Originally Posted: Dec 5, 2018
Last Updated: Apr 13, 2021
When I was in high school, I thought I had to take a certain number of classes and get a specific degree so I could get into a good enough college then get a “good job”—whatever that means. Over the years, I’ve come to realize that although college and your experiences during this time are incredibly important to your future career, the process you take to get that job is equally important. Everyone will have a different approach to the job hunt, and everyone should find the method that works for them. However, everyone will make mistakes along the way—and that’s okay. Here are the 10 biggest mistakes students make when trying to get a job (and some tips on how to avoid them!).
1. Only applying to your “ideal” jobs
While there’s nothing wrong with wanting to use your college degree to the fullest or having a specific career path in mind, goals sometimes take time. Unfortunately, many jobs out there, even entry-level jobs, require additional years of work experience that not everyone may have. Sometimes new college grads may have to work a job that isn’t their passion but is a very solid stepping stone. In 2013, two workers from the Federal Reserve New York found that only 27% of employees had jobs directly relating to their undergraduate degree. For many people, the problem isn’t finding jobs to apply to, but finding a job you want to apply to based on your narrow vision.
2. Not editing your résumé or LinkedIn profile
Your college’s career center, your friends, or any new pair of eyes should look at your résumé and critique it. Sometimes we work on something for so long that we overlook obvious mistakes. Also, each résumé should be tailored to the specific job you’re hoping to get hired for, and sometimes things can get mixed up. So be sure to double-check every résumé you send out. Because most applications are online and aren’t read by humans at first anymore, having a solid résumé with keywords that stands out is important. LinkedIn, the online equivalent of your résumé, is also important, as many recruiters use the social media platform to find potential employees.
3. Not including a cover letter
When you apply for a job online, there will usually be a separate place to attach a résumé and cover letter. Even if the application says a cover letter is optional, you should attach one to show you’re willing to put in the extra effort. A cover letter builds upon your résumé: while a résumé is just a bullet-point breakdown of your accomplishments, a cover letter is a good first impression of how you express yourself. Get creative and don’t be lazy with your letters!
4. Failing to dress the part
The majority of jobs will require you to come in for one or two interviews before they make their decision. While you don’t have to necessarily wear a suit every time, try to dress as you would if you were to be working in that company or industry It’s okay to invest in some new clothes for the job hunt because a good first impression can often make or break your chances. You can also ask what the company’s dress code is. Other than clothes, appropriate makeup, jewelry, hair styles and color, tattoos, etc. should also be considered when applying to the company.
5. Applying too late
Certain industries and companies, such as finance corporations, tend to hire new graduates early and during a specific timeframe. While most companies in the US don’t operate this way and accept people year-round, there’s nothing worse than missing an opportunity simply because you were too late. Research ahead of time about application deadlines and talk to recruiters. There’s no such thing as being too early—the worst that could happen is you’re told you have to wait to apply later, but at least they have your name in the front of their mind.
6. Not researching the company enough
Not only will a solid understanding of the company allow you to see if you’re a good fit, knowing a bit about the company’s history, mission, and goals will help you in the interview. This isn’t to say you should research a company solely for the purpose of providing answers you think they want to hear, but it will give you an edge in the interview. In addition, sometimes an interviewer may directly ask you what you already know about the company. It won’t look too good if you don’t have a strong answer. Having some knowledge will also let you know what types of questions to ask during the interview.
7. Lack of negotiation skills
Whether it’s salary, hours, or benefits, negotiation may be necessary at some point in your career. Knowing how to sell yourself and prove that you are worth X amount while still remaining respectful and humble is a strong asset. In order to gain this skill, you should research the average salary, benefits, etc. for the industry or area, keeping in mind your own individual skills and potential. Having some facts to back up why you think you deserve more shows you’re not just asking for something because you’re unhappy with what they’ve already given you.
8. Not using your connections
Even if you’ve just met them once or think you might not have made a strong impression, don’t be afraid to use your connections! Whether it be for advice or for an actual recommendation, connections are so useful because careers are about relationships. Make sure to introduce yourself politely and make your message personalized—don’t just make it sound like you’re contacting everybody. Be patient and humbly ask for your favor. A lot of times adults will be happy to help in some way because they know what it was like to be in your shoes.
9. Having disorganized application materials
A study in 2016 done by a career matchmaking firm found that in just over three and a half months, new college grads applied to an average of 23 jobs. Cover letters, résumés, individual company forms—even though most applications are online these days, it’s so easy to be disorganized when it comes to the necessary documents you need, especially when you apply to so many positions! Disorganization leads to people forgetting deadlines or even forgetting which jobs they applied to in the first place. A good idea is to create folders on your computer for each company you applied for. If you apply to jobs in different industries, it may be wise to create separate folders for your résumés so you don’t accidentally submit the wrong one.
10. Having negative or questionable content on the internet
Companies will look up the potential candidate and check social media or links relating to them before they choose to hire the person. Inappropriate photos, hateful jokes, or other such content may give off a bad first impression. While this is not to say you have to curate a fake persona online, you should be mindful about past and future social media content when applying for jobs. Every once in a while, do a quick Google search of your name to see what pops up! If you’re not satisfied with what comes up first, consider deleting some old content.
Try to have fun during the job hunt! This is a great time to gain confidence and see what path is right for you. It’s a stressful time, but it doesn’t have to be the whole way. Just be aware of the choices you're making so the process runs a lot smoother. In the end, you want to find a job you enjoy, so although it will be stressful, you should also be excited about the possibilities of your future.
For more awesome career advice, check out our Internships and Careers section.