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Thursday, September 12, 2019

10 Mistakes Young Professionals Make While Job Hunting

The mistakes young professionals make are usually a result of being new to the workforce.

Image Credit: Flickr-Amtec Photos | CC BY 2.0 (

As a manager for a job placement company, I oversee a lot of talent searches for entry/junior employees.

This means I get to interact with a lot of young professionals and have a front-row seat for one of the most exciting (and often overwhelming) times for burgeoning professionals: the job search.

I’ve realized that the mistakes young professionals make are usually a result of being new to the workforce.

As you can imagine, I’ve seen some really interesting things. Like, reality television interesting. Some of it is beautiful and inspiring and gives me hope for the future of freedom. And some of it…well…it makes me want to bang my head against a wall.

But I’ve realized that the mistakes young professionals make are usually a result of being new to the workforce. And thankfully, most of these can be easily avoided. With that in mind, here are 10 common pitfalls young professionals should avoid during the job hunt.

1. Having a Novel-Length Resume

As an entry, junior, or mid-level career professional, you should aim to have a one-page resume. When you have 10+ years of experience or earn a PhD, then you can go for the War and Peace-length resume. A shorter resume allows you to highlight the great things you’ve done, and it’s not overwhelming to the reader. Sometimes less is more.

2. Writing a Mad Libs Cover Letter

If I can remove the name of the organization and replace it with another organization in your cover letter, you should probably go back to the drawing board. Remember that your cover letter should not be a regurgitation of your (one-page!) resume—your potential employer already read that! Your cover letter should express why you are a good match for this specific role and organization. This also means that if you apply to a different role at the same organization, you should be writing a new cover letter. And there is no need to write a treatise: one page should be plenty of space to say what you need to say (one-and-a-half pages if you just can’t contain your excitement).

3. Not Following Application Instructions

Here’s a good rule of thumb: Read the entire job description before you apply for the job. Not only will this ensure the role is actually a good fit for you, but you’ll also know exactly how to apply for it! Applying incorrectly sends the wrong signals to the employer and might be enough to kill your chances of an interview.

4. Ignoring the Google Machine in Your Pocket

“Sorry, I didn’t read through the organization’s website.” Would you believe a candidate actually admitted this to me in an interview? Foot, meet mouth. The internet makes it so easy to understand exactly what organizations want to accomplish. Take full advantage of that by researching the organization for which you hope to work. Pro tip: This research also gives you fodder for great questions to ask when the hiring manager turns the tables and says, “Do you have any questions for me?”

5. Asking about a Promotion before You Land the Job

Thinking about growth is great, but there is a fine line between enthusiasm and entitlement. During the interview process, you can certainly ask about growth opportunities, but you don’t want to come across as someone eager to be promoted from a job you haven’t even landed (let alone mastered!). Remember to stay humble during the interview process. After all, you are just launching your career and have much to learn!

6. Pretending the Money Elephant in the Room Doesn’t Exist

This works until the big fella sits on you. Make sure to understand your personal salary needs well before you get to the offer stage, preferably before you even apply for a job. You should never be caught off guard when someone asks you about your salary preferences during the job search process. Pro Tip: Your salary preferences should reflect a diverse set of factors including your experience in the workforce, education, geographic location, and market conditions, etc. For more information on this topic, see Talent Tip #59, Talent Tip #81, and Talent Tip #82.

7. Thinking That Moving to Washington, DC, Means You’ll Make 80k Despite the Fact That You Just Graduated 

Cost of living changes aren’t 1-1. Stated another way, the cost of living in Washington, DC, might be 50 percent higher than in your hometown, but employers don’t necessarily pay you 50 percent more there. In fact, while the pay in high cost-of-living cities is often more than in less expensive places, the pay rarely makes up for the total cost of living difference. But here’s the good news: You’ll figure out a way to make it work. You may have to adjust your lifestyle (think roommates and finding the cheapest happy hour!). And take it from me: you can get amazing career experience in a high cost-of-living city that will be worth every penny!

8. Taking Salary Advice from Those Who Don’t Understand the Market

Of course, Mom and Dad said you’re worth $80K, but that doesn’t mean it is true. (Or, maybe it’s true for them, but talk is cheap until Mom ponies up 80k for you to cut the lawn.) Since your parents don’t work in the free-market, non-profit world, they lack important knowledge about pay and other factors. Instead of seeking salary advice from them, turn to the Three Gs: Google, Guidestar, and Glassdoor.

9. Thinking Your Problems Are Your Potential Employer’s Problems

Your potential employer doesn’t care if you can’t afford $20 rooftop cocktails every weekend or if you went to Harvard and owe $200K in student loans. She also doesn’t care that there’s a 10 a.m. goat yoga class you want to take on Mondays and Wednesdays. And she most assuredly doesn’t care that you prefer to take long weekends twice a month to “clear your head” in the Poconos. Your potential employer wants you to do a job. Your personal wants and desires (and credit card debt and workout schedule) should not factor into the equation.

10. Not Asking for Help

We’ve all been through the arduous job search process. It can be stressful and often feels overwhelming, so don’t go it alone. Ask those you look up to for help. Talk to friends about their job search. And, of course, Talent Market—the company I work for—is here to help! Send us your resume and general information and then shoot me an email. 

  • Katy (Ranville) Gambella is Talent Market’s Network Engagement Manager. 

    Katy began her career at the Institute for Humane Studies and later joined the Cato Institute. Starting at Cato as a Research Assistant, Katy quickly realized her comparative advantage (and preference!) is to work with people and not to do policy research. During her participation in the Koch Associate Program, she moved into her role in Student Programs, where she spent nearly four years recruiting, hiring, and supervising more than 300 interns.