A job search has two phases. In the first phase, you identify open positions in your career field and craft resumes to the ones that interest you. The second phase, of course, is the interview phase – if you are one of the chosen few, that is.
In either phase, you can blow it for a variety of reasons.
But before we talk about the fails, let’s talk about the position you are in as a first-time job seeker. You have your degree, and now you want someone to take a chance on you. You may be up against other candidates with experience under their belts, but you should not let this deter you. Lots of employers like first-time candidates because they are more flexible and trainable.
Even if a job posting asks for 1-2 years of experience, you should go for it if the position seems like a match. There are things you can use to substitute for actual on-the-job experience, including:
- an internship;
- a major research project you conducted or assisted on;
- teaching or tutoring experience;
- and volunteer work.
As a first-time job seeker, you may need to get a little creative in selling yourself. And if you that creativity still isn’t getting you anywhere? Then it’s time to look at these nine common reasons why first-time job seekers fail:
Phase One: Application and Resume Mistakes
If you are not getting any play on your resume – i.e., no one is calling you to interview – evaluate it against these typical fails:
1. You Broke the Three Basic Rules of Resume Writing
There are three basic rules for resume creation. As you look through your resume, make sure it follows each of these rules:
- Is your resume simple and clear? Have you cluttered it up with a lot of irrelevant stuff? For example, a prospective employer does not need your birthdate or your marital status, nor do they need to hear all about things you have done that don’t relate to the position.
- Are your grammar and spelling perfect? Check this. Then double-check this.
- Is your resume completely up to date? Are you sending out a resume that you produced six months ago and therefore may not include a website, portfolio, or LinkedIn profile that you have created since then?
2. Your Resume Doesn’t Stand Out
If you created your resume on your own, perhaps using some templates that are available on the Web, then there’s a good chance that your resume looks like every other resume the recruiter or hiring manager receives.
You may want to contact a resume service and order a quality resume for yourself. The good services will work very closely with you to ensure that the resume is of high quality and speaks to the specific position(s) you are seeking.
3. You Aren’t Targeting Your Resume Enough
Are you tweaking your resume for each specific position to which you apply? If not, your resume is probably getting kicked out by screening software.
This is not the time to be lazy. Read the job posting carefully. Write down keywords and phrases that are used. Get those into your resume, preferably toward the top. You want these keywords to be picked up by the screening program. That way, your resume will move past the initial stages of the application process.
The same goes for cover letters. If you simply say, “Here is my resume. I look forward to hearing from you,” you are not positioning yourself as a good candidate. Personalize your cover letter and use it to describe how you believe you can be of benefit to the organization.
Phase Two: Interview Mistakes
A lot can go wrong during an interview. Of course, some things that go wrong are things over which you have no control (e.g., an internal candidate is hired, the company decides not to fill the position after all, etc.). Here, we’ll focus on those things you can control.
4. You Don’t Prepare for the Questions You Will Be Asked
It is almost a guarantee that you will be asked the following questions during any interview:
- “Tell me a little bit about yourself.”
- “Why do you want this position?”
- “Where do you see yourself five years from now?”
- “What do you see as your strengths and weaknesses?”
You need to anticipate these questions and prepare and practice your answers in advance. Hemming and hawing and losing your train of thought means you have not prepared well. That will make you look unseasoned and a bit lazy to the interviewer.
5. You Embellish or Lie About Your Experience
Just don’t do it. If you are under serious consideration, the company will check your references, and your fabrications will be caught.
6. You Don’t Seem Enthusiastic
Even if this job is not your first choice, you can’t allow that to show. Put some enthusiasm into your voice; sit up straight; establish eye contact; speak positively about the tasks and responsibilities of the position.
7. You Don’t Dress Appropriately
Everyone should know how to dress for an interview, but there are still candidates who can’t seem to get this right. Research the company. Get on its website and look at the photos of employees. Then, dress one level up. For example, if everyone appears to be in business casual, should you add a sport coat or an unstructured jacket to be just a bit above that.
8. You Don’t Know Anything About the Company
You need to show that you have some knowledge of the organization that is interviewing you. Do not go into an interview cold. Check out the website and search for any recent news items that you can insert into the conversation somewhere.
9. You Expect to Fail
Yes, you may have had numerous interviews before this one, none of which resulted in an offer. You are tired and discouraged and expect failure before you even go in. This attitude will impact your energy and enthusiasm, and it will show. The interviewer will take it to mean that you have little or no interest in this opportunity, and they will definitely choose someone else as a result.
If you use these nine points as a checklist of sorts to evaluate both your paperwork and your readiness for an interview, things should go much better for you. It’s still a competitive market out there, but you can stack the deck more in your favor if you avoid these common mistakes.