10 common job-search mistakes made by recent college graduates

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Job search mistakesBy Haley Heieck, recruiter, Hajoca Corporation

Searching for a job is tricky business. With hundreds of websites advertising positions and such an emphasis placed on networking, it can be overwhelming. Where do you start your search?  Here are 10 mistakes to avoid when looking for a job just after graduation:

1. Not thoroughly reading the job description and application instructions
Job descriptions are your first window into what a company is all about. You can learn a lot about the culture and personality of a company through the way they advertise open positions. The job description also guides you toward how to tailor your cover letter. And don’t forget to double and triple check the application instructions before submitting your materials. Many companies will discount well-qualified candidates who don’t use the right subject line when submitting their application — it’s often a test of ruling out those applicants who are not detail-oriented or don’t follow simple instructions.

2. Selling yourself short
The job-search process can be confusing — seemingly entry-level jobs are now asking for one to two years of experience. The good news is that most hiring managers count internship experience and summer jobs as just the experience they’re looking for. If you sold knives or promoted gym memberships while you were a personal trainer, you can count that as sales experience. Were you the shift supervisor at a fast-food restaurant, resident assistant of your dorm or captain of the school baseball team? These positions show demonstrated leadership ability. These are desirable traits in potential hires.

3. Not having someone proofread all submitted materials
Making spelling and grammatical errors is the easiest mistake to avoid in the whole job-search process — proofread, proofread, proofread. And be sure another set of eyes sees your application materials prior to submission. Often applicants work so hard on a well-written cover letter, they miss that they’ve changed tenses in the middle of a paragraph or used the wrong kind of ‘there.’ Take the extra 30 minutes to find someone you trust to read through your submitted materials. It’s the first impression you’re making on a hiring manager, and you want it to be a good one.

4. Having your résumé exceed one page
This rule applies to both seasoned professionals and recent college graduates. Your résumé is not a comprehensive list of every professional or extracurricular experience you’ve ever had – it’s a strategically chosen demonstration of the experiences that make you suited for the position to which you’re applying. Most hiring managers are not going to read beyond the first page when they have a stack of applications to work their way through. One page should be sufficient in including experiences that are pertinent to the job you’re applying to and show the depth and breadth of your abilities.

5. Not defining the scope of your search
There are hundreds of ways to qualify a job search, but the first should be defining what is important to you as the applicant. Does being in a certain city or state take top billing in your book? Is working for a nonprofit a must?  Is accounting the field you just have to be in? Identifying these guidelines early will make the actual act of finding a job less overwhelming as it will narrow the scope of your search.

6. Not helping employers understand your past experience
Your responsibilities at past positions are familiar and easy for you to explain, but would a complete stranger be able to interpret and understand what you’ve included on your résumé? To help, use numerical values to show your successes. Numbers are a more universal language when it comes to showing growth and results delivered. Did you save the company $175 a month by researching different telecommunication vendors or increase sales in the shoe department 3 percent during your six month tenure by promoting matching handbags? Whatever the experience may be, quantify it when you can to show added value and success.

7. Not customizing your cover letter for every job application
Cover letter writing is not a one size fits all endeavor. Each job application needs a tailored cover letter to accompany your résumé. Cover letters are your opportunity to expand on specific experiences that make you well-suited for the position in a way that you cannot on a résumé. Talk about your leadership style in your past position or how a certain scenario led to an increased ability to manage your time. Demonstrate your confidence and explain why you’re the best candidate for the job. Be direct but professional and reference the job description. Hiring managers love to see when applicants explain how they are uniquely qualified for specific tasks or responsibilities mentioned in the job posting.

8. Not being persistent
It’s important to be persistent in your search. Don’t be afraid to reach out to people in your network and let them know you’ve just graduated and are looking for a full-time position. Most people received a helping hand at one time or another in their career and would love to pay it forward, especially for poised, mature young professionals looking for their first job. The more of yourself you put into the search, the better your results will be.

9. Not showing your personality or being unprofessional
Hiring managers are looking for skill and ability, but they’re really looking for the right person. Often skills can be taught, but the person that shows they will fit into the company culture best is going to be given preference. So don’t be afraid to be yourself and show your personality. It’s just as vital that the company is a good fit for you, so ask questions and do your research.

10. Not having an open mind
Chances are your first job is not going to be your last. Most of the time, landing your “dream job” right out of college is just that, a dream. You’ll have to put in your dues and work your way up, and it will make it that much more rewarding when you get there. So when looking for your first job, keep an open mind. You’ll learn a lot about what you need and want professionally early in your career, so don’t be afraid to stretch the limits of your search. Considering a cross-country move? Thinking of working abroad? Do it now while you’re young – you won’t always have the same freedom that you do as a recent college grad. 

Haley Heieck is a recruiter for Hajoca Corporation’s Management Training Program, a three year training program used as a source of external talent for leadership positions.  Prior to her time with Hajoca, she managed two academic internship programs for The Fund for American Studies in Washington, DC.  A graduate from the University of Oregon, Heieck is an avid college sports fan and enjoys cycling, traveling and photography.

7 Comments
  1. Hi, 
    These are the on-going issues with the Freshers. What I think, before applying to any job they should take some professional guidance/help from people basically who knows about that particular  field. This might make their vision more clear and strong.

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