To get a job you need experience and to get experience you need a job, so how exactly should graduates navigate around this age-old dilemma?
Fresh graduates around the world are finding themselves in a pickle after completing their years-long journey through university, with most struggling to find a job due to a lack of experience – a prerequisite to companies advertising vacancies.
The issue has rightfully become a global conversation, especially with the emergence of the Covid-19 pandemic which has added yet another layer for those attempting to break into the workforce.
According to the ‘Fresh Graduates in the Middle East and North Africa Survey’ by Bayt.com, 75% of respondents said “finding a job” was the biggest challenge for graduates despite years of studying at higher education level.
The survey, which focuses on a range of countries across the Middle East and North Africa region, found that “nearly 3 in 5 of the fresh graduates (57%) claim that it was/will be difficult to find their first job, with 25% saying it was/will be very difficult.”
For graduates here in Qatar, the no-experience-no-job dilemma is as prevalent as ever.
“Fresh graduates like me are facing a lot of challenges throughout this job hunting process, such as not having enough experience as well as everything that is happening due to Covid-19,” Jude, who graduated in May 2021 from Northwestern University in Qatar told Doha News.
“We have been told to try and get internships to gain experience, but not many places are accepting interns because of Covid-19,” the Communications graduate added.
In its survey, the region’s top job site, Bayt.com, concluded that the lack of previous work experience is one of the biggest challenges faced by fresh graduates (41%) this year.
“The main problem is that some positions are labelled as ‘entry-level’ but require 1-2 years of experience, so we’re kind of stuck,” Jude said.
Another NUQ graduate, Balkees Ahmed Al-Jaafari, said that demanding work experience from fresh grads “is creating a real obstacle to employment.”
“Personally I thought graduating from a top university would help me find a job easily. Unfortunately that’s not how it works here. Most of the companies I searched for need around 5-10 years of experience,” she added.
“Many companies are asking new graduates to already have years of work experience before they even apply for entry-level jobs.”
This was reflected in the survey which found 54% of fresh graduates claimed a lack of work experience is the main reason why some employers were hesitant to hire them, followed by lacking necessary skills (34%).
In sentiments shared with her peers, Balkees came to the realisation that the hiring process in Qatar requires ‘wasta’ – a personal connection that is able to get you through the doors.
“I think I have experience, but here what works most is wasta. I think without it, you can’t really find a job,” she claimed.
The saying ‘it’s not what you know, it’s who you know’ perhaps applies in the Qatari workplace, she indicated.
Due to Covid-related concerns, many companies stopped training courses and internships, creating yet another obstacle to entering the workforce.
“I have applied for different internships because I knew it can be hard for fresh graduates to find jobs here in Qatar. But even the places I applied for – no response,” Balkees said.
Meanwhile, the findings of the survey show that the majority of fresh graduates use online job sites (60%) and social media applications (55%) to find job vacancies.
Interestingly, the survey results showed the majority of fresh graduates in the region (60%) acquired work experience before they graduated college/university, despite many reporting difficulty in finding jobs post graduation.
Some 34% built experience for a duration of 1 to 6 months before graduating, while 22% acquired more than 24 months of work experience before finalising their degrees.
So what’s the solution?
According to experts, Qatar Career Development Center (QCDC) – a member of Qatar Foundation – there are ways around the age-old predicament.
“To find employment in an over-competitive market, adopting smart steps to increase resume potential is essential, and so is the power of active networking,” Senior Career Programs & Services Officer at QCDC Effrosyni Parampota told Doha News.
“This is when qualified career advisers and counsellors become important – those who are equipped to assist individuals in planning their career paths and provide advice and guidance services, as well as to promote clients’ independency and self-management of their skills gradually.”
For students in Qatar, QCDC provides tools to help them choose a career path early on, helping to mitigate such scenarios post-graduation.
Aside from career guidance support available on campus, QCDC has a Virtual Career Advising Sessions, enabling students to receive advice from experts on “how to better plan their future and discuss career paths and directions,” Parampota noted.
The programme takes into consideration different circumstances and designates advisers that work on finding convenient solutions with respect to each individual’s needs.
“The adviser can help the student identify any previous experiences that are relevant, such as projects or volunteer work, and draw on those experiences to show the employer they can do the job,” she said, urging graduates to engage early with the organisation.
For graduates at non-QF universities, utilising the internet is paramount to gathering information on work opportunities, learning more about fields of interest and even networking with those working in your target sector.
Advisers suggest using websites like LinkedIn and even popular social media platforms like Twitter to connect with like-minded people where you can spark a conversation, introduce yourself and even secure a meet-up to explore further career opportunities.