Land the Job

The most common job-search mistake young workers make, says career counselor who's advised thousands

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College is supposed to prepare you for a job in your field, but it's not always a great place to learn how to actually land one. And turns out, young professionals are often going about it all wrong.

"I have literally advised thousands of students across four different [universities] ... students make the same mistakes over and over again," says Christine Cruzvergara, chief education officer at Handshake, a career resource for students and recent grads.

To lay the groundwork, Cruzvergara says there are four steps to finding a job:

  1. Preparing your resume, cover letter and online profile(s) for job boards
  2. Researching both the macro details of your field, such as industry trends, and the micro details of a specific opening, like the job title and company
  3. Networking
  4. Searching for jobs and applying

The problem is that students repeatedly skip two crucial steps in the job-search process, she says.

Most often students only think of steps one and four, "and then they come see me and they're like: I'm not hearing back from anyone. It's a big black hole. I don't know what's happening. Nobody's responding to me."

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"The reason that's happening is because you're not doing enough with two and three: You're not doing enough research and you're not doing enough networking," she adds. Candidates who skip these stages "don't come across nearly as prepared as the candidates who have done their research."

Hiring managers want candidates who can already 'talk shop'

Looking for a job is a full-time job itself, and for college students juggling a full course load, part-time jobs and extracurricular activities, it's understandable that certain parts of the job search aren't always top of mind.

To that end, Cruzvergara says students and young professionals can focus on two types of research to prepare for job applications.

First, think big picture: Get to know the landscape and trends of the industry you're going into. Hiring managers are "looking for the candidate that they feel like already can talk shop" and "is keeping up with the same trends they're keeping up with."

Hopefully classes related to your major include discussions of current events and trends within your field. Talk to your classmates and professors, read the news, tune into social media or listen to podcasts about those topics. You can reach out to someone already working in your field for their take on the trends or need-to-know phrases they use the most in their work.

Over time, this prep will help you talk more naturally in a job interview and inspire confidence in the hiring manager that you're up to date. 

Doing research on the micro-level, meanwhile, is understanding the basics of a specific job opening you're applying to. Make sure you go into interviews understanding the title, job description, required skills and experiences, and the company's goals.

Networking doesn't have to be so formal

Then comes the dreaded networking piece, though Cruzvergara says it really doesn't have to feel so stuffy.

"Networking is really just building relationships," she says. "It's taking the time to invest in getting to know someone, and asking them genuine questions that you're actually curious about."

Sure, you can cold-email alumni or go to a career fair, but you could also network among your classmates, roommates or members of student clubs.

Questions can be as simple as: What's the typical hiring timeline in your field? When do jobs go up? When are interns selected?

All of this information-sharing can help you with step 4 of finding and applying to jobs, Cruzvergara says.

To make time, she suggests setting a weekly goal for hours you can dedicate to the job search, and then breaking it up a few days at a time. This can keep you from feeling overwhelmed.

"This is not the kind of thing you should cram for," she says. "You will be much more successful spreading it out over the course of a semester or two than try and do it all at once."

At minimum, start looking for an internship or post-grad job a semester in advance, Cruzvergara says.

Spending the time to research and network "really stands out," she says. "It separates the good from great candidates."

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