Hey, College Grads: Avoid These 5 Job-Hunting Mistakes And Good Work Can Still Be Had

It's commencement address season, and you know what that means. The real world awaits, but it doesn't have to be terrible. Here are ways to sharpen that post-college job search.

It’s graduation season and employment is weighing heavily on the minds of college grads across America—some, in fact, have said they've already given up on the job hunt.

For those worried grads, the job outlook is mixed. The good news is that despite the tough job market, unemployment for college graduates in April was 3.9 percent—nearly half of the overall unemployment rate of 7.5 percent, according to the Labor Department report released last week. However, there is evidence that the reduction was driven by high-skilled job seekers (those with Bachelor’s degrees) moving into low-skill jobs, such as file clerks, waitresses, and, of course, baristas.

Certainly, the intended profession that you selected in college may be more difficult to land these days and the career path may look a little differently than you imagined freshman year, but great opportunities are still out there for the savvy job seeker. Here are five common mistakes new college grads make in their quest for a job and smarter ways to navigate a post-graduation job search in today’s market.

Don't: focus on the job title, rather than the company.

People usually ask, what kind of job do you want? A better question to ask is what company do you want to work for? College grads should look for companies where they would like to see themselves working in five or 10 years. Good companies will recognize ambition and talent and create opportunities for you.

Remember: CEOs can, and often do, start in the mailroom. You may have to accept a lower position, but you’re better off getting your foot in the door with a job that you are somewhat overqualified for at a company you are passionate about, than biding your time with jobs that have very little upward mobility.

Instead: Find a company that’s respected for taking care of its employees and is invested in them. The job will follow.

Don't: over-emphasize leadership skills.

College applications may have conditioned you to believe leadership experience is the most important thing on your resume, but it's not. While organizations want to hire smart people with leadership skills because it shows assertiveness and the ability to independently manage their work, you also need to show that you can work within a team dynamic.

Share examples of group projects or teamwork experience that you had during an internship. Avoid speaking only to times that you had success as an individual, and help the hiring manager see how you were able to find success by working with others.

Instead: Talk about a group project where you pitched great ideas and show how your contributions led to a team accomplishment.

Don't: tell employers that you are "great."

Avoid saying that you are "great" in your cover letter. Writing, "I’m confident that I would be a great fit for this job" is a standard line in many cover letter templates, but it won’t help you get hired. Why? Telling employers that you are great means nothing. You have to show them.

Employers are more likely to believe your credentials once you give examples of your experiences, as opposed to making bold claims.

Instead: Show, don’t tell. Focus on the job description and how your experience matches it. "I understand you seek ______. I can offer you this: _______."

Don't: Make it all about you.
The key thing to realize while on the hiring table is that it’s not about you. Hiring managers do not hire because they want to offer someone a job; they hire because they have a requirement to fill. The company has a business problem to solve, and the question they’re asking is how can this candidate help solve it?

When you sit down with a hiring manager, do not focus on how the company is a good fit for your post-graduation plans or how it will help you attain your goal of going to business school in five years. It is not the hiring manager’s goal to help you achieve your dreams. They want to know how you can help them. Keep the focus on how you can best solve the company’s needs and why your skills and experiences put you in the position to make their job easier.

Instead: Articulate their problem and how you can help to solve it. Ask, "Why are you hiring for this position? What problem are you trying to solve?" Describe to them how you could help solve that problem.

Don't: dwell on the offer before you have it.
The recruiting process is designed to weed out people. The recruiter’s job is to bring a certain number of prospective candidates down to a smaller number to interview. During this process, you want to avoid any self-serving questions that will eliminate you from consideration. So before you get offered the job, don’t focus on salary or benefits. These all communicate that you are thinking more about yourself than the organization.

Instead: Focus on the company before getting to the "offer tipping point." Once you actually get the offer, then you can negotiate your salary, benefits, and perks.

Let us know how your job search goes, graduates, by tweeting your progress with the hashtag #GradsAndGoodJobs.

Good luck!

Chris Forman is founder and CEO of StartWire, a job search organizer with more than one million active users.

[Image: Flickr user Melissa Wiese]

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4 Comments

  • Lou Mari

    This an excellent, pithy article that gets right to the most important points. You also don't need an "objective" on your resume. See "Don't make it all about you".

  • Williamson2005

    I can already say i made a few of these mistakes, and also i didn't think of a few points that you made.  Thanks a million for this article!!

  • Kári Petersen

    Dear Chris.
    Many thanks for this contribution. I agree on the fact that the company should really be the main determinant of where to apply. Great companies offer great opportunites for personal and professional development. Therefore, starting at a lower position and not being 'snobbish' about title, will on many occasions pay off in the long run!

  • Lisa Dalla Vecchia

    This is a terrific article. I completely agree and really like the first point you make - it's true! They key part of that point "Good companies will recognize ambition and talent and create opportunities for you." And don't we all want to work for good and smart companies that recognize and reward talent?