5 mistakes college seniors make during their job search
From cover letter gaffes to interview underperformance, don’t fall victim to one of these five common job search mistakes.
No one ever said getting a job was a quick process. And what with all the responsibilities you have during your last year of college, it can be hard to focus on all the details of finding a job. But if you have realistic expectations, balance your school work and your job search, and avoid making rookie mistakes you will land your dream first job sooner rather than later.
“The hiring manager may know that you’re a newbie, but you can knock their socks off with just a few tiny behavioral tweaks,” says Monster’s career expert Vicki Salemi. “If you appear wise before your years, you’ll set yourself apart from your peers. It’s all about branding and how you position yourself.”
We spoke with career experts who outlined five of the biggest and most common mistakes college students make during the job search process—and how to avoid them.
Mistake: Writing a cover letter that only talks about you
How to avoid it: Explain how you’ll help the employer
It’s good to apply for jobs that align with your passions. Otherwise, you might risk boredom and burnout once you get the gig.
But keep in mind that while the potential employer does want to know that you’re passionate about the industry and the job, they are most interested in how you’ll help them reach their business goals. Making that clear is your primary cover letter objective.
“Too many upcoming or recent college graduates submit cover letters talking about their interests, passions, and goals, when the better approach is to talk about how their skills can meet the interests and goals of the employer,” explains Lori Rassas, a career coach in New York. “Individuals have to find out precisely what the employer needs and what the employer wants and then do whatever it takes to provide it.”
So you can start by doing some research. Talk to people familiar with the industry and role you’re applying for to get a good idea of what challenges the company may be facing, and what someone in that type of position could do to make a difference.
Mistake: Not asking questions during your interview
How to avoid it: Have 3–5 questions ready to ask each interviewer
Employers want employees who are curious about how they can make an impact. The first place you can demonstrate that trait is by asking relevant, well-researched questions in the interview.
“You will not impress the interviewer by responding to the standard question, ‘Do you have any questions for me?’ with ‘No’” says Los Angeles–based career coach Tana Session. “By asking questions, you are not only showing your true interest in the company and position, but you are also having a dialogue with your interviewer. This is also an additional way to demonstrate the knowledge you gained through your research.”
What are some example questions? Glad you asked. A few good ones are: “What does the path for growth in my position look like?” (which signals commitment and hard work), and “What do you think will be the biggest challenges in this position?” (shows them you’re thinking ahead and are solution-oriented).
Mistake: Going it alone
How to avoid it: Tap into your network
From college career services to professors, advisors, coaches, and peers, you probably have dozens of people who can help you find new job leads, review application materials, and more.
“We advise seniors to talk about what they hope to do after graduation with everyone around them, because just about everyone has been in their shoes and wants to be helpful, and they never know who their contacts know and where the next lead may come from,” says Dale McLennan director of the Endicott College Internship and Career Center.
Start by reaching out to the people you’re closest to, and gradually increase your team. It’s unrealistic to think everyone will be instrumental in helping you get a job, but the more people you have on your side, the better.
Mistake: Not personalizing your application email
How to fix it: Personalize it!
When you’re applying for a job, try to make a connection with the recruiter or hiring manager. Employers want you to put in the effort to say something unique and relevant, because if you don’t put in the effort now, why should they believe you’ll start when they give you the job?
“We get a lot of copy-and-paste form letters from applicants, especially recent college graduates that don’t mention our company, or reveal that they did not do any research whatsoever into us. These come across as a mass email to a list of companies they found online,” says Shaun Walker, creative director at HEROfarm, a marketing and PR agency. “Take a moment to find something simple from their recent work, on their Facebook page, or look through their website and choose something that caught your eye as an icebreaker. If they have a playful tone, mirror that in your voice.”
And under no circumstances should you write “To Whom it May Concern.” “That’s a definite rookie move,” Salemi says. “Take the time to find the hiring manager’s name so you can address him or her directly.”
Mistake: Listing irrelevant extracurriculars on your resume
How to avoid it: Only list ones that are relevant to the job you’re applying for
Resumes have limited real estate—you only want to list the most important information, in large part because hiring managers and recruiters only have a few seconds per resume to determine whether or not they should read on.
“The job search isn't like the college admissions process,” says Peter Yang, co-founder of ResumeGo, a resume writing services company. “Hiring managers and recruiters don't care that you've played the piano for 7 years or that you were the head party organizer of Kappa Delta Phi.
“They want to read about your work experience, technical skills, and academic achievements. Of course, if you were the president of the engineering club and you’re applying for software engineering positions, then it makes sense to make a note of that on your resume. However, remember to only include activities that are directly related to the jobs you are aiming for.”