Have you ever seen a film called Dude, Where's my Car?. It tells the story of two lazy pot-heads who wake up one morning after a heavy party and can't recall the whereabouts of their vehicle. It's much the same story for many graduates who, after one long bop at university, wake up one morning to find they've graduated and haven't given much of a thought to their future.

It's estimated that as many as half of all students never set foot inside their careers centre. This could perhaps explain why, according to the Careers Group at the University of London, 75 per cent of those strolling the stands at their autumn recruitment fair last year had already left university.

Enter Dude, Where's my Career?, a self-help guide aimed at "the real-life graduate who's unprepared, uninspired, overwhelmed, freaking out – and losing confidence fast".

Some 650,000 souls will emerge from university bleary-eyed this summer and, as Susan Goldie, an adviser at the Careers Group, explains, there is an oft-repeated process that means many of them will end up in a jam. The first stage is denial, with many simply avoiding the university careers service. "Year in, year out, students leave it until the summer term of their final year to haul themselves in to have a chat, and that's the organised ones," says Goldie. After this comes reversal, with many students going to live at home after graduation – "a serious downer", apparently.

Then comes a loss of confidence. "You leave university feeling invincible," says Goldie, "but that confidence soon evaporates when you're no longer around people who make you feel good about yourself. Now you can't leave the house without the sense that the whole world knows what a pathetic, over-educated, jobless loser you are." All of which leads to the final stage in the process: crippling fear of the future.

This is the graduate malaise, the lot of a lost generation, and it will probably be heartening for most twentysomethings to realise that they're not the only ones feeling this way.

But how on earth do you break the cycle? After all, the confidence crisis is compounded by sheer bewilderment. You've gone through school and university, and you've learnt how to play the game of academe. But this career malarkey is an entirely different beast. There are so many unwritten rules to the job world that you need to learn fast to have any hope of getting anywhere.

The key to seizing back your confidence is to realise that the job market is just another game for which you need to learn the rules. For example, did you know that the number of advertised job vacancies could be as few as 20 per cent of the positions that are actually available? The best jobs – the ones you want but never see on the jobs pages – are unseen because the companies don't need to advertise. They wait for motivated graduates to select themselves by sending in a CV speculatively.

Or did you know that all those lucky devils on graduate schemes aren't as sorted as you – or they – think? "Going it alone gives you more options," says Tanya de Grunwald, the author of Dude, Where's my Career?. It also means you're likely to go for what you've always wanted to do, rather than the sensible, safe, graduate programme. And if what you really want to do is in a competitive industry, that's even more reason to go for it. "Would you really want a career in something that isn't competitive?" asks de Grunwald. It's often just working out how to get into an industry that is the biggest test, she says.

Similarly, if you don't know what it is you want to do, it's best not to sit around waiting for the "big idea". "The idea of a dream job triggers unmanageable levels of panic, expectation and even paralysis in graduates," says de Grunwald. Instead of waiting for your dream job, she suggests you take a sensible approach and look for a great first job. "You'll be picking up new skills and bagging some great experience that will prove useful when applying for future jobs that you'll like even more."

With its back-to-basics approach, Dude, Where's my Career? does the job of all the study guides you read as a short cut to your degree: it answers stuff you're probably too embarrassed to ask. So go and check it out. Seriously, dude.

'Dude, Where's my Career? The Guide for Baffled Graduates' is published next month by Summersdale, £8.99.