Recruiters weigh in on how recent graduates can avoid common mistakes during a job hunt. Photo by: Samuel Mann / CC BY

An interview can go up in flames just as easily as a first date, and a poorly written cover letter is a surefire way to get cut from a candidate list.

In an industry as highly competitive as international development, there is little room for slip-ups. Devex asked global development recruiters for the biggest mistakes they see recent graduates and early career professionals make when trying to get a job — to help you avoid them.

1. The mistake: Jumping straight to salary

The fix: One of the biggest mistakes that came to mind for Alex Ginn, an international recruiter for Nathan Associates, starts with phone interviews.

“One of the first questions [candidates] ask is ‘what is the expected salary for this position?’... Although I know that four years (or more!) of eating ramen noodles and surviving off the fumes from your bank account can elicit a trigger-ready approach to salary discussions, try to hold off until the recruiter brings it up,” Ginn suggested.

Jumping straight to talking about salary expectations might signal to your recruiter that you are less interested in the type of work they do, he explained, and more interested in how much they’ll pay you to do it.

2. The mistake: Cutting corners on research

The fix: Make sure you are as familiar as possible about the job and the organization you are interviewing for, suggested Ruth Iswariah, ‎senior talent acquisition partner at World Vision.

“Think of interviewing like you would think of dating. Take some time to ‘date’ the company: Read up on us, ask thoughtful and well-researched questions to see if we’re compatible, and make sure to point out when we have ‘shared interests,’ or where your experience and our needs match, Ginn added.  Watch: Which part of a bicycle would you be? Recruiters share their go-to interview questions

3. The mistake: Not including a cover letter

The fix: This is your opportunity to write about who you are and what you bring to the table, so use it, Iswariah suggested. Not only include it, but proofread it to make sure that you’ve addressed it to the correct person.

4. The mistake: Leaving out key examples of past experience

The fix: Interviewers like to know how you have performed or behaved in past circumstances, so make sure you are able to provide examples that illustrate circumstances, actions and outcomes, Iswariah suggested.

While you may not have too many working examples from university that you feel are relevant to the workplace, try to think of those relevant to the research you’ve carried out rather than from social activities, suggested Benjamin Salt, senior international recruiter for DAI.

5. The mistake: Not showcasing problem-solving ability

The fix: Employers want problem-solvers. Applicants should structure their CVs so that not only do they describe their experiences in internships, school, or work, but also a problem that arose, actions taken to improve the situation, and the results of those actions, according to recruiters at Nathan Associates.

Don’t have a problem? Include a sentence or bullet on how you improved a process, reduced a bottleneck, or took some initiative to contribute to the company in a way that was “above and beyond.” Watch this webinar, Your 60 minute guide to a stand-out global development CV, to learn a simple formula for showcasing your experience, and impact.

6. The mistake: Limiting your CV

The fix: Forget the one-page CV limit. Be concise, be structured, but include everything that makes you an ideal candidate for the position, recruiters tell Devex. Use discretion; your CV length and experience level should be proportionate. Read: Recruiter approved global development CV and resume templates

7. The mistake: Acting entitled instead of confident

The fix: Those who can demonstrate a willingness to take the academic knowledge and apply it to practical work will make the interview more engaging. Remember that the interview is a two-way process, but some organizations will be better placed to offer opportunities to graduates than others.

Rather than acting entitled, ask how you might be in a better position to be considered for those positions, Salt suggested.

“I often find the more proactive the graduate is in their job search and contacting recruiters directly, the more they demonstrate the right sort of attitude,” he said. Read: Take charge of your interview: 5 classic recruiter personas to know

No matter if you're a recent graduate looking for your first job in the field or an executive level professional looking for your next leadership challenge, Career Navigator offers articles, reports, videos and online events to help guide you on the first step, or next step, of your professional journey. Where do you want to go?

This article was last updated on 14 November 2017

About the author

  • Kelli Rogers

    Kelli Rogers is an Associate Editor for Devex. Based on the U.S. West Coast, she works with Devex's team of correspondents and editors around the world, with a particular focus on gender. She previously worked as Devex’s Southeast Asia correspondent based in Bangkok, covering disaster and crisis response, resilience, women’s rights, and climate change throughout the region. Prior to that, she reported on social and environmental issues from Nairobi, Kenya. Kelli holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri, and has since reported from more than 20 countries.

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