9 Biggest Career Mistakes College Grads Make


An estimated 3.8 million students will graduate with an associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s or doctoral degree in 2016, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. While some of these students will continue their studies, others will start their career right away.

2016’s graduates will take the skills they learned with them as they start climbing their respective career ladders. However, the journey to the top can prove more challenging than expected, especially when a graduate becomes guilty of common career path mistakes. Here is a rundown of nine of the biggest college grad career mistakes, along with tips to avoid them.

first jobs dream jobs

1. Believing First Jobs Have to Be Dream Jobs

If you’re eager to find work and start living the American dream, you might only pursue positions that can support the lifestyle you want to live. However, many people don’t find their dream jobs — or the highest-paying jobs — on the first shot. Your first job out of college is just that — your first job and a stepping stone to something better.

“It’s fine to have an end goal in mind when it comes to your working life — ambition will motivate you,” said James Rice, head of digital marketing at WikiJob. “But the reality is that you’re unlikely to walk into that role straight after university, so don’t pass up on great roles that will give you the skills and experience you will ultimately need to land that dream job.”

graduation network

2. Waiting Until Graduation to Network

Many job seekers fail to appreciate the importance of networking prior to graduation.

According to Elizabeth Venturini, a college and career strategist with CollegeCareerResults, some students mistakenly feel that they have to wait until they graduate to network for possible internships and jobs, but in actuality they should start networking as soon as they enter college.

“Everyone is a possible contact — friends, professors, administrators, organizations, speakers for special events,” said Venturini.

Grads who put off networking until after getting their degrees might not secure employment as fast as those who had four-year head-starts. To stay ahead in the career game, Venturini recommends that all students take advantage of opportunities to meet people in their future fields of interest.

cookie cutter resume

3. Using a Cookie-Cutter Resume

When you’re applying for the same position with different companies, you might be tempted to print multiple copies of the same resume and cover letter. However, hiring managers are good at spotting cookie-cutter or generic resumes, and this type of laziness can result in missed opportunities.

“A generic resume means you lose out to candidates who made the effort to tailor theirs to the specific position,” said Rice. “It’s better to apply to fewer jobs and ensure you can demonstrate the skills required, than apply to lots and hope.”

Customizing a resume might consume more of your time, as you’ll need to include language and keywords from the job description. But the effort pays off in that you’re more likely to stand out from the crowd.

afraid to take risks

4. Being Afraid to Take Risks

College prepares students for careers, but getting a job isn’t the only option after graduation. If you’re a natural entrepreneur with dreams of being your own boss and controlling your income, you might want to launch a business immediately after finishing school.

Eric Brantner, co-founder of Scribblrs.com, a website that offers blogging tips, says your 20s are the best time to take risks.

“The biggest mistake I see is college grads feeling they have to take the first big corporate job that comes their way for security,” said Brantner. “This is your chance to go out on your own and be an entrepreneur without the stresses of raising a family.”

This doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t find a job after college. However, if you’re able to live at home or with a roommate, you might be able to work a park-time gig and devote the other half of your time to growing your own company.

accepting bad job

5. Accepting a Bad Job

College grads shouldn’t expect their first jobs to be their dream jobs, but they also shouldn’t settle for bad jobs. Some grads are so desperate for work that they’re willing to accept any position that comes along.

Jim Wang, founder of the money blog Wallet Hacks, has seen many new grads make this mistake because they believe a bad job is better than no job.

“It’s important to get a job, but it’s also worth waiting if the only offers you have are for jobs outside your field or area of expertise,” said Wang.

lying about credentials

6. Lying About Credentials

Exaggerating or stretching the truth on your resume can get you a foot in the door of your dream company, but it might not get you any further.

“As an admissions coach and early career advisor, I see the pressure that many students have on them to exaggerate their GPA to get into specific GPA ranges for career resume drops,” said Eric Allen, president of Admit.me, a website that offers admissions guidance to college applicants.

“If they don’t meet the GPA cutoff for a resume drop, I encourage them to network their way into an interview and impress at the interview — GPA [is] a screening tool, but employers often value tenacity over a particular GPA, within reason,” said Allen.

ignoring 401k plan

7. Ignoring an Employer’s 401k Plan

College isn’t cheap, and many grads juggle costly student debt and other expenses. Hence, it’s understandable that saving for retirement might be the last thing on their minds. Still, there are benefits to young graduates saving early.

According to Valerie Rind, author of “Gold Diggers and Deadbeat Dads: True Stories of Friends, Family and Financial Ruin,” some college grads think they’re too young to worry about saving for retirement or feel they can’t afford to save. But she says they’re wrong on both counts.

“It’s never too early to start saving and let your money grow,” said Rind. “Get in the habit of saving before your paycheck hits your checking account. You can increase the amount gradually, and when your employer matches your contributions, you’ll get free money.”

not developing a thick skin

8. Not Developing a Thick Skin

Most employees spend 40 hours with the same people every week, sometimes in stressful circumstances. You might not get along with everyone, but this doesn’t mean you should hop from job to job every time an issue arises, or else you’ll spend your career running from problems instead of dealing with them. Roy Cohen, career coach and author of “The Wall Street Professional’s Survival Guide” recommends sticking it out despite negative circumstances.

“A series of bad situations and quick moves raises questions about your good judgment and your maturity. Frequent movement also eliminates the very real potential to benefit that can only be gained by sticking it out and working through a problem,” said Cohen. “What doesn’t kill you will, in fact, makes you stronger and smarter.”

lacking business etiquette

9. Lacking Business Etiquette Skills

Just as you’re expected to behave like an adult in college, you must behave maturely in a professional setting. Unfortunately, if you never learned business etiquette, you might have a difficult time transitioning from college to the workplace. These skills include understanding appropriate ways to communicate at work, as well as how to conduct yourself in the office and at business meetings.

“No matter how technically brilliant you are, a lack of business and social skills could hold you back from prime academic, social and future career opportunities,” said Venturini. “I suggest students and graduates take a business etiquette class or read books on the subject so they are prepared for any situation.”