Top Mistakes Recent Grads Make in the Job Search

PHOTO: These are some of the top mistakes recent college graduates make in their job search.Getty Images
These are some of the top mistakes recent college graduates make in their job search.

Two college graduates who have been unable to find jobs in their fields got a big surprise on “GMA” today, when they were offered jobs after a protracted search.

Before subscription beauty service Birchbox offered them salaried, entry-level positions with benefits including health coverage and paid vacation time, Desiree Quinto and Emma Sayles had talked to “GMA” about the difficulties of finding a job that matched their qualifications and goals.

Quinto, 24, thought she’d done everything right in college. The Boca Raton, Florida, woman mastered three languages and did four internships and a host of extracurricular activities, and graduated in 2012 from the University of Central Florida with a degree in interdisciplinary studies.

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Still, two years after her graduation, she was unable to land what she called a “real job,” and was still living with her parents.

Quinto put a lot of effort into each of her job applications, including writing separate cover letters.

“You make it sound so personal and then … they come back and they tell you that they moved on with a different candidate,” she said.

Sayles of Roanoke, Virginia, understood only too well. She graduated last year from Marymount Manhattan College in New York City with degrees in theatre and business management.

She said she attended networking events and always sent out resumes, but a year after her graduation she had only managed to land a job in retail and counts on her parents to help pay her monthly bills.

“It's definitely really frustrating … how are you supposed to get that experience if someone doesn't give you a chance?” she said, adding, “I never thought I would find myself in this position at [age] 23, needing my parents' financial support. It's really demoralizing.”

“GMA” had no involvement in the women being selected for the positions.

The two women’s experiences are not unique, job experts say.

Rosemary Haefner, vice president at CareerBuilder, said times are tougher for job seekers.

“Now what we’re finding with 2014 grads going for entry-level employment -- these employers are expecting volunteer work, some internships ... it’s a much tougher playing field,” she said.

Haefner gave "GMA" some of the most common mistakes new college grads make in the job search.

Nearly one in four employers said that college graduates aren’t prepared for the real world, according to a March 2014 CareerBuilder survey of more than 2,100 employers:

.Top reasons why employers say they’re not prepared, which also translate into the biggest mistakes college grads make, are:

Too much emphasis on book learning instead of real-world learning – Entry-level positions are more complex today. Before the expectation was that new college grads would join a company as a blank canvas that the organization would develop. Now, the expectation is you need to have at least one to two years of experience under your belt when you graduate. That experience can take many different forms: internships, temporary or part-time work, volunteering, serving in leadership roles for sororities/fraternities, etc. The important thing is to start building up your resume early on in your college years.

Too much emphasis on one skill set – While employers look for expertise in a field, they also want well-rounded candidates. More employers are looking for a blend of technical skills and skills typically associated with liberal arts (creative thinking, communications, critical-thinking, etc). Make sure that you’re pursuing learning experiences that will convey both to an employer. While the thought of more classes after graduating may not be top of mind for recent college grads, two-thirds of employers say they’d be more likely to hire someone who supplemented traditional coursework with Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs).

Other mistakes we’ve found from past research:

Spamming employers with the same resume/cover letter – This is a surefire way to get your resume placed in the “No” pile. You need to customize your application for every employer. Pay attention to keywords the employer uses in the job posting and pepper those into your resume as it applies to your experience. It will help rank your resume higher in employer searches. But don’t overdo it. Copying and pasting large amounts of text from a job posting will send up a red flag.

Coming to the interview with no knowledge of the company – You never want to be in a position where the employer asks you what you know about the company and you answer with a shrug or blank stare. Do your homework. Check out the company’s Website, familiarize yourself with its products, services and culture, search for recent company announcements and news articles, etc., and reference your findings during the interview to showcase your knowledge about the company.

Not dressing appropriately – This seems like a no-brainer, but employers have shared examples of candidates coming to interviews wearing jeans, shorts, flip flops and pajamas pants. If you don’t show the employer that you’re serious about the opportunity, they won’t feel serious about you as a candidate. Err on the conservative side and wear a business suit or a nice pair of pants or skirt and button-down shirt.

Failing to remove unprofessional images or content from social media – Spring Break photos can come back to haunt you. If you don’t want a potential boss to see something, don’t post it online. It’s also a good idea to monitor what others are posting about you and ask them to remove anything that could be viewed as digital dirt by an employer.

Not asking good questions during the interview – You have to remember that you’re interviewing the company as well. Employers expect candidates to come in with thoughtful questions such as, “What are the company’s biggest growth opportunities and challenges?” or “How do you see this role contributing to the success of the overall organization?” Failing to do this could convey a lack of knowledge or enthusiasm.

Not turning off your cellphone or other electronic device during the interview – Employers have shared examples of candidates texting during interviews and answering calls or letting their phone ring incessantly. This is a major pet peeve for hiring managers. Make sure to turn off your mobile device or, better yet, leave it at home.

Failing to send a thank you note after the interview – If an employer has two equally qualified candidates and one sends a thank you note and the other doesn’t, the employer will be more likely to hire the one who took the time to follow up. A thank you note is great way to reiterate why you’re the best person for the job and should always be part of the job search process.