Increasing College Graduate Employment Success

Author: Aryan Mishra
Mentor: Dr. Varun Gauri
Case Western Reserve University


This paper looks at recent trends in the employment of recently graduated college students and proposes an experiment to increase the likelihood of employment success. While analyzing the employment process that a recent college graduate must go through, certain behavioral biases revealed themselves: college students don’t know what jobs to apply for their major, they don’t know how many and for how long they should be applying for jobs, and they are also emotional fragile and are prone to discouragement due to rejection. To fix these problems, students need to be shown a survey with the employment data from the previous year’s class so that current students know how long to apply for and where they should apply based on their major. In addition to the survey, students would be given advice from a mentor who recently graduated and had employment success. This mentor would provide emotional encouragement, as well as tips on how to get employed. Students will also be provided with short videos of the mentor as well so that they can watch the videos on their own time. Interventions like these have been proven to increase the likelihood of employment success. To determine if and how well these interventions work, a sample size of college students would be given the resources, and another group of students would not be given the resources. Comparing the results will give an accurate conclusion.


College seniors and recent graduates face the challenge of obtaining a job before or shortly after they graduate. However, a set of behavioral biases often hinder them from getting the job they desire. This paper identifies these biases and proposes proven behavioral interventions that can increase the probability of recent college graduate employment success.

A behavioral “journey map” for employment consists of several steps. A person has to meet the education and experience requirements, have an adequate resume, meet for interviews, give a compelling reason why they should be hired, and so much more. During this process, there are many points during which behavioral biases can create bottlenecks. This paper focuses on two. First, recent college graduates must identify job openings that are a good match. Second, recent college graduates must persist in the face of rejection. Recent college graduates are an important part of the pool of willing and able workers because of their newly acquired skills from their degree. They have a college education and are willing to fill all of the entry-level positions in companies of all industries. However, recent college graduates still decide to give up too soon in their search for a job and are instead accepting positions that require no college education at all. In 2020, The Federal Reserve Bank of New York reported that 41% of recent college graduates are working at a job that doesn’t require a college degree. The Federal Reserve Bank also found that, in 2022, unemployment rates for recent graduates are higher than the national average of all workers.

After the pandemic hit in 2020, unemployment rose to an all-time high because companies could no longer afford to hire or even keep the workers that they had. The result of this was a staggeringly low amount of open positions for recent graduates. Unemployment for adults aged 20-24 rose to 23% in May of 2020, which is double what it was the year before. This led to extreme job-seeking anxiety as recent college graduates continued to lose hope of being employed. “I’m honestly kinda scared,” said recent USC graduate Hannah Grogin when she was asked about beginning to look for a job in May of 2021. Hannah knew that “there’s just a lot more to fear about not being able to get a job because of the pandemic.” This interview occurred when the unemployment rate for recent graduates dropped to 10% from 23%. Recent college graduates haven’t updated their view of the job market– this means the next class of graduates may face a similar level of anxiety due to the persistence of the older model of the job market. While it may seem like the market is not in these graduates’ favor, the job market for college graduates has become stronger. According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, “This is an even hotter period for recruiters than they thought it was going to be…,” said Josh Kahn, assistant director of research and public policy, in May of 2022. As of June 2022, ZipRecruiter reported that there are around two job openings for every one person and that companies are lowering their experience requirements. If the market is strong, why are some college graduates not finding jobs and are becoming discouraged?

It is especially important that recent college graduates do not get discouraged when looking for a job because of the consequences that it can cause in their future search for employment. Studies have found that “The earnings of displaced workers do not catch up to those of their nondisplaced counterparts for nearly 20 years.” This unemployment spell has also been found to affect future home ownership and the total lifetime earnings of an individual.

In the next section of the paper, I am going to lay out what the job search process looks like for a recent college graduate, and then I am going to highlight the main behavioral biases that are hindering their success. Job search persistence is absolutely crucial for recent college graduates, and there are nudges that can provide them with the help they need.

Student Job Search

After the pandemic, which “was unusual in the severity and speed with which people lost jobs and entire sectors diminished,” the economy adapted, and sectoral shifts occurred, which grew industries that were less hurt. This means that these graduates now have to navigate “a complex labor market…that individual workers have to make countless decisions—big and small—about what kind of work they want to do and what they need to learn to achieve their career goals and earn a living.” It’s useful to break down the job search process into steps in order to account “for the complexity of human decision-making, we can design programs that work with human nature, not against it, benefiting countless lives and livelihoods.”

The first step students usually take when they first start looking for a job is to create their resume, which has a detailed list of their accomplishments and work experiences. For students who don’t know how to create an effective resume, many colleges offer free resources that provide students with effective guidance. However, students may not always be aware that these resources exist and can become discouraged by their failure to create a resume. Despite this possibility, this basic step is usually not the root of the students’ problems.

The next step is to develop and adopt a job search strategy. This includes finding open positions, applying to enough of them given the chances of success, and identifying the ones for which one is a good match. In terms of finding open positions, events such as career fairs and resources such as the career office can be extremely helpful. If students choose not to use these resources, this is where problems start to arise. Second, one of the main reasons why students stop looking for a job is because they are applying for the wrong positions. In a survey conducted by employment firm GradStaff that asked what the recent graduates’ top two concerns were when finding a job, more than 75% of respondents answered, “I don’t know what positions are for me,” and the second most common response at 46% was “I don’t know what to do with my major.” This survey is an indication that students need to be educated as to which specific positions they should be applying for, given their major. Even if they are applying for the right positions, they need to be reassured that they are doing the right thing.

Third, applying to the right number of jobs involves understanding the probability of success, which students might not know. According to the survey from GradStaff, respondents looked for a job for an average of 3.6 months and applied to just 23 jobs in total. That means that the respondents were applying for fewer than two positions per week. In order to increase the likelihood of getting a job, these graduates need to be sending out way more applications.’s editorial team published an article in 2021 recommending that seniors in college should be looking for positions for up to 20 hours per week. They recommend applying to up to 15 jobs throughout the week as well. Therefore, students need to be spending more time applying for the right jobs given their major.

Assuming the job search strategy is good, a person still has to have the persistence to continue applying until success is achieved. Graduates still need to be persistent despite facing rejection or simply having too much confidence to believe they will receive a job offer very quickly. Rejection can be difficult and harmful to job seekers because it can shatter their confidence levels and reduce their willingness to remain persistent. Rejection can especially be difficult for those who are overconfident because they did not expect any form of rejection.

We can assume that rejection of a job a person thought they would get is similar to that of losing a job a person already had because, in both situations, the people thought that they lost something that was theirs. Two professors at the University of British Columbia found that people who lose their job often face “denial, anger, bargaining, [and] depression” before they can accept what they lost.

In the next section of this paper, I prove interventions for the main behavioral biases of the student job search process: students applying for the wrong positions, students not applying for a long enough period of time, and students letting their emotions get the best of them.

Proposed Interventions

To help graduates apply for positions that are relevant to their major, a simple survey can nudge them in the right direction. Using data from the previous year’s class, we can attempt to predict what the process will look like for the new class; If we actively market and promote this data to them, the new class will be able to have an idea of where they should be applying. The survey that would be sent out to the previous year’s graduates would ask them what their major was and where they got a job. The survey would also show the number of people who got jobs and where, to make it clear which major has a higher likelihood of getting a job at a certain company. This survey from a recent graduating class should be encouraging to the current year class. A behavioral intervention experiment found that “Summarizing the data from 47 experimentally or quasi-experimentally evaluated job search interventions, we found that the odds of obtaining employment were 2.67 times higher for job seekers participating in job search interventions compared to job seekers in the control group, who did not participate in such intervention programs.” While all job search interventions are different, this intervention should increase the likelihood of obtaining employment. This intervention should also ease anxiety among the students because their job success becomes less uncertain to them: they know they aren’t facing significant trouble because the previous class could have faced the same thing and were still successful; they know if the job market for them is strong or not because of this. If the market is bad and the survey results do happen to be discouraging to them, the intervention for emotional encouragement becomes even more important.

To encourage graduates to keep being persistent in their job search and not give up over a short period of time, this survey would also ask the last class how long it took them to get their jobs. A study found that “unemployed youngsters who possess high levels of psychological capital also perceive more control over job search, which is directly connected with their job search intention. Notably, psychological capital seems to be a more beneficial resource for keeping unemployed youngsters engaged in job search in an adverse economic context.” This additional information that the survey provides is important psychological capital because it addresses the issue of students giving up their search after a certain period of time. In other words, the survey’s information would provide more control to the students in their search because they know what to expect. This would then be shown to the new class so that they can also draw conclusions on what they should do next based on how long they have been applying for the job they want. This year’s class may be shocked at how long it took some people with certain majors to get the jobs they wanted and therefore keep applying for jobs instead of giving up.

Alongside providing these students with statistics on how the previous class did, these students also need some form of emotional encouragement. A study by professors from universities in Hong Kong shows that “career-oriented mentoring was…significantly positively related to a number of promotions received and career satisfaction.” The intervention that these colleges would provide for their students would be bringing back a former student that would empathize with the students, and the class would be able to relate to him or her. This mentor would also provide their own personal guidance and how they were able to get a job by the time they graduated. Instead of a physical or live mentor to guide students, videos recorded by previous graduates could also be more effective because of the convenience of being able to watch them anytime. A survey that evaluated the help of online contacts in obtaining employment found that “based on 1322 telephone interviews with unemployed individuals in Germany, we [found] that online social support drives job search behavior. Our results show[ed] that social support derived from new information and communication technology counteract[ed] the adverse effect of being unemployed to a certain degree.”

Potential Experiment

A potential experiment needs to be outlined to see if the proposed interventions would work. In this experiment, a randomized control and experimental group of students need to be used in order to reduce room for error: a non-randomized control and experimental group can yield people with characteristics that may drive the outcome of the experiment instead of the intervention itself.

The control group would be 500 current students who would not receive any form of intervention, and the experimental group would be 500 current students who would. Both of these groups of students are going to be asked follow-up questions throughout their job search process to determine the progression of their success. The sample size of students should be based on the overall class size of the college where the experiment is being performed at. For example, at a college like Case Western Reserve University, where the class size is just over 1400, a sample size of 500 people each for the control and experimental group would be significant. Of this sample size, a small percentage of these people can be unaccounted for in the total experiment’s sample size because of attrition: people deciding not to participate, people getting sick for a long period of time, people lying when following up to see if they have gotten job offers yet, and more reasons why they don’t end up following the all the rules of the experiment that they should. This should be a very small percentage of people due to the appropriate sample size and shouldn’t affect the results in a way where the conclusion would be skewed. Note that these are estimates only. In reality, the appropriate sample size for this experimental design would require power calculations based on the estimated size of the experimental effect.

The next step in this experiment is determining the key questions that need to be asked in the follow-up and how often this follow-up should occur. The key variables of this experiment that should be asked of these students are: What is your major, how many job offers have you gotten, what type of job is it, how long did it take you to get an offer, and how long did it take you to get an offer that you are going to accept. This follow-up will be asked of the students every two weeks to get an update on their progress in finding a job. If we don’t ask this frequently, the experiment would be vulnerable to recall bias: students forgetting information that needs to be recorded in the follow-up. This survey requires that we trust that their answers to the questions are truthful. Asking to send proof of job offers can cause problems as some people may find it tedious or just simply not want to. They also may not be legally allowed to share certain information in that job offer as well.


In this paper, we determined the main behavioral biases that are hindering college students from getting a job right out of college. With the proposed interventions of providing data and a mentor to these students, we can significantly increase the likelihood of employment success. This is really important because we can apply these interventions to colleges all across the United States, which would have a significant impact on reducing employment for young adults with higher education. These interventions could even be applied to graduate school students who are also about to finish school and are looking for a job.

In the future, I hope to collaborate with the University I attend, Case Western Reserve University, to conduct the proposed experiment for my graduating class to see just how helpful our behavioral interventions are. If successful, this study could be applied in a much larger context of societal development; mentors having an emotional impact on students and possibly increasing their productivity is very useful information because mentors can also be used– in contexts other than employment–to increase efficiency in other areas. Similarly to providing the data to students, providing data to workers in a company that shows how others in their positions were able to be promoted and earn more may increase worker productivity, morale, and more. In conclusion, there are many applications for research like this where we can behavioral influence people to make better choices and be more productive.

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About the author

Aryan Mishra

Aryan is a first-year Economics student at Case Western Reserve University. He is interested in concentrating in Behavioral Economics so he can learn more about how psychology and human behavior can be used to solve economic problems.