Applying for your first “real” job is exciting. It’s also scary. For many jobs, you’ll be competing against hundreds of other applicants. You need to find a way to make yourself stand out from the crowd. Unfortunately, some college grads make mistakes in their job applications that make them stand out in a bad way.
As a brand-new school year is here, I started thinking:
What are the most common job-search mistakes made by new grads–and how can you avoid these mistakes?
To answer this question, we gathered tips from 17 recruiters, HR experts, and hiring managers. Their insights are both helpful and thought-provoking.
The best part? These tips work great for internships too. You’ll find them listed below.
Make your cover letter conversational
Alison Green: https://www.askamanager.org/
The biggest mistake I see new grads making when job search is not getting everything they can out of their cover letters. New grads don’t have a ton of work experience, so it’s essential to write a cover letter that explains why they’d excel at the job. The letter should be personable and conversational (not overly stiff or formal), and not just summarize the resume that follows. Too often new grads’ cover letters are overly formal form letters that aren’t customized to the specific opening and don’t highlight the evidence that would convince a hiring manager to talk further.
Find a career that fits your personality
Penelope Trunk: https://penelopetrunk.com/
At the beginning of your career, the industry you enter is way less important than the boss you work for. Find someone who has a track record for helping people who are direct reports. You move up the ladder by connecting with people who know how to help you find what you’re good at. If your boss is not helping your discover where you fit in the organization, then look to someone else in the organization for help.
You can also take charge of your career development by learning your personality type. Personality type systems are an integral part of every Fortune 500 company and many smaller companies as well. The system is a way to divide all humans into sixteen segments by what their most outstanding strength is. Each of us is only one type, and we are each the absolute best at one thing. If you figure out your thing early on you can avoid spending time trying to get recognition for something you are not the best at.
Take this test to find out what your personality type is. And then read everything you can about that type so you can steer your career well from the start.
Add details to your Linkedin profile
Jessica Peres, Cargo Barn
As someone who heavily recruits on LinkedIn, I would say having a complete and professional LinkedIn profile is huge for college grads. Established professionals and recruiters are already networking on LinkedIn and there are key things they look for. My tips would include:
- A professional-looking picture where you are dressed professionally, smiling and looking at the camera.
- Mark your profile as “open to opportunities” so recruiters know you are looking for or are open to a new job.
- Provide clear details about what types of jobs or industries you are looking for so recruiters know if you’ll be a good fit for the job they’re filling.
Tune in and really listen to others
Karen Franklin, Girl Scout Diamonds of Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Texas
We all want to speak out and be heard, share what we know and impress our way to success!
However, I’d like to share something that was shared with me a while back: Listen! I foster a heightened level of engaged listening in all my conversations, whether in person or over-the-phone. When I start to zone out or feel the urge to interrupt, I remind myself that it’s better to tune in and listen, really listen, to what the other person is saying.
Maintain a broad focus of job possibilities
Monica McKnight, Phoenix, AZ
One of the biggest mistakes I notice specific to job searching is having a narrow focus. Limiting the focus of your search to one category or job title can potentially eliminate many positions that can increase your skills and qualifications that may help a person gain the experience necessary to move into the position they want. My advice is to be prepared to start at the bottom and work in a job that may not be exactly what you want.
Gabriel Hawk, Soaring Communications
To the new grad: 1) Technology helps us accomplish amazing things, however, please remember to keep the Human in your Resources. Spend some time practicing your interpersonal skills, especially active listening. Eventually you’ll have to look someone in the eye and shake their hand. 2) Congratulations on earning your degree. Please stay humble. You earned your degree; it wasn’t owed to you. Your next job is the same; it’s not owed to you, and it should be earned. 3) If you’re confident in your ability then getting in the door might be better than shooting for the penthouse. Your elevator will rise.
Bryan Long, AtWork Group
The advice I typically give to new grads is to network as much as possible, especially with professionals within the industry they are interested in entering.
Tiffany D. Crispell, Crispell Legal Solutions of Pittston, PA
Always show respect to everyone you encounter during your job search. If you are rude when a recruiter calls to schedule an interview, or you treat receptionists, custodians, and clerks with disrespect, you can’t honestly tell your interviewer that you have great people skills. Even if you do make it through the first round of interviews, people will eventually find out about your disrespectful behavior. Be courteous, polite, and kind at all times.
Check your spam folder
Lisa Laughrey, LawnAmerica
Answer your phone, listen to voicemails and regularly check your spam folder. I understand the annoyance; I’m just as guilty when it comes to screening phone calls from unknown numbers and not listening to their voicemails, and we all know how easy it is to miss an email if it gets quarantined in your spam folder. It’s important to make sure you are easily reachable to the Recruiter/HR Professional once you’ve started submitting job applications.
Have a friend read your resume
Kim Salems, SHRM-CP
Make sure your resume is spell-checked and formatted PERFECTLY. Poor grammar can make or break whether or not someone looks at your resume and takes you seriously. Don’t just check for spelling; make sure you use proper punctuation, apostrophes, and words (“its” vs. “it’s,” “your” vs. “you’re,” etc.). Check the formatting – make sure your indents are all the same and the font and sizing is consistent throughout the document. Have other people go over it – the more sets of eyes on it, the better.
Tailor your CV and cover letter to fit the job
Sharon Rosen: HeraldPR
One of the biggest mistakes I see is when it’s clear by a candidate’s CV, cover letter and/or questionnaire answers that they haven’t fully read the job description. When I write job descriptions, I am very clear about what and who we are looking for. It is so important for a candidate to respond in kind; show me why you fit the requirements of the position and how you can do the daily tasks. Read each job description in detail and tailor your CV, cover letter and questionnaire to fit the position and the company.
Copy+paste words from the job posting
Ashland Jones, Employer Support Services
[Avoid the] use of buzzwords or phrases, filler, or other meaningless jargon: forward-thinking, team player, dedicated, innovative, proactive, blah blah. If you want to grab my attention (and that of the ATS), take words from the job posting and incorporate them in your resume. Yes, you may have a separate resume for each job opportunity, but the competition is fierce.
Do your homework on your potential employer
Lance Anderson, HR Curmudgeon
I’m always amazed by the preconceived notions some grads have about what working will be like. These often relate to pay, autonomy, career progression, and corporate culture. If I was to cite one common short-fall of these applicants, it would be in researching the employer before going for an interview.
Be ready to discuss experience and interests with interviewers
Angela Lamar, Advent
One of the biggest mistakes I see in newer grads, is the lack of interview preparation. From the initial screening, hiring manager phone interviews and onsite interviews with the team, I notice many candidates are unprepared to discuss their academic and job experience, and career interests. To better prepare, I would suggest newer grads invest some time in developing an elevator pitch of their academic and job experience, as well as at least a general idea of their career goals. For onsite interviews, I would suggest to adequately prepare to discuss the same in much more detail, answer questions completely, research the company of course and ask relevant questions pertaining to the role and teams.
Send a thank you email
Joanna Mocarska: Central Baptist Village
Preparing questions & asking them at the end of the interview. When I get questions, especially someone that pulls out a notebook to ask them, it sets them apart from other candidates by showing their engagement level and just how interested they really are in the position. Take the extra step to send a thank you email afterwards!
Care about the job first and money second
Paula Unger: Matchmg.com
One tip I would give new grads looking for a position is to be strategic with their job search – don’t just apply to any and everything they find online and see what sticks. They need to tailor their cover letter to the specific company and position they are applying to and do research on the company. One of my biggest pet peeves (that I generally see from newer job hunters) is when I schedule a phone interview with someone and they ask, “What do you guys do?” or “What is this position?”. It’s important to express at least basic knowledge of the company and the position they are applying for to show the Recruiter/HR/Hiring Manager that they took the initiative to do some research and have a genuine interest in this specific position, not just any job that will give them a paycheck.
Learn how to negotiate
Andrew G. Rosen: https://www.jobacle.com/
Know your worth! Many new graduates make the mistake of accepting a low starting salary, which can take years to “correct.” Don’t be shy–negotiate! Just because you’re new to the full-time workforce does not mean your experience and skills are not valuable to your new employer! Do not let them take advantage of you.
Amazing insights! It’s clear that these HR and business experts have seen a LOT of mistakes made by job seekers. Now it’s time to hear about your experience.
If you’ve already landed your first full-time job (or internship), how did you do it? Comment below to share your advice with others.