I often work with college graduates and other young job seekers. Many are eager but repeat common mistakes and then wonder why it is difficult to find a job. Here are some mistakes and suggestions to overcome them.
1. Law school is the best option for everyone. For some reason, most undergraduates and new professionals think law school is the ticket to success even when they have a slight understanding of the content, price, and fierce competition upon graduation. I’ve met too many unemployed law school graduates and others who will say themselves that it was a mistake to attend law school without seriously considering the goal in doing so. Some people are the right fit and will do well as attorneys, but most will not and should consider other options. Start with this well-reasoned piece by Roger Pilon.
2. Aim your job search toward “anything.” It is difficult to be unemployed and tempting to apply everywhere for everything. In addition, when asked how people can help, you might say “I am looking for a job in any field” or “I’m interested in anything, really.” Your uncertainty makes it difficult for people to help you because you are not specific. Instead, you should focus on a certain type of jobs and have a backup. Be specific when people ask and say something like “I am interested in public policy research jobs, and also in communications.” That specificity will allow someone to better introduce you to others in their network who work in those fields so you can try an informational interview and ask advice from experts.
3. A college degree is a qualification in itself. I’ve talked to job candidates who have a BA or BS without much other experience, and then wonder why it is difficult for them to be chosen for interviews. Maybe they worked as a student employee or had a side job but there is little that distinguishes their resume compared to other candidates. Hiring managers are probably going to choose the candidate who used his or her free time to create value and learn skills outside the classroom. For example, someone who started and grew a campus club, completed a competitive internship, or made a tangible impact in the local community through activism or nonprofit work, is a more attractive candidate than someone who did not have outside experience. There may be exceptions in highly technical fields, or if the person worked through college necessarily to pay tuition. In those cases, applicants should highlight their unique case and give reasoning in the cover letter.
4. Outside learning is not as valuable as classroom learning. You should treat your outside learning as a high priority on your resume and in your interview. College career officers probably won’t admit this, but employers want skills that translate to the workplace, not necessarily book knowledge and classroom success (although those are helpful). Writing academic papers and rote memorization are not as valuable as leading people and creating value where there was a gap. Unfortunately there is an incentive disconnect between academia and the workplace. No one gives you a grade in your job or the kind of regular feedback you receive during school. Instead, you need to independently create value without much direction so you become invaluable to your employer.
These do not apply in every field or situation but should apply to most. Every employer is different and you need to cater your resume and cover letter to each situation. The most important takeaway is that an entrepreneurial attitude is a valuable skill. You can start right now by joining outside organizations and learning new skills that you don’t practice in your full-time job or in your college major. America’s Future Foundation is hiring right now for several part-time and volunteer positions that would be excellent skill-builders to supplement your resume.
Roger Custer is executive director at America’s Future Foundation. This piece was originally published on LinkedIn.