5 mistakes most university students and graduates make in their job search

We’ve had thousands of interactions with university students, unemployed graduates, successfully employed graduates, top recruiters, and career development professionals. Our conversations across these different groups have given us a unique perspective on the breakdowns and inefficiencies between these them.  Here are 5 mistakes we’ve identified most university students and new graduates are making as they start their job search:

Mistake 1: It is not all about you  

One of the most common mistakes new graduates make when applying for graduate jobs is wanting to outline everything they think is great about themselves in their resume. On average a job application receives between 7-15 seconds of a scan by a system or screener who looks for a match with core requirements. If the match is weak or unclear then the candidate is eliminated. It is important to always do all the relevant matching for the recruiter and make it abundantly clear how well your skills, aspects and qualities match their needs in the priorities they prescribe in their job posting, no more and no less. You need to fully understand precisely what they are looking for, explain concisely how you match and remove any noise in your resume and application that hides your matching qualities. It is all about the job and not all about you.

Mistake 2: Underestimating the competition.

I am still shocked when we survey students in a workshop, with sometimes between 40-70 students, and how many have a poor understanding of their competition and their relative standing versus their peers.

We often ask at the beginning how many feel they are well prepared and think their employability is strong. Usually, 70-80% put their hands up, which is a good sign of confidence. Then we start explaining they are coming from a world of academia where 80-100% pass a course, versus job search is a world of 400 plus applicants and only 1 person passes.  We then show some examples of graduates who have created a Showcase and invested time to develop and customize it for a top employer. We then ask them how many feel they could compete against some of the sample Showcase applicants. In every case, there is maybe one person who says they could compete out of that class of 70 students. Then we remind them the competition is typically 5-10 times the number of students in the class.

Those who work hard and prepare themselves and go the extra mile to differentiate themselves are winning the elite jobs. If you are not picking up your game and doing the extras to compete, you will struggle.

Mistake 3: Thinking your degree is your biggest competitive advantage

Feedback from recruiters tells us there is an increasing abundance of applicants from good schools, good programs and with good marks. One recruiter advised, for many of their entry level jobs for new graduates they easily have 50 applicants that they can choose based on school, degree and marks. Their challenge is to screen down to one individual hire when all the applicants may look good.

It is the extracurricular activities, personality and other aspects that are driving the hiring decision to determine fit. Your education is becoming a base requisite, but often after that its weight diminishes fast. It is the extras that will determine your success.

 

Mistake 4: Starting career planning and job search in 4th year or after graduation.

Too many students either procrastinate or make the conscious decision that their priority before graduation is academics and marks. Our survey of students show at least 80% of 4th-year students have not spent more than 20 hours in total on career preparation over their entire higher education years.  This means most students have spent a fraction of 1% over their 3-4 years in getting a degree, spent preparing for their graduate job search. They tend to be reactionary and feel preparation is all about a good single good resume and just spitting out job applications.

The most successful new grads have been actively working towards graduation targeting specific employers and specific careers at least 12 months and most likely 24-36 months ahead of time. Where they are seeking coop placements and internships, attending company recruiting events, seeking out & engaging company staff for mentorships & referrals and building job applications customized to the needs and corporate culture of the targeted companies.

 

Mistake 5: The more I apply, the more likely I will be successful.

I hear a lot of stories about new graduates getting frustrated because they have applied to 40 or 50 postings and have not heard anything back. No responses, no interviews. In nearly all the cases we review, we find they have taken little care to slow things down and really carefully customize and match their background to the needs of the employer. Too many students apply without adjusting or customizing their resumes believing one single resume is good enough for all employers.

Applying to postings and being successful is about quality and taking care to present yourself in a passionate and driven manner that catches the attention of the recruiter. Our focus groups with campus recruiters tell us they have developed a 6th sense of those candidates who really want the job and have gone the extra steps to win. They can sense in your resume and application whether you have made an effort to properly explain how well you match their needs.

If you think it is all about just applying, then you need to seek out professional help to educate yourself on the best practices for applying to graduate jobs.  Job searching is difficult and challenging, taking the wrong approach leads to wasted time, disappointing results and frustration.