Fresh Grad 101

Challenges Fresh Graduates Face in the Job Search.

Assalamualaikum, and hi!

I recently ran a survey to figure out the challenges fresh graduates face in finding their first job after graduation. More specifically, I wanted to look at the challenges fresh graduates face in the Malaysian job market.

I had some interesting responses and comments in the survey, many thanks to the respondents who shared their experiences. So I thought I could share (anonymously, of course) the responses that I received from the survey.

The survey itself.

I conducted the survey on Google Forms, mainly for the fact that it is free and easy to use. It was distributed mostly through my social media pages (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, WhatsApp). Many, many thanks to those who helped me share the words out, appreciate it!

The short survey consisted of three simple questions:

  1. What is/are the biggest problem(s) they faced (or are currently facing) in looking for a job after graduation?
  2. Why is it important for them to find a good solution/answer to their problem(s) above?
  3. How hard has it been for them to find a good working solution/answer to their problem(s) so far?

Malaysian fresh graduates (with less than 3 years of experience) and final year university students (either in local universities or universities abroad) were invited to participate in the survey. Respondents also had the opportunity to share their email addresses if they wished to be contacted with further information/advice/tips related to the issues they raised. (p/s the email addresses will be kept securely and not shared with anyone without prior consent).

I had a total of 321 respondents who participated in the survey. Since no personal data (other than the optional email address) were collected, I could not guarantee that all the respondents fit in the target audience (fresh graduates and/or final year students). But, for simplicity purposes, let’s assume that all the respondents do fit the criteria for the survey.

Some quick disclaimers.

  1. This survey was done on an ad-hoc basis and is not affiliated with any organizations, think tanks or universities. I did it out of my own curiosity (and it also acts as a market research survey that would be useful for me to tailor my services to fresh graduates, such as my career mentoring service).
  2. The survey questions were drafted based on the three simple questions used in a market research survey, as shared in this Udemy Digital Marketing course). It was by no means academic in nature. It’s just something I did as a part of my (optional/fun) course to learn more about graduate employability and/or digital marketing.
  3. Since the questions are open-ended, I’ve grouped the responses according to the overarching issues/problems as I see fit. While I have taken care to carefully read through the responses and group them to the best of my ability, there may be differences in how other people would group/categorize the responses.
  4. This post is really, really long. I’m trying to include some advice, tips, and links to other websites/articles which may be useful. So, apologies in advance if it gets super long. Do take time to read some, if not all, of the posts/articles linked here that could be helpful. None of them are sponsored links/affiliate links, so I’m not getting anything in return for sharing them here. It’s all for your own good! 🙂

OK, now that we got all that out of the way, on to the fun part – the responses!

challenges fresh graduates face in the Malaysian job market
Top 5 challenges fresh graduates face in the Malaysian job market.

Challenge 1: Supply/demand plays a role in the job market.

The above picture shows the top six responses from the survey. One of the main challenges fresh graduates face in the Malaysian job market is the lack of suitable opportunities (as mentioned by 98 respondents). Some of the comments include:

  • Suitability/availability of job of choice.
  • Not many vacancy for fresh graduate chemist.
  • the job related to your field of study is limited and competitive.
  • No/less job offered in civil engineering’s field for diploma holder.
  • I can’t seem to find job/position that will match my qualification as most of the job advertised didn’t match the degree

I can understand how difficult it can be for people who are trying to look for a job related to their studies. After all, you’ve spent 5-7 years studying for it (pre-university & degree years). Of course, you’d want to find a job that you can utilize what you’ve learned.

It’s a supply/demand issue in some instances. The job market is oversaturated with graduates, which makes it harder for people to find suitable jobs based on their qualifications. However, job opportunities in Malaysia are not keeping up with the increase in graduates, as many new jobs are still concentrated among low- or middle-skilled jobs.

Some students may have also pursued a specific degree without knowing what jobs would be suitable for them. If you’re one of them, here are some of the websites that may help you to explore the careers that one can pursue with a particular degree:

Challenge 2: [Now hiring] Fresh graduate with 22 years of experience.

The next big challenge that was apparent from the responses was the lack of experience when looking for a job. It seems like a lot of the job advertisements out there require at least 1-2 years of experience (or even more!). While they may also say ‘Fresh Graduates welcome’, sometimes it can be hard competing for a job with tons of other experienced workers.

This is not a new thing. A lot of news portals reported that employers typically prefer experienced workers over fresh graduates (link 1, link 2, link 3), among other reasons (i.e. unrealistic salary requests, English proficiency, etc).

I mean, we’re not all Ash Ketchum, who is literally what every company looks for in a potential employee. He’s 10 years old with 22 years of experience with Pokemon before finally winning the Alola League. Like, seriously, who can say that in their resume?

Source: Reddit. (p/s Do read the comments section, it has a lot of good advice!)

It’s a vicious, never-ending cycle, don’t you think? You can’t find a job because you don’t have enough experience. But how can you get experience if you can’t find a job? You’d end up in a Catch-22 situation and wondering how to escape.

Challenge 3: Playing hide-and-seek with HRs and recruiters.

One of the other challenges fresh graduates in Malaysia face in the job market is the application and/or interview process itself. Around 61 (15.1%) of the responses received said that they have issues with either:

  1. Not receiving any feedback (negative or positive) from their job applications,
  2. Not knowing where to look for job opportunities,
  3. How hard it is to be called for an interview,
  4. Doing well in a job interview,
  5. Not knowing if their resume/application is strong/good enough.

The job market is a brutal place to be in. A lot of graduates spend months, sometimes a year or two, before they are able to secure a good opportunity. It’s hard, but you can take steps to ease your way in the job search. And it gets a little more stressful when you have no idea what’s going on after you click the ‘Submit Application’ button.

If you apply for jobs using Jobstreet Malaysia, you’d probably see something like “250 applicants” for a job application. I know I’ve applied to some job advertisements on Jobstreet with more than 700 applicants. It’s a highly, highly competitive job market, and sometimes HRs or recruiters might not be able to get back to every single applicant who submitted an application for an opening.

It’s hard, but you have to find ways to make your application stand out from the crowd. Look at other avenues to apply for jobs, diversify your platforms. Attend career fairs. Network out with potential employers at industrial events. Utilizing your LinkedIn profile to make connections. Reach out to people in your networks.

The world is brutal, but you got to hang in there and brave through it.

It’s all about the money, money, money.

43 respondents saying that the salary and/or benefits offered for the vacancies/job offers are either (1) too low for a degree holder, or (2) not beneficial for future career growth.

We see quite a lot of people/employers saying that fresh graduates are demanding unrealistic starting salaries. But, honestly speaking, is requesting something around RM2,500 – RM3,00 considered as unrealistic in this day and time? With the high cost of living, how are people expected to live with a meager salary of RM2,000, or even less?

challenges fresh graduates face in Malaysian job applications
Credit: Green Chameleon on Unsplash

Finding the sweet spot of livable wage vs one that employers would accept is hard, but not impossible. You need to learn how to evaluate a job offer, think about the position itself and the skills that you have. Do some research into similar positions and the average salary for those roles.

Be realistic, but also be ready to fight for what you’re worth. Know your rights as an employee, make sure you’re not being lowballed or taken advantage of. Make sure that you take into consideration the non-monetary benefits as well – the potential career growth and training and/or development opportunities. All of those play a role in creating the whole benefits package.

It’s not you, it’s me.

Challenges fresh graduates face in the Malaysian job market are not all employer- or market-related. Sometimes, it’s a personal issue.

As a fresh graduate, sometimes we have doubts about our strengths and qualifications. We’re not fully confident in our ability to do well in the real world. We’ve spent our childhood growing up being told what to study, where to go to university, what to do. But now that we’ve graduated, we’re left on our own.

What now? What do I do? Which jobs do I apply for? How do I make the employers trust in my ability? How do I do which jobs I’m suited for? What if I don’t make it? What if I made the wrong choice? How do I know if this is what I want to do with my life?

Sometimes, it’s important to take a step back to evaluate ourselves. How to know what to look for in our future job? What do we want to achieve in life? What do we want to be remembered for?

I think one thing that is important to remember is that – there is no one perfect answer. We are all different. Some may know that their calling is to become a doctor or a teacher. But for others, it may not be as easy.

And that’s okay. Experiment and see what works best for you. You don’t have to pick a career and specialize so early in your life. It is OK to take your time and develop your skills and try out different paths.

After all, life’s all about the journey, and not about how fast you make it to your final destination. Make it worthwhile.

There are other challenges too, of course.

To recap: these are the top five challenges fresh graduates in Malaysia face in the job market as found from the survey:

top 5 challenges fresh graduates face in Malaysia

5 respondents shared that they did not face any issues, as they managed to find employment easily after graduation. However, other respondents did share other challenges that they faced as well, which included things like:

  • Location and/or lack of transportation. This would affect people who live outside of big cities and have to travel to other cities to attend interviews, etc. Travelling for interviews and/or to look for a job can be costly, especially if you’ve just recently graduated with little to no savings.
  • Language/gender/race issues. Some respondents commented about how they’ve been rejected on the basis of gender/race or the language that they can speak.
  • Grades/academic & professional qualifications. One respondent talked about how it takes 3-6 months to get a professional license (nurses, assistant medical officer) and that affects how and when they can look for a job. Some also talked about how their qualifications do not meet the requirements of the companies (i.e. grades/GPA or diploma/degree/master’s degree, etc).
  • Connections and/or networking. In some cases, having strong networks or connections can be beneficial when you’re looking for a job.

My thoughts, comments, advice.

So, I’ve shared with you the responses that I’ve got from the survey. I hope it was as interesting for you as it was for me. It definitely helped me to see things from a different perspective.

Before I sign off, I do want to share some thoughts or comments about some of the challenges fresh graduates face in the job market. After all, I’m a fresh graduate myself. Considering the fact that I’ve just recently completed my Master’s studies and am now on the job market myself, I do understand where they come from and the challenges fresh graduates face, since I am facing some of these myself.

A short background of myself for people who might not know me and am reading this blog for the first time. I’m 25yo. I graduated with my BBA in Actuarial Science in 2017 and am graduating with my MA Education in November 2019. Yes, I completely jumped fields from Actuarial Science to Higher Education. It was the best decision of my life because I realized that working with students is a far more fulfilling job that suits my skills and personality.

My undergraduate graduation, May 2017.

Being open to all the different possibilities.

One thing I would say is that fresh graduates need to be open to different opportunities. The world is a huge oyster and sometimes (or most of the time), you might not work in the same area that you went to school for. And sometimes, life takes you to places that you’ve never even considered in the first place.

Finding a job outside of your degree is and should not be frowned upon. People do it all the time. And why shouldn’t you? The world is constantly changing and evolving, and you need to change along with it. Think about the skills you’ve developed throughout your studies and how you can use it in other fields.

If you’ve been trying to get a suitable job in your industry but failed to do so, don’t fret. Be open to looking outside your field. Talk to a careers advisor at your university. Find out what skills you have (and need to develop) and look for opportunities where you can grow. It may be that you can find a temporary job/internship elsewhere while polishing the skills you need for your desired job.

And when you’re applying for jobs, don’t just depend on one way to apply for jobs. Venture out, look at the different websites and portals to look for opportunities. Use any or all of them: Jobstreet, Monster, MyStarJobs, Glassdoor, LinkedIn, Wobb, MauKerja, DuitDoItGraduan, or StartUpJobs. Focus on making your application stand out. Put in the extra effort to send quality applications, tailoring your resume to each job application instead of blindly sending the same resume to 100’s of employers.

Invest in yourself and your future.

Sometimes, we forget to spend time and invest in ourselves. Especially when we’re at university, where there are a lot of opportunities for you to gain some experience. You could work part-time while studying or opt to have an internship or two during the semester break. One could join a student club or volunteer and build your skills. You can also attend different industrial events or employers networking sessions through your university’s career services.

All of these are investments for our future. We might think that it’s nothing big, it’s just a small volunteer program. It’s just a short three-hour networking session with an employer I may not even apply for. But we fail to realize how all the small little things define who we are and what we fight for.

For instance, I’ve done a lot of volunteer work with high school students/SPM leavers through my Projek Inspirasi. Back then, I didn’t know that it would be useful. I considered it to be my ‘side hobby’, something I do for fun. But looking back, those opportunities fueled my passion and motivation and are the reason why I pursued a career in higher education.

challenges fresh graduates face in Malaysia after graduation
Credit: Caleb Woods on Unsplash

Break free of the no job/no experience loop.

Everyone has to start somewhere. Even the big CEOs all start out with little to no experience. So be proactive and take the opportunity to learn as much as possible. Think about where you want to go and what you need to get there. Build a bridge to help you connect where you are now to where you want to be in the future.

Talk to people. Reach out to professionals on LinkedIn or at career fairs, learn about what they typically look for in new hires. Find opportunities to develop those skills. Take up additional classes to brush up your knowledge. Go the extra length. Do something because you want to do it and not because you were told to do it. Show your initiative. Be different than other people. Find out what makes you, you. Do a SWOT analysis of yourself and find out what you can improve on.

You may not have the exact technical experience that they need but think about the other ways you can showcase your experience. Look at all the things you’ve done in your past and how it can help you in a job. Your transferable skills, your interpersonal skills. All of those can be used to strengthen your application, if you know how to do it right.

Seek out career advice and help from professionals.

One thing that I’ve realized is that a lot of people (students) do not utilize their university’s career services. Most (if not all) universities will have their own career services. Their job is to help students in improving their employability, helping to look over your resume/cover letters and preparing students for the real world.

Some universities even extend their career services to their alumni (like my current university who offers alumni lifetime career advice!). Some of the universities that offer career services in Malaysia include:

  1. University of Nottingham, Malaysia – Careers Advisory Service (CAS)
  2. Taylor’s University – Career Services Centre
  3. Universiti Malaya – Careers & Industrial Relationships Unit
  4. Universiti Teknologi Malaysia – Career Centre
  5. Sunway University / Sunway College – Sunway Career Services
  6. Asia Pacific University of Technology and Innovation – Career Support Centre

If you’re still a student (even in your final year), make sure you find out where you can get career advice at your university. Make full use of them and get advice about how you can kickstart your job search. Attend any career workshops or seminars that they hold for students. Best yet, if your university holds a career fair on campus, GO AND ATTEND!

There are also a lot of services out there (both paid and free) designed to help students in improving their employability. For instance, TalentCorp holds workshops and programs to help you develop your skills. GradMalaysia has career fairs with tons of opportunities for fresh graduates.

You can also reach out to people/organizations like Career57, Warren Leow (for tech-inclined students), DragonFire Academy, Norizan Sharif, Primed for Success and many others.

Put in the extra effort, get the help you need and work on building yourself and improving your employability to stay on top of the game.

My final words.

The world is full of challenges fresh graduates need to face when they step into the job market. It’s not going to be an easy journey for most people but equipped with the right mindset, a strong will and the willingness to go the extra lengths, insyaAllah you’ll make it out alright.

Thank you once again to the respondents for sharing some of the challenges fresh graduates faced in the job market. While some of the problems are out of our control (i.e. how long HR/recruiters take to respond to us), there are things that we can do to help strengthen our application. We can’t fix or solve all the challenges overnight, but we can take steps to try and improve our odds.

If you’ve made it this far and actually read the post until the end, I highly appreciate it. I would also appreciate it if you could share it out to your friends and networks who might benefit from it. If you have tips or advice for fresh graduates like myself, please do share it in the comments section. I’m sure the readers would appreciate learning from other people’s experiences.

I hope that this post has been beneficial to some, if not all of you. Please do stay in contact, if you wish to do so. You can reach me on my LinkedIn or Twitter accounts.

I also send out bi-weekly newsletters, where I write about my personal growth journey. Do subscribe if you’d like to learn more and support my writing (it’s free too!). You can also like my Facebook page if you want to be updated on new blog posts!

Alright then, until next time, take care & stay awesome!

2 Comments

  • Hey I’m happy to participate in this study. Thanks for sharing your findings.
    I enjoy reading this post as you use simple, straightforward sentences that are easy to digest. Anticipating to read your other posts as I just recently found your blog. 😊

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