3 Costly Job Search Mistakes, and How to Avoid Them


The one good thing about unemployment? You’re not alone.

Young people ranging from 22-34-years-old make up an astounding half of the 10.9 million unemployed Americans.

Most job descriptions demand at least three years of experience, and require a laundry list of skills that you just don’t have. You finally sit down to apply for jobs and come to a very painful realization: You’re not qualified for anything.

Here are three major reasons your job search is causing a quarter-life-crisis. Don’t let them get you down. Instead, learn how to conquer the job search’s biggest challenges.

1. You Don’t Decode Job Descriptions.

Liz Ryan explains why job descriptions are one of the biggest challenges in your job search. “It’s backwards! We lead with the least significant element in the job just to save ourselves a day or two of training. We take the important stuff—character, brains, mojo and wit—for granted, as though those things are common in the general population.”

What does this mean for your job search? You can probably take some of the qualifications listed in a job description with a grain of salt.

Literary publicist, Megan Halpern suggests, “Think of job descriptions as a hiring manager’s wish list for the ideal candidate, not as a list of non-negotiable requirements.” Sure, you don’t want to apply for something that’s way out of your league, but don’t feel like you need to meet 100% of the criteria in order to apply for a job.

2. Your Resume is Not Scannable.

If you’re applying to a job at a major corporation, a human probably won’t even see it. Large companies use computerized Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) to scan your résumé for keywords that are included in the job description.

Ed Struzik, an International Business Machines Corp. expert on ATS systems, indicates that large companies use ATS in the “high 90 percent” range.” He says it would “be very rare to find a Fortune 500 company without one.”

If your résumé doesn’t produce enough keyword matches, you get tossed from the applicant pool automatically and immediately.

You’ve heard this tip before, but are you using it? Make sure that you tailor your résumé to the specific job you’re applying for. Go through the job description, identify the key words and phrases, and add them to your résumé.

3. You Focus on Your Lack of Experience.  

Hiring managers aren’t stupid. They know if you’re still in college or if you recently graduated. If you’ve gotten as far as the interview stage, they will ask you targeted questions about your lack of experience. Don’t waste time apologizing. Instead, spend that energy thinking about what you do have to offer, and how to field interview questions with inquisitive, high-energy, and polished responses.

Former VP of Products at AfterCollege, Teresa Torres, put it this way: “For entry-level candidates, it’s easy to get caught up on the fact that you may not have a lot of experience, but I think you should assume that the hiring manager already knows that. The things that are going to make you stand out, given that you don’t have experience, are really showing up and being inquisitive, showing that you’re curious, showing that you want to learn a lot, even in the interview from the people that you’re talking to…”

Teresa says, “The things I’m looking for really come down to: Are you authentic, are you curious, and are you able to engage and participate in a conversation?

Don’t discount the work you’ve done in school, either. AfterCollege’s VP of Engineering, Steve Girolami, breaks it down for us. He explains, “In computer science, there’s a lot of class work that students might do in a solo setting or a team setting that I think is really relevant, and they should treat that experience as relevant work experience. It takes a lot of work to prepare a team project. They have to decide how to break up the work, there are team leaders and team participants, and that’s not unlike what it’s like in the real world.”

Remember to talk about your volunteer and internship experiences, too. You’re more experienced than you think.

Lucky for you, many recent grads aren’t unemployed because of a lack of job openings. Students and recent grads are unemployed because becoming the right candidate has never been harder.

Based on these three job hunt mistakes, what will you do differently in your job search? Share with us in the comments!

This updated post was originally published in 2014.


11 Responses to “3 Costly Job Search Mistakes, and How to Avoid Them”

  1. Kitsu

    what happens when you don’t have volunteer work in your chosen profession to fall back on (or any volunteer work, for that matter…)?

    • Melissa Suzuno

      Hi Ray, thanks for stopping by. We’ve written several different posts related to biology majors and their career paths. Check it out here: http://blog.aftercollege.com/?s=biology

  2. Lily

    This is a very uplifting post! I remember getting extremely frustrated after seeing those job descriptions and it deterred me from applying. That only lead to weeks of inactivity that I regret. It’s great that this advice is out there and hopefully other people will be able to get past that initial roadblock.

  3. Christina

    Just found aftercollege.com and already loving it! Great advice!

  4. Lassy

    Hiring managers are, in fact, stupid. Unlike, owners, team leads and people who actually work in the area of your expertise, hiring managers either help people aboard the “good ‘ol boy” train, or simply fail to understand what the how qualifications translate into the actual work.


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