It’s graduation season, a.k.a. job-hunting season for all the young adults with newly minted diplomas. After the inspirational commencement speeches, it’s time to buckle down and plunge into the working world.
If you’re in the market for your first “real” job, here’s the good news first: You’re graduating into the best job market we’ve had in a long time. Employers plan to hire about 10% more new grads this year over last year, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers. But that doesn’t mean you can expect anybody to just hand you a job, warns Scott Williams, executive director of the Career Center at the University of Georgia. “While they have, in fact, earned a degree and gained valuable experience, the only other thing they’ve earned or gained is an opportunity to compete for a job,” he says.
This is one of the biggest mistakes career experts say young adults make when embarking on the hunt for their first post-college position — but it’s not the only reason your career can experience a failure to launch. We’re assuming you know not to bring your flip-flops, your lunch or your mom to a job interview. Beyond that, executives and experts say there are a handful of common mistakes young job-seekers tend to make — often because of their lack of experience — that can keep you on the sidelines.
You’re a know-it-all. “[This] just comes off as fake,” says Jim Whitehurst, CEO of software company Red Hat. Don’t try to dazzle the interviewer with your knowledge — showing off is a turn-off. “Be yourself rather than acting like person that you think they will want you to be in five years,” Whitehurst says.
You flake out on your references. “Don’t make your references an afterthought,” says Joyce Russell, President of Adecco Staffing, USA. It’s going to look off-putting, at best, if you don’t have any former colleagues or bosses listed — even if they’re from an unpaid internship or volunteer position. You need to check in with your references before giving HR types their info. Forgetting to give them a heads-up is a seemingly small oversight that can kill your credibility. “Oddly enough, some applicants even include references who do not have many nice things to say about them,” Russell warns. Make sure you’re both on the same page. And remember, your friends and relatives are not references. Just don’t go there.
You abuse cut-and-paste. When CareerBuilder.com asked employers to name the top resume mistakes they see on a regular basis, two big ones were “resumes that were generic and not personalized for the position… [and] resumes that have a large amount of wording copied from the job posting,” says Rosemary Haefner, CareerBuilder’s chief human resources officer.
Your heart isn’t in it. No, you shouldn’t expect a job — especially an entry-level job — to fulfill your dreams, but if you’re just going through the motions to make your parents happy, for example, that’s going to come through in your job search. “Don’t focus on jobs that are… the most prestigious or that your parents want you to do,” Whitehurst says. Best case scenario: You break out the false enthusiasm and get hired. What then? “You’ll spend more time at your job than in anything else you’ll do,” Whitehurst points out. That’s a long time to put up a false front.
You’re lazy. “The job search is a very active process. Unfortunately, technology has made it almost too easy for students to ‘drop’ their resume and think they are done,” Williams says. While it might feel like an accomplishment to hit “submit” on an online job application, that’s really only the first step. You have to reach out to people you know, too. “Use your personal and professional networks — be sure to include LinkedIn — to make additional connections, learn about opportunities and research companies,” he says.
You take the first thing that comes along. No, you shouldn’t be super-picky at this stage of the game, but a survey from Adecco Staffing finds that long-term career growth is the most important aspect of that first professional-track job. “While getting your foot in the door any way you can is important… take a moment to assess an opportunity from a longer term perspective,” Russell says. Think about (and ask about) what kind of opportunity for advancement a job will give you, whether or not you’ll be given opportunities to develop professional education, an industry network and leadership skills. Not asking could telegraph a lack of motivation — or could end up stalling your budding career if you do manage to get the job. “These are all questions that you should be asking yourself before committing to a first job, so that you don’t make the mistake of getting pigeon-holed in a role with no growth potential,” Russell says.