Mistakes New Graduates Should Avoid When Applying For Jobs

This post may have affiliate links. Please read the Disclosure Policy for complete details.

Summer means beaches, barbecues and vacations for graduates.

The next step (yes, some high school grads don’t go to college) is finding a job.

The question is, where do you begin?

For college graduates, the process probably has already stated with the headhunters who paid visits to the campus during the year.

Not all schools receive such visits, however, and not all students get headhunted either.

And, when it comes to high school graduates, there aren’t very many who get targeted for jobs at all.

So the question still remains open.

You need to cover all of your bases, not just prettying up your resume, to ensure that you get a job interview that leads to a promising career.

Everyone and their mother–as well as their father, brother, sister, aunt, neighbor, fiend’s girlfriend’s coworker–has been through the job hunting process and has an opinion on the subject.

They all have their advice and tips for being “successful” in acquiring that coveted position of becoming gainfully employed.

They will give you tips on where to begin searching for a job, what size fonts to use for your resume, whether or not to list the job you had last summer that lasted all of three weeks, and how much money to ask for.

The problem with that is they only know from their personal experience, which can differ greatly from one person to another, and they may have actually been hired in spite  of what they did.

There are a great number of articles and books about resume writing–what should be included, excluded, the length, etc–and those are great advice for when you formally would like to apply for a position.

But what about the advice for choosing and then applying for a job opening?

So, let’s get to the things you need to avoid when you start applying for those jobs…

Not Doing A Self-Assessment

(Most) Everyone wants to go for the gold, reach for the stars, or whatever other cliché you can insert here.

However, not everyone is qualified for their dream job.

Additionally, the competition for the job you may really want may be quite stiff, with many more qualified candidates.

What you need to do is sit down and do a real, rational self-assessment to see what you are educated, qualified, and/or experienced to do.

You know better than anyone what you are and aren’t good at–if you are honest with yourself.

Don’t allow others to push you towards thinking that you can do something you clearly have no business getting into.

Ignore the temptation to reach out to employers that exist in fields you know very little or nothing about.

It will only hurt you when you don’t get a call regarding your submission.

Failing To Research Companies

There is a lot of information on the internet about potential employers.

Check with the state’s Attorney General’s site, the Better Business Bureau, Yelp, or Google Local for complaints against the business.

Look at the state’s Division of Corporations to see who is in charge and whether they are current in their registration (if they aren’t it can be a sign they are not going to be around very long or simply an oversight).

Go to their website, assuming they have on (and who doesn’t these days) to see what their mission statement is, what aspects of the industry they deal in, potential new coworkers.

All of this can give you tremendous insight into a potential employer, and can help you eliminate them from your to-apply-to list and save you the hassle now, plus headaches later on should you be hired only to realize it was a mistake to accept based on what you would have found during your research.

Ignoring Specific Requests And Actions

Each company looks for different things when it comes to the hiring process, so how do you know what you should be doing to grab their attention?

Well, the best way to make yourself stand out is to give them exactly what they ask for.

In many job ads, especially online, the employer asks for certain things to be provided, and by adhering to those requirements you show that you pay attention to detail and can follow direction.

Many people simply look at the position and pay when searching through the job listings, and the people who screen the applicants look for the things they ask for specifically.

So, if the company wants you to list specific software programs you are proficient in, tell them.

If they want to know what salary requirements you have, tell them.

If they ask for your GPA and/or standardized test scores tell them.

One of the worst things you can do is ignore their specific requests, as they would not have spent the time making them part of the job advertisement if it wasn’t important to them.

If you can’t do something as simple as this then how can you follow company procedures or protocols should you be hired?

Thinking A GPA Alone Means Anything

Lots of people go through their college careers trying to obtain a high GPA, thinking that it is the ultimate proof of hireability.

The simple truth of the matter is that it isn’t.

Many students can reach such a goal through learning study techniques.

The issue here is that there is a difference between being able to pass a test with high marks and actually learning the material.

Employers want to know that you are able to apply what you supposedly learned to real world situations.

he only thing a high grade point average represents with any certainty is an ability to retain information.

Being able to use that information in practice is a more highly valued trait to employers.

That is why in many industries, you must complete practical examination as part of the application process.

Being Cocky/Having A Sense Of Entitlement

Confidence is a great trait to have.

Being cocky or arrogant is taking things a bit too far and seen as a red flag.

Coming off as such may signal a possible inability to work well with others, a problem with authority, putting yourself ahead of the team or the company as the case may be, and an inability or unwillingness to be flexible.

It is possible to be confident in your abilities while being humble simultaneously.

Check your ego at the door when it comes to looking for a job and realize that there are only so few opportunities for so many candidates.

After all, there is always going to be someone smarter, who learns quicker, is harder working, has a better pedigree…does something, anything at a higher level than you.

Just remember, everyone has to start somewhere, and for you that may very well mean at the bottom.

Don’t look at it as an insult to your skill or intelligence.

Instead, look at it as an opportunity to show your potential employer that you are willing to earn your way and then blow their mind by exhibiting your true capabilities.

Not Having A Backup Plan

You’ve heard of the phrase “putting all of your eggs in one basket” before, but you probably never associated it with the job market.

In essence, you need to have two, three, or even more companies or even fields to which you want to apply for employment.

It is just like when you were selecting colleges (if you went that route): you had your first choice–your dream school, but also had to apply to a couple of others just in case you didn’t get accepted or couldn’t get the financial aid to attend number one.

Applying for jobs is no different.

Just like college admissions, there are more applicants than open spots; the applications get sometimes outnumber the openings by a large margin.

That dream job you had your sights set on may not work out, so you need to be ready with backup options to apply to.

Foregoing Search Firms

This is a free service available to candidates in a wide range of fields, so why not take advantage?

It’s free to you because the employer who eventually makes the hire pays the fee, so you have no risk whatsoever.

The biggest reasons to at least consult with a search firm are experience and contacts.

The search firms and their representatives have experience in all facets of the job search process.

They can advise you on ways to improve your resume, prepare you for interviews, and do the legwork of screening positions for you.

They also have relationships with many of the important people who make hiring decisions in the companies you are likely looking to work for, and know their personalities and tendencies so they can put you in the best position.

And, the companies they work with trust their judgement and often times don’t even publicly advertise job openings, opting instead to inform the search firms so that only the truly qualified candidates’ resumes make it onto their desks.

The job hunting process is a competitive and sometimes difficult undertaking.

Don’t put yourself at a disadvantage by starting off on the wrong foot and making any of these mistakes.

Remember, this is your career we are taking about, so you want to get started the right way the very first time!

And, the great thing is that although this is targeted at recent graduates, these tips can be applied to anyone who is in the market for a job!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


  1. I know it’s too late if you’ve already graduated, but one thing that upcoming graduates should do is leverage the career services offered.  You’d be surprised at just how well they can work for you and potentially land you a contact or a job.  Colleges want to report the best possible numbers in terms of graduates finding jobs and the types of jobs, so they likely want to work on your behalf.  I know this area often gets overlooked by many upcoming grads.

    1. I’m not sold on that option.  I’ve used it in the past, at 2 different universities, and neither brought very good results.  Often times, they are staffed by students or staff that aren’t trained in the particular skills of career advising.  I can remember the last time I went to one, there were postings for jobs that were more than a month old and I called one just to see if it was still open, which it wasn’t.  It all depends on the school I guess.  For me, the career fairs and the allowance of recruiters on-campus would be a better use of students’ time.  That way, they are dealing directly with the source and getting guided properly.

    2. My undergrad had an AMAZING career services dept. The head of the dept. was always out at recruiting events and networking with all of the hiring managers from lots of huge companies. All of the top 5 accounting firms recruited from our school as well as top engineering firms, and I really believe it was because of her. She also was amazing at tailoring your resume… she helped my BF land a job because of the work she did with his resume. I wish I had the time (or made the time) to cultivate a relationship with her.

  2. I know I struggled with finding my first job out of college.  I probably should have done the self assessment test.  Instead I was just applying for jobs that I thought I could learn easy enough but didn’t necessarily have the actual skills required.  A lot of employers are also unwilling to give new grads a chance and would rather opt for someone with experience.  So you do often have to work extra hard to get your foot in the door somewhere.  You just can’t get discouraged.  You have to keep working hard and keep applying for lots of jobs.

    1. I’m in the process of hiring a part-time person for the accounting firm I work for, and I can tell you that you’re not alone in the self-assessment thing.  So many resumes have come in that have no accounting-related experience.  One even said that “even though I never did accounting, I’m willing to learn”.

      The problem I see with being a new grad is like you said.  The employers want experience but they can’t get hired to gain that experience.  It’s a pretty vicious cycle, but that’s where work-study and internships give some a huge advantage.

  3. Great post! A lot of this is so true, especially the self-assessment part as well as not focusing on just the GPA. There is more to life people! Get out and do more! I really think that college students should focus on padding their resume by being involved in a lot of things that are related to their field. I have a cousin who wants to be a nurse, is a freshman in college…and is applying to Petsmart. I told her that she needs to seek other work – lots of medical offices would like an intern. Intern, intern, intern! That’s the only way I got my job coming out of college…because companies want to see that you have experience. Lots of my friends worked at Apple and Google during undergrad, and landed jobs right away. Go out and do volunteer work or join clubs that involve leadership. It’s not just about the GPA.

    1. That is where the biggest advantages are found–while still in school.  The internships (if attainable) give students a great deal of experience and it also helps in the self-assessment issue in that they get real-world experiences and can gauge whether or not that field is for them.  Unfortunately, too many kids would rather go Greek and party than think about working or interning.

  4. One of the worst things is when people ask questions of the interviewers (if/when they got an interview) that they could have easily found out by themselves had they just cared enough to research a little. Companies want to think that you want to work for their company for a reason, not just because you want a job. 

    1. I know a few people that work for the placement agencies.  They have company profiles already drawn up for their candidates to go over before even submitting the resumes.  That way, the candidates know whether or not they want to be considered for that kind of a company, and also have a little knowledge of the business and people going in.

  5. I agree whit Daisy,I am a Supervisor for a big Corporation on Plastics Injection Molds,one of the first question from me to them,is Why you want to work for this Company and unfortunately the majority,the answer is “I need a Job to pay my Bills.I think Schools do not prepare the for the future.   

  6. If only this article were around when I was graduating from college! I definitely thought that my grades would mean a lot more than they did and I’m sure I had a bit of a sense of entitlement as well. I also think that mentioning search firms is a great idea! They not only help you find jobs, but a good search firm will even give you tips on how to prepare for the company they’re getting you an interview for.

    These tips are so helpful that I’ve included them in ReadyForZero’s Monday Shout Outs: How to Get a Job – and Keep It – Edition ). Thanks for sharing such great advice for new graduates and I hope many of them take it to heart!

  7. These are some great tips. I think the most important thing is doing exactly as the company asks when applying for the job. I can attest as a former recruiter that a quick way to weed through potential candidates is to eliminate everyone who thinks they can do whatever they want and not provided the required information. You’re right – if someone can’t follow simple directions like that, they can’t be expected to do much better on the job. I need someone to be on the ball, not look for ways to skirt the requirements.