In the past few months I have been deluged with recent graduates bemoaning the tough job market.
Although they are poised, and sophisticated in their general understanding of the job search process, they are often naive about the mechanics and etiquette that underlie an effective search.
For example, they know how to network, write a résumé, and prepare for an interview. But they don't understand subtle details or basics, such as how to behave in a networking situation, follow up with a potential contact, or present themselves in the best possible light.
Here's a look at common mistakes young people make, and what to do differently:
1. Don't pretend you know what you want to do, if you don't
You won't sound like an idiot if you admit to career confusion. Job uncertainty is natural at your age; you haven't had enough experience to know what the job options are, much less what it feels like to work in a particular type of organization doing a particular set of tasks.
You will also undermine your chances of gaining someone's help if you seem to have it all together: People prefer to assist those who need their help.
But you do need to know yourself. What are you good at? What kind of work environment do you thrive in – a fast-paced setting? A boss who provides autonomy?
Be prepared with compelling examples that speak to these skills and preferences.
2. Fake it, sort of
In their eagerness to sound professional, many young people come across as cardboard cut-outs.
In interviews, you must communicate that you believe in yourself and your skills, but it's okay to express some uncertainty. Hiring managers will interpret this as a willingness to learn and the ability to be influenced.
Here's what you should fake: the impression you are really keen to do a particular job even if you aren't. How you actually feel about the position is your personal business. To land a job, enthusiasm is key.
3. Know your audience
Don't talk to professional contacts in the same way you talk to your mother's best friend.
Be cognizant of boundaries; sometimes young people who are comfortable talking to adults forget they are not talking to someone who really cares about them when interacting with strangers. Avoid "over-sharing."
4. Take advantage of every offer to help
Some of my clients who are in positions to assist others frequently complain that their offers are not acted on.
You may feel you are imposing, but actually it is the opposite – people feel good when they have the opportunity to give someone a leg up.
Don't be shy about asking for assistance. But don't be obnoxious. Walk that line between being clear about your desire for help while not acting like it is your right to have endless support.
5. Don't assume people remember you
I routinely get calls from people who say something to the effect of, "Hi, it's Carol speaking." I have no idea who Carol is, even though I may have spoken to her briefly a month ago or a friend might have mentioned her name.
Most people have short memories. Remind your contact about who referred you and why you are calling.
6. Avoid saying anything that smacks of entitlement
Whether it is true or not (and I don't believe it is), many older hiring managers believe your generation suffers from a sense of entitlement.
Self-confidence can be interpreted as cockiness rather than a sense of self-worth.
Be prudent with the words you use. Never say, "With my degree, I expect stimulating, well-paid work."
(You can think it, just don't say it.) Or, "How long will I have to do this before I am promoted?"
Being overly friendly can also make people feel you are too sure of yourself.
7. Show true appreciation for help
Skip the qualifier responses such as, "That was quite helpful." The recipient may feel you are giving them a performance appraisal rather than offering thanks. (More egregious is saying something such as, "That was quite helpful but I don't agree with what you said about …")
Save the cool ironic stance for your friends. There is nothing wrong with an enthusiastic message saying, "Thanks a ton for your help."
Remember that your supporters will feel good about having helped you only if you explain the role they played, such as how their introduction to a contact led to an opportunity.
8. Understand timeliness
If a networking contact says, for example, that she is going to pass your name along to a colleague the next day, don't follow up with the colleague a month later. The colleague might not remember you, and you will annoy your initial contact.
And don't assume people will do what they say. They may forget, or be distracted.
Follow up if someone was supposed to get back to you and doesn't.
9. Don't be overly picky
No one ever died from working at what they think is a crappy job. You can learn a lot about yourself and gain valuable experience in any role.
The trick is to take what you need – experience, income, self-knowledge, exposure – and not to be crushed psychologically.
Be flexible about income. Focus more on the skills you will develop and how this job will be a stepping stone, than whether you are working for slave wages.
Weigh the value of paying off student debt, or saving for grad school, with the benefits of experience and opening a door for future opportunities.
Barbara Moses was online for a chat on Friday, Oct. 19 to give young job seekers tips on how to land the role they want. You can read the transcript in the box below.