The Worst Mistakes of First-Time Job Hunters

Start your job search smart by avoiding these pitfalls and following these tips straight from career coaches and job recruiters.

1. Search smarter

An April 2011 survey conducted by Braun Research on behalf of Adecco Staffing U.S. found that 71 percent of 500 recent four-year college graduates would have done something differently to prepare for the job market. While U.S. employers will hire 4 percent more graduates from the class of 2018 than they did from the 2017 graduating class, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, employers are still looking for the pick of the litter.

“When you’re not familiar with the job market or job seeking, you really don’t know how much effort it will take,” said Kathy Kane, senior vice president of talent management for Adecco NA in Melville, New York.

To find out what students can do to better prepare for the current job market, we spoke with career coaches, recruiters, and recent graduates.

2. “I would have started looking for jobs earlier.”

Putting off your job hunt isn’t a wise move. Among the Adecco survey’s respondents, 26 percent said they would have started looking for potential positions earlier.

“It’s easy to fall into ‘my weekend starts on Thursday’ mode, rather than ‘I’ve got to put my job search into full gear today’ mode,” said Kane, “but procrastinators will have fewer choices.”

Most students don’t start thinking about their careers until they have to, said Lindsey Pollak, a career expert who focuses on Generation Y in the workplace. “There’s so much you can do that’s not a lot of work and not overly time-consuming.”

3. “I would have actually networked.”

For students and older professionals alike, networking can feel like the most dreaded part of a job hunt. Twenty-nine percent of respondents to the Adecco survey said they would have spent more time building a solid professional network.

“Networking can be scary,” said Pollak, “but about 70 percent of jobs are found through networking.” Students who spend their time trolling job boards should instead spend that time making solid connections with people who are respected and involved in the workforce, industry experts and alumni, and spend only 30 percent of their time looking at job listings.

For the most part, Pollak said, people love to help students. As long as you are gracious and thankful and not trying to hard-sell yourself right off the bat, potential connections are likely to be receptive.

4. “I would have taken on a job or an internship in addition to my courseload.”

Bottom line: There’s no substitute for experience.

Having some professional experience under your belt before entering the workforce has become a necessity for many employers.

“I don’t know a company that doesn’t want people with internship experience,” said Pollak. “My advice is to get yourself through the recession any way you can, and come out with whatever experience you can.”

Look for internships that provide college credit or are paid. Otherwise, gain work experience in a setting such as waiting tables—and talk with people at each and every table. “There are CEOs who started networking while they were waiting tables,” Pollak said.

If you can’t find a full- or part-time position on- or off-campus, try going to the Internet for virtual work. “There are jobs you can get without even leaving your dorm room,” Pollak said, including maintaining someone’s social media outlets, working as a copy editor or building a website for a small business. Many of these types of jobs have flexible hours, an added benefit for busy students.

5. “I would have gotten more involved in career-relevant extracurricular activities.”

On-campus groups, clubs, events, and activities are a great place to get experience that translates to the working world. Skills are skills. You can show you have gained relevant experience by planning concerts on campus or working as a freshman orientation assistant, for example.

“Everybody wants to hire people who understand how to manage projects, work alongside difficult people, and have built their communication skills,” said Kane. If you were on the dance team, and choreographed a group performance, for example, you’ve developed creative, leadership, and training abilities, all of which translate to the workplace.

Experts say it’s a matter of framing the extracurricular experience you’ve had in a professional way. Try thinking of your biggest accomplishments as a member or leader of an extracurricular group, and using them to brainstorm resume bullet points.

6. “I would have applied for more jobs.”

Many recent graduates regret not putting out more feelers. According to the Adecco survey, 26 percent of recent graduates would have applied to more jobs prior to finishing school.

Putting your hat in the ring is the only way to be considered for most opportunities. The trick is to keep track of the applications you send out. “Sending in your application for hundreds of jobs on Monster.com will work against you,” said Dan Schawbel, a personal branding expert and author of Me 2.0. The more jobs you apply for, the more tempting it is to send out generic resumes.

Write your resume so it highlights your experience with each position’s requirements. Not sure what your relatable skill set is? Try creating a Venn diagram that illustrates all of the skills and experience you’ve developed. The overlap can indicate your primary strengths, and the remainder can help you see where you have specific skills related to your prospective industry.

7. “I would have focused more on developing relevant skills.”

Having an awareness of industry-specific skills as well as broad, transferable ones is a way to really stand out.

“Companies aren’t investing as much in training, so companies are more likely to look for someone who can hit the ground running,” said Kane. That isn’t just familiarity with industry terminology, it’s also having professional “street smarts.”

“Show your understanding of chain-of-command issues, working with older, more experienced colleagues and working with people in parallel roles in other departments, or with vendors and customers,” said Tulgan.

You should also have excellent customer service knowledge—not only to use as a professional but also to use as a job seeker. That includes making yourself available, being fully prepared for interviews, and knowing how to problem-solve, Tulgan said. “Above all, develop self-management skills and the ability to work effectively with a manager,” he said.

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