Updated August 6, 2019

23 Job Search Mistakes New College Grads Make

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Competition for entry-level positions is fierce for anyone graduating from college in 2015. Need a leg up on your competition? Avoid making these 23 common mistakes, and you decrease your chances of getting passed over for one of your classmates.

Planning Your Strategy

1. Not knowing what kind of job you want
Earning a degree is a major investment of time and money, so to make it pay off, you need a plan for how you're going to use it. Without a clear idea of what field you're interested in or what kind of career path you'd like to follow, you're going to have a tough time nailing down a lead on a job. Taking the time to give some serious thought to what it is you want to do before you start sending out resumes can help to guide you in the right direction.

2. Or what kind of company you want to work for
Working for a large corporation can have its perks in terms of possibly higher salaries and better benefits. But you could get lost in the crowd of other entry-level worker bees by the time you're due for a promotion. You can work at a smaller company, where you are more likely to get recognized for your work, but it may have a riskier future and could encroach on your work-life balance. Think about the pros and cons of various workplaces, and you'll be able to focus your search.

3. Being clueless about your strengths
Everyone's skill set is different, and we all have our own set of unique qualifications. If you don't know your strengths, you're going to have a hard time selling yourself to potential employers. It's OK at this point to not be perfect — but you'll want to have talking points on where you do excel when you interview with employees. Interviews are selling sessions, where you have to sell the employer on a big asset: you and your strengths.

4. Waiting for a job to land in your lap
The tough truth is the majority of job matches are made through referrals. Employers don't want to search through piles of resumes any more than you want to send out a bunch of resumes to people you barely know. However, many college grads assume that once they apply for a job online, their work is done and they can sit back and wait for a phone call. The applications are necessary, but even more effective is seeing if you have any connections to anyone at the company and being sure to follow up with all the applications you send out.

5. Having unrealistic expectations
While it's not totally unheard of for a freshly minted college to grad to snag a six-figure salary right out of the gate, chances are, it's not going to be you. Salary expectations are often out of whack, according to various studies, which should prompt you to check in with your career services office to see what you likely can snag for your first paycheck. According to a CareerBuilder survey, 30% of college grads make between $30,000 and $40,000 at their first job.

6. Not paying attention to your online presence
Just about everything is communicated on social media these days, and recent generations of college grads haven't been shy about sharing the big and small moments of their lives online. The problem is that the images you put out there and the comments you make can come back to bite you if a prospective employer decides to check out your Facebook or Twitter profiles. Chances are they will: 68 percent of hiring managers in a recent SnagaJob survey said they've looked over job applicants' social media profiles before making their decision. In fact, the search company says, 44 percent of employers have guidelines about how hiring managers should go about screening job candidates through social media. So go through and clean up your social media feeds -- you don't want to hold your career back because of some ridiculous photo you posted two years ago.

Finding Opportunities

7. Not taking advantage of your college career center
Your school's career center is an extremely valuable resource but all too often, new college grads don't take the time to use it to their advantage. You might be surprised at the kinds of services offered, which can include help with polishing your resume, information about job fairs in the area, and tips on how to improve your job search. Assistance is available at no extra cost, so it's well worth a few hours of your time to check it out.

8. Failing to work your network
Having a standout resume and tons of experience can give you an edge when you're applying for a job, but you may get more distance out of who you know. You should have been working on building your network all the way through school, but if you haven't, now's the time to get moving. Attending networking events and career fairs, seeking out new contacts through LinkedIn, or reaching out to friends and family could yield a career opportunity when you least expect it. This is when knowing those annoying friends of Mom and Dad could actually come in handy.

Not sure where you should even begin your job search? This article from CareerMetis breaks down some of the top cities for finding jobs in the U.S.

9. Holding out for your dream job
The dream job comes later. Thinking that you'll land at the perfect spot in a perfect role right away will just leave you disappointed and searching forever. Instead of obsessing over something that isn't likely to happen, cast your net a little wider and seek out positions that you could use as a stepping stone to something that's closer to your goal.

10. Focusing only on companies with active job listings
Online job boards and the classified section of the newspaper don't necessarily tell the full story for job seekers. In some cases, companies may have an opening but they don't actively advertise it, preferring to rely on word-of-mouth or referrals instead. If you've got someone in your network who has an "in" at a particular company, be sure to mention that you're looking for work. Even if they're not hiring right at the moment, you could be tapped for something down the line.

11. Not thinking like a hiring manager
See yourself from the employer's point of view, and you'll go farther in your job search. Stop thinking about "I need a job this second" and think along the lines of "How can I give them what they want?" That shift in mindset will help you craft your communications with potential employers in a smarter, more noticeable way, and it'll take you far in the interview process. As it is, recent college grads have a reputation for a lack of "employer empathy," according to Lea McLeod, founder and CEO of Degrees of Transition. Be one of those who have it and you will get picked from the crowd.

Related: Words to Delete from Your Resume

Applying for Openings

12. Blindly sending out resumes
You may think you have statistics on your side by sending out 25 or 30 resumes every single day. But unless you're actually taking some time to get to know the company and tailoring your cover letter to its needs - and keeping track of all the places you're sending those resumes so you can follow up later - you are wasting your time. You want to stand out from the crowd. That means wording that is customized for the potential employer and a plan for checking back in with whomever you send the resume to. You can't do that if you're acting like a resume machine.

13. Shopping around a generic resume
Thinking that there's nothing wrong with using a one-size-fits-all resume to apply for jobs is one of the worst mistakes that new grads can make. What one employer is looking for may be very different from another, and your resume should highlight the skills and experience that are most relevant to each position. Going the cookie cutter route only increases the likelihood of your resume ending up in the reject pile.

For jobs with very specific entry requirements, you'll want to make sure you fulfill all required fields. This post from the Forensics Colleges blog details the lengthy process of becoming a criminal profiler.

14. Overlooking errors
Even worse than sending out a generic resume is sending out one that's riddled with typos, grammatical errors, or misspelled words. Relying on a spellchecker to pick up on seemingly minor slip-ups just isn't enough. It's vital that you take the time to carefully proofread both your resume and cover letter - and have a trusted friend read them too - to ensure that they're both mistake-free.

15. Thinking one application is enough for one job
The Internet has drastically changed the way people look for work. Pounding the pavement has become a thing of the past. While there are thousands of jobs you can apply for online in an instant, keep in mind that there are just as many grads out there like yourself who are doing the same thing. To stand apart, you need to reach out after filling out the form. You may try the recruiter or - even better - the hiring manager via email or LinkedIn to increase the chances that your resume will actually be seen and considered.

16. Applying for jobs that are way out of your league
There's nothing wrong with aiming higher when you're trying to get your first job, but that doesn't mean you should overshoot the target. Applying for jobs that require experience or qualifications that you simply don't have is a waste of time, both for you and the person doing the hiring. Setting your sights a little lower improves the odds of getting a solid lead on a job that fits.

Related: Best Job Search Engine

Handling the Interview

17. Not researching the company
Once you finally have an interview scheduled, you need to stay on your toes to make sure you ace it. If you didn't do any research on the company when you applied for the job, now's the time to correct that mistake. Review the company's history, learn more about what it does and what its plans are, and you'll have some valuable insight once the interview begins.

If you want to work exclusively from home, make sure you research companies who hire remote employees. To start, take a look at FlexJobs' list of this year's top 100 companies with remote jobs.

18. Showing up late
Keeping an interviewer waiting won't work in your favor, and it could tarnish your image before you've had a chance to say a word. Getting enough sleep the night before and planning to arrive a few minutes early are simple things that can go a long way towards making a good first impression.

19. Dressing inappropriately
Regardless of whether you're applying for a corporate gig or a job flipping burgers at your local fast food joint, you want to dress for the occasion. Depending on the company, that means a suit and tie or just business casual wear. If you're worried about being over- or underdressed, you shouldn't hesitate to ask the interviewer what kind of attire is appropriate before the big day.

20. Acting unprofessional
It's not enough to dress for the job you want; you also have to act the part. That means maintaining the right attitude, speaking with confidence and not letting your jitters get the best of you. Steer clear of off-color jokes, personal asides that have no relevance to the topic at hand, as well as any negative words about the company or your past experiences. Keep the tone positive, and (this should really go without saying) turn off your cell phone.

21. Not having questions handy
Questions about the company show you've given some serious thought to the company and the position. And hiring managers - no matter what position they're hiring for - want to hear enthusiasm about their own workplace. Come up with some queries ahead of time so that you're not stumped when the manager inevitably asks, "Do you have any questions for me?" As much as possible, try to anticipate how the interview will go and be prepared for some back and forth discussion.

22. Forgetting to say thank you
Whether your interview lasted five minutes or five hours, you should make a point of thanking the person who conducted the meeting for their time. Since decisions on an entry-level opening can happen quickly, a friendly email sent after the interview is usually best, although some managers still appreciate a handwritten note.

23. Not following up
Just because you were called in for an interview doesn't mean you'll get the job. In fact, you may have to go through multiple interviews before a final decision is made. Following up can be a little intimidating, but there's no harm in dropping the interviewer a line to see if they've chosen a candidate. The worst that can happen is finding out the employer has hired someone else. The good news is you can then focus on other potential employers - including hopefully the one that will give you your first job out of college.

Related: Interview Mistakes

Rebecca Lake is a journalist at CreditDonkey, a credit card comparison and reviews website. Write to Rebecca Lake at rebecca@creditdonkey.com. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for our latest posts.

Note: This website is made possible through financial relationships with some of the products and services mentioned on this site. We may receive compensation if you shop through links in our content. You do not have to use our links, but you help support CreditDonkey if you do.

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