The most common mistakes graduates make in job applications: Five employers reveal the painful truth

most common mistake graduates make in job applications

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Every graduate is different, every graduate job is different and every graduate employer is different. But when it comes to job hunting, you’d be surprised how common it is for graduates to make the same mistakes as one another, time after time.

Before we continue – let’s just be clear. When we say ‘mistake’ we don’t mean you’re doing anything spectacularly dumb. In fact, there is often logic behind what graduates choose to present when job hunting. It’s just that for reasons you’re unaware of, the person on the receiving end isn’t quite getting exactly what you think you’re giving. Although she’s not an employer, Tanya de Grunwald, founder of Graduate Fog and author of How to Get a Graduate Job Now, has a good example of this:

“My top mistake that graduates make is telling employers how much they need experience, and how grateful they would be for the opportunity to gain this through a job at their firm.

“While I see the logic here (it seems like an honest, polite and humble thing to say) – it’s actually a terrible thing to verbalise. Why? Because nobody ever gets a job because they ‘need experience’. An employer will give you a job if they think you can be useful to them. So don’t highlight the experience you don’t have – instead, always highlight the skills you do have.”

So, what are the top mistakes that graduates make during the application and interview process? Here, five top graduate employers explain what’s getting lost in translation, and show you how to present yourself better next time…

NADINE BARR, TALENT BRAND EXECUTIVE AT PROFESSIONAL SERVICES FIRM GRANT THORNTON

NADINE BARR, TALENT BRAND EXECUTIVE AT PROFESSIONAL SERVICES FIRM GRANT THORNTON

Nadine says: “There are a few things which separate a strong candidate from a candidate who won’t progress through. I would say forgetting to demonstrate that you have the motivation to work for us and/or for the role,  can be a common mistake graduates make. Think carefully about why you’re applying to the role and our company. What attracts you to us and why you think you’re a good fit? Another error is forgetting to present evidence to back up statements about yourself. It’s great if you say you have certain experience or you believe you have the skills needed to do the job well, but remember you need to show us. However strong a candidate you are in other ways, if you can’t demonstrate clearly how you’ve developed these skills then you won’t progress through.”

ALIX SHEPHERD, ALLEN & OVERY

ALIX SHEPHERD, ‘MAGIC CIRCLE’ LAW FIRM ALLEN & OVERY

Alix says: “Reeling off a million facts from our website or Annual Report and not providing compelling reasons why you are interested in working for us. On the face of it, Magic Circle firms [the UK’s top law firms] can all seem very similar, so candidates need to not just do the research but find opportunities to engage with us either on campus or at one of our office events. That way, they can learn more about what sets us apart and the people who work here.”

JODIE HARTIGAN, E.ON

JODIE HARTIGAN, ENERGY PROVIDER E.ON

Jodie says: “Failing to adapt your CV and covering letter for the job you are applying for. It sounds obvious but you’d be amazed how many graduates don’t bother to tailor their application.”

JULIE STANBRIDGE, EY

JULIE STANBRIDGE, PROFESSIONAL SERVICES FIRM EY

Julie says: “There is no real pattern to the mistakes graduates make. I guess one simple piece of advice that sometimes graduates don’t take is to read up on and to understand what the business does. Graduates need to understand what an organisation’s main competitors do too so they grasp an understanding of the wider market place and challenges that a business may be facing within that industry.”

Jazmin Curzon

JASMIN CURZON, GRADUATE AT IT AND CONSULTING SERVICES FIRM IBM

Jasmin says: “Not completing the online application form correctly, particularly the competency question section. Candidates can sometimes give very vague answers and not give any detail of what they did in their example. Be specific and remember to sell yourself.”

* OOPS! WHAT MISTAKES HAVE YOU MADE WHEN APPLYING FOR GRADUATE JOBS?
If you’re feeling generous, please share your experiences with other graduate job-seekers! Who pointed them out and do you now understand where you were going wrong? Or, if you’re an employer or a recruiter reading this, what do you think is biggest mistake graduates make when applying for jobs?

Don’t forget to follow @GraduateFog on Twitter!