10 Common Mistakes Entry Level Candidates Make and How To Fix Them

Applying to your first job is one of the most stressful things most college grads will experience in their senior year. The job market is always up and down. Figuring out how to win the cat and mouse game of hiring with recruiters is confusing. Actually writing and keeping an up to date resume is just so much effort.

Fear not Millennials, there is a way to make being an entry-level candidate more tolerable!

First of all, remember that you are marketable. There is no way you are a 20-something entry level candidate with absolutely no marketable skills.

You simply need to figure out what those skills are and make sure your resume highlights them in the best way.

Starting from scratch – writing your first professional resume

If you don’t have a resume yet, don’t freak out.

Take an hour or two and sit down with a pen and a piece of paper like it’s still the ‘90s.

Scribble down everything that you can remember from your experiences in high school and college. Write down even the littlest thing.

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I’m not talking about the first time you got drunk at the school dance and passed out under the seats in the auditorium.

Jot down constructive experiences you had and any accomplishments that jump out at you. Sports teams, academic decathlon, student leadership positions, unique travel experiences, and language immersion programs.

This list will come in handy when you are trying to draft a master template of your resume. The master template will then be the copy that you keep fully updated. Ideally, when a job opportunity comes along, you can cherry pick the most relevant experiences and accomplishments to include on a resume tailored for that specific position.

Set reasonable expectations

You cannot reasonably expect to have a resume that reads like a seasoned professional, you’re still an entry level candidate.

Don’t get disheartened because it seems like most positions you are interested in won’t even look at someone of your experience. A quick Google search will show you that a lot of companies require 3-5 years of experience in a field before they will even consider you. That’s not an entry-level position.

Figure out what entry-level means

When I first stared applying for jobs, I was looking at positions in the UN that required fluent French and 3-5 years of relevant professional experience. As a college graduate with conversational French and 3-5 years of experience working in the university dining hall. I didn’t fit the bill.

I was going to have to build up some professional experience before joining the big leagues.

Learn how to sell yourself

A resume is a marketing tool. Its audience is someone who needs to be sold on your qualifications and experiences.

In order to do that, you have to get a little cocky and showcase your finer points.

It’s not the easiest thing, especially after we’ve been raised to be humble and almost deferential about our achievements, even if they are great.

And even if your experiences aren’t necessarily “great”, you need to find the perfect angle to make them appear through your writing.

I don’t mean lie. Not even a little bit. Instead, I mean find the part of each experience that makes you the most uniquely marketable.

Build up your experiences

I know I said that if you’ve reached your 20’s, there is no way you haven’t developed some sort of marketable skills. The only caveat here is if you really, truly don’t have any experiences that speak to the position or job field that you are looking to gain access to.

If that’s the case, and you want to become a paralegal but have a degree in Engineering and absolutely no prior experiences that could be used to demonstrate an enduring interest in Law, then I’d suggest you take an Intro Law class.

Start reading up on legalese and becoming well versed in what you want to do before sitting down to craft a resume that speaks to this field.

10 common mistakes entry-level candidates make on their resume & how to fix them

There are endless lists of mistakes that folks make on their resumes. From glaring typos to more strategic shortcomings like including irrelevant information or not fully squeezing all of the marketability from a previous experience.

1. Your resume is too general

Yes, I know you’re a fresh-out-of-college young professional or an entry level candidate who has lots of diverse experiences.

Narrowing down your interests isn’t easy.

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If you are looking for a job as a paralegal, there are certain key qualities and skills that you want to illustrate for potential hiring managers.

I’m going to do a quick Google search and come up with five.

(pause for 5 seconds…)

The five traits I can quickly identify that would make a great Paralegal (this is not an exhaustive list):

  1. Prioritization
  2. Communication
  3. Writing
  4. Organization
  5. Dedication

Your resume has to speak to these skills, which likely won’t be the hardest thing. You can use your academic credentials to illustrate most of them. However, you need to drill a bit deeper and show employers why you would be the best Paralegal.

Hammer home the connection between your experiences and the position. That might look something like this.

Graduated with a GPA of 3.8 while working part-time as a waiter at Jamie’s Restaurant, carrying a full load of courses, and taking supplementary weekend classes in Introductory Law.

In that sentence, you hit four of the five skills that you know you need to demonstrate. You’ve also shown a continuing interest in the legal field, which could set you apart from other candidates.

2. You use too many words

I am definitely guilty of this. But when I try to cut back, I start to sound like a robot. How do you infuse your personality into what basically amounts to a list of your accomplishments?

That’s something that a career consultant can help you with. It is also something you can address yourself by taking a closer look at the usefulness of each line of text you include.

Be as objective as possible about your experience. If a detail is irrelevant to the job you are seeking, just delete it.

3. You use filler information

This is along the same lines as using too many words. Figure out a way to make every single word of your resume count.

A good way of doing this is to give yourself plenty of time between writing and editing. That way, when you go back to your resume to edit, you are looking at it with fresh eyes.

What exactly is filler information?

Don’t include your college GPA, if it was less than a 3.5 (experts state varying numbers, I say use your best judgment here).

Don’t include phrases that just take up space like “references available upon request”. That is just a waste of words because of course your references are available upon request!

4. You undersell yourself

The usual response to this from my clients is “I didn’t want to brag” or “Yeah, but that wasn’t that amazing of an accomplishment”.

Stop that!

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Your resume is a marketing document. You are the one writing said marketing document. Therefore, you must be the one to market yourself!

Don’t lie on a resume, but don’t be afraid to show off what you’ve accomplished and what makes you uniquely marketable and talented.

5. You don’t write for your audience

Including industry jargon on your resume to demonstrate knowledge about a particular area can hurt you more than help you.

If you are an entry-level candidate, you are not expected to know the language of a company or industry yet. That will come with time. You just need to have a fast learning curve.

Also, don’t assume that the HR departments and recruiters for positions know technical or legal language.

On the side of simplicity, save the complicated jargon for once you’ve secured the job!

6. You re-state job descriptions

The point of a professional resume is to grab hiring manager’s attention what you can do in the context of what you have done.

That can be a little confusing to put into words. When you tell people what you have done, it comes out as more or less a list of your daily tasks. That means it’s a job description.

Don’t just send new employers a description of your old job. Put a little more effort into it and make sure the descriptions include relevant accomplishments and speak to the new job you seek.

7. You don’t care enough

Objective errors like typos, improper grammar, and spelling mistakes are inexcusable on your resume.

As a resume reviewer, I want to scream every time I see things that can be fixed by a simple spell check.

Mistakes will overshadow anything else on your resume and make it almost certain that your portfolio is dismissed right away. For God’s sake, these errors are very common and you should avoid it. Learn the simple (but important) rules when writing your resume.

8. You include information from high school

As a college graduate, you should remove all references to your high school days.

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The only exception here is if you’ve done your research and know that a hiring manager or CEO at the company you are applying to went to your high school, in which case you can include the school’s name under Education”.

9. You make excuses for being inexperienced

No reasonable hiring manager expects you to be ready to take on leadership roles in your first position. Don’t include any negative rhetoric in your cover letter or resume.

Just let the facts of your experience illustrate the transferable skills and experiences.

10. You don’t include a cover letter with your resume

Chances of a cover letter being reviewed are slim. But when it comes down to it, you are an entry-level candidate. Your resume isn’t “heavy” with experience yet.

If you do get through the initial weed out of resumes, your best chance at landing an interview is to add more color (or noticeable effort) to your application. Having a cover letter could make a huge difference, so put in the time and effort and make sure to submit one (a good one).

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