NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Recent college graduates looking for work already face tough competition, even with a stellar resume and interview skills. The unemployment rate for young grads stands at 8.5%, and underemployment is 16.8%, according to the Economic Policy Institute. Unfortunately, only 11% of business leaders agree strongly that recent college grads are equipped with the skills and competencies necessary for workplace success, per a survey by Gallup and the Lumina Foundation.
So, what are the biggest errors grads make as they look to land their dream job? Experts weigh in on five:
1. They don’t find a mentor and don't network
Many recent graduates are intimidated by networking, says Val Matta, vice president of business development at CareerShift.
“Even though they know, intellectually, this is the way most jobs are landed, they need to be taught the ins and outs of this skill,” Matta says. “Networking is a give-and-take skill. Once practiced, it can become a way of life.”
During a job search, networking can mean asking for a meeting, interview, introduction or career advice. Even though this may feel awkward at first, recent grads need to get over their fear of asking for help, says Dave Sanford, executive vice president of the client relations division at WinterWyman
“Most college kids are already familiar with social networking, because of sites like Twitter
. While these technologies are a great way for kids to stay connected to friends, they can also be useful in the job search,” Sanford says.
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Finding a mentor may also be a stumbling block for young grads, but most need to hear solid career advice from someone other than mom or dad. Thankfully, graduates don’t need to muster the courage to call a professional they’ve never met -- an excellent mentor may be closer than you think, Sanford says.
“This person could be a professor, older sibling or family friend,” Sanford says.
2. They think work will be the same as school
Many grads have no idea that the expectations and environment at a full-time job are totally different from university life, says Kerry Schofield, co-founder and chief psychometrics officer of self-discovery platform Good.Co
“A lot of graduates think they can apply the same strategies to a job interview or to work as they could when they were meeting a professor or navigating campus, but it’s totally different,” she says.
While learning to deal with a new boss and co-workers presents its own set of challenges, many grads struggle most with the change in their schedule.
“You’re not going to have the same kind of freedom in your work life as you did in college,” Schofield says. “There will be a period where you are more restricted and you can’t expect your job to be as flexible as your class schedule. You’re on someone else’s clock now.”
Graduates often don’t understand that they will be more beholden to their boss than they ever were to their parents or to extracurricular demands. Pressing too hard for answers on vacation time and schedule flexibility can kill an interview.
“It’s fine to inquire about vacation as part of a benefits package, but don’t go in there saying, ‘I can only work certain hours,’ or ‘I will need at least X amount of time off,’” she says. “You’ll sound like a complete slacker.”
3. They put too much on their resume
Many recent graduates believe that the more experience they include on their resume, the better. Although companies are looking for experience, odd summer jobs do not require a full section on the resume, says Mary Gay Townsend, senior managing director of executive search for OneWire
“Students should tailor their resumes for each job application to highlight past experiences that are relevant for the specific role,” she says.
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Many recent grads may look at their short half-page resume and feel like they need to make it longer, but that’s a mistake, Schofield says.
“They’re afraid of leaving the one thing out that may make someone want to hire them,” she says. “But including a bunch of irrelevant hobbies or primary schools will just work against you. Keep things clear and on target.”
With that said, don’t hold back too much.
“Resumes are not the place to be bland or modest,” Sanford says. “Talk about internships, work experience, impressive school projects, sports or club involvement, travel and civic or volunteer contributions. While these may not directly correlate to your dream job, they give insight into your personality and what kind of employee you will be.”
4. They aren’t clear on who they are or what they want
Yes, you’re just leaving college, but you still have to have a plan -- or at least say you have one, Schofield says.
“It’s fair to say you are still considering your long-term plan, but you need to have some thoughts on the short term. Don’t go into an interview and say, ‘I don’t know what I want to do with my life, I’m just looking for a job,’” she says. “You have to play the game and put across to employers that you have some vision.”
If you don’t have at least some short-term goals, employers won’t take you seriously, cautions Angela Hills, managing director of global HR firm Cielo
“No employer wants to hire someone who just wants to do the job. They want to hire someone driven and compelling,” she says. “Someone who is ready to hit the ground running.”
Never underestimate how much your answer to the question, “Tell me something about the other positions you’ve applied to,” says about you.
“Whatever you do, don’t say, ‘I am applying to everything I found in the career service center,’” she says. “Everyone should be able to highlight their personal drive and direction.”
5. They don’t do their research -- either before or after the interview
Even though today’s grads have spent most of their lives using the Internet to research, many fail to do even a quick Google
search before an interview, says Janet Elkin, chief executive of Supplemental Healthcare
“They don’t look up anything about the company they’re interviewing with or the people they’re meeting,” she says. “There’s no excuse not to use Google, Wikipedia or Glassdoor
to do a little research. It takes two seconds.”
Many times a candidate’s need for research extends beyond the interview. If business cards are not exchanged, a good job-seeker will research email addresses and/or physical addresses for the people they met with or spoke with, Elkin says. They’ll then follow up with a thank-you note.
“If you don’t have someone’s business card, it’s easy enough to find their contact information. LinkedIn
is a great option, and when you do that you can see where else they’ve worked and follow up with a personal connection you may share.”