling interventions that foster client awareness and development of factors deemed relevant to obtaining meaningful employment


  • Stimulate economic prosperity and the occupation of jobs that require or would benefit from those with post-secondary training
  • Create opportunities for knowledge dissemination that speak to and develop an understanding of factors contributing to positive pre-employment outcomes, occupational success, and psychological wellbeing among university graduates
  • Better tailor academic courses designed for the purpose of career and life management to maximize their utility

For more information about this research and to receive updates on research findings, please contact April Dyrda at


April Dyrda is currently pursuing her Master’s of Science degree in Counselling Psychology at the University of Calgary. She works as a practicum counsellor at Mount Royal University and serves as a student mentor through the Canadian Psychological Association and the University of Calgary. She has also worked as a research consultant for Canada Career Counselling and served on Calgary’s Psychological Healthy Workplace committee.

[1] Foot, D. K., & Stoffman, D. (2001). Boom, Bust & Echo: Profiting from the demographic shift in the 21st century. Toronto, ON: Stoddart Publishing Company Ltd.
[2] Saunders, R. (2008). Pathways for youth to the labour market: A synthesis report. Ottawa, ON: Canadian Policy Research Networks.
[3] Ariganello, A. (2012). Youth unemployment in Canada: Challenging conventional thinking? Ottawa, ON: Certified General Accountants Association of Canada.
[4] Standing, G. (2011). The precariat: The new dangerous class. New York, NY: Bloomsbury Publishing.
[5] Cassidy, T., & Wright, L. (2008). Graduate employment status and health: A longitudinal analysis of the transition from student. Social Psychology of Education, 11, 181-191.
[6] Goodchild, S. (2012). Hidden cost of youth unemployment is depression and poor physical health. London Evening Standard. Retrieved from /hidden-cost-of-youth-unemployment-is-depression-and-poor-physical-health-8163179 .html
[7] Council of Alberta University Students. (2011, June). Securing Alberta’s future: How Alberta can lead in post-secondary education. Retrieved from: 06_ Vision.pdf