How quickly a finance graduate edges out the competition to land his or her dream job depends on various factors. But it is important to realize that beyond college grades, a graduate can greatly influence how quickly they are employed by the actions they take.

We've compiled six errors finance graduates make when trying to land that first job. These tips should help you skip the recruitment "teething" phase and get a good bite on your first real job.

1. Being Uncertain About Career Goals 

Avoid communicating career doubts to potential employers. Keep in mind that an employer is recruiting for the ideal candidate, so confessing your preference for another position could immediately end the interview. This behavior suggests a lack of commitment or dedication, so avoid sabotaging your chances. If your potential employer is prepared to invest in your career development, the company will need some assurance that you are passionate about finance and will be committed to the company.

Take time to decide which financial route you wish to pursue based on your personality and passion. This exercise could be quite challenging, so devote the time required and avoid procrastinating. When your career vision is clearer, visit your campus career center and participate in any career-guidance workshops, presentations and activities being offered. This will help you further distinguish your core competencies, marketable skills and appropriate career options.

Picture where you see yourself in three to five years and set goals based on this plan so that you can attain your dream job. Keep focused and build your confidence for when you get the opportunity to sit with an interview panel — which may ask this question.

2. Missing Opportunities to Gain Experience 

Not surprisingly, the finance industry is becoming increasingly competitive as interest in this field of study continues to grow. With this in mind, you can offset some of the competition by searching for work experience from an early stage. Your degree is a basic credential for an entry-level position, but employers usually demand more. For instance, if you have your eyes on Morgan Stanley, it may help to take on an internship with the company during summer break, as most recruiters are more likely to hire a candidate with experience.

Be proactive and start your summer job search before the start of final exams, but refrain from limiting your choices to only large companies. Search for medium and small companies as well, where you may be entrusted with more job responsibilities.

Aside from job placements and internships, consider doing volunteer work to develop basic job skills like teamwork and leadership qualities. Become a member of at least two clubs and take part in a wide range of activities throughout your college years. This will help you to meet new people, build a network, learn new things and have fun. What's more, you can draw on these experiences in future interviews.

3. Failing to Keep Your Resume Updated

On average, recruiters pore over hundreds of resumes a day, searching for the most appropriate fit for vacancies. Generic resumes and cover letters usually fail to attract the attention of recruiters.

Your cover letter and resume are your first sales pitch and an example of your work quality, so tailor them to the specific job or employer you're contacting.

  • Establish the top needs of the employer by examining the duties and job requirements in the job listing.
  • Demonstrate how your experiences, strengths and achievements are applicable. It may help to write a brief summary as your resume introduction.
  • Restructure your resume to convey key information in a concise manner that can be digested in a quick 30-second scan.
  • Always have at least one other person proofread your revised resume before submitting it.
  • Always address the cover letter to the right person. If no contact is provided, feel free to reach out to the company for the name and title of the hiring manager.

4. Neglecting to Prepare for an Interview 

Employers are least impressed by unprepared candidates who come off more like tourists than Wall Street hopefuls. This behavior demonstrates a lack of initiative. Why cheat yourself out of the opportunity to have a great interview experience or the possibility of being referred for another company or department vacancy?

A strong candidate will have insight about the company, the industry, its competitors and current affairs. Do the research and practice; it's all about your preparation. Identify what employers are looking for and consider how your skills and experiences apply. Prepare to answer typical questions like, "What do you know about our company?" and "What can you do for us?"

Show your passion for the industry and your interest in the company by getting your hands on the company's annual report and speaking to people in the industry. Employers are always impressed if you use appropriate financial jargon and can comfortably discuss current market issues.

5. Passing up the Opportunity to Ask Questions

At the end of an interview, a number of candidates pass up the opportunity to ask questions. This is a great opportunity that should be taken advantage of. It's your chance to pose intelligent questions about the corporate culture, corporate goals, challenges and career-development opportunities (but refrain from asking about salary at this stage).

Asking questions like these will also help you determine whether the company is a good fit for you. An interviewee who is ready with smart questions demonstrates sophistication, confidence, leadership qualities and initiative.

Think about several questions beforehand that are related to the responsibilities and challenges of the job. The more senior the role, the more complicated the questions should be. Take advantage of this opportunity and you could outshine other prospects.

6. Not Pursuing the Job Until You Receive an Offer

So, you've completed the grueling interview process and made it through a day at an assessment center. If you've come this far, why drop the ball now? Most graduates tend to assume that the decision at this stage is out of their hands, but you should aim to keep the ball in the air until an offer is proposed.

After the interview, it is polite to send a "thank you" letter (or email) to each interviewer, with reference to one or more things that were discussed in the interview. Follow up regularly with the company to indicate your continued interest and keep windows of opportunity open. Don't be a nuisance, but consider that if you fail to show enthusiasm, the more polite and persistent candidate could land your job.

The Bottom Line

The recruitment process may seem fairly intimidating and complex for the average graduate, but as with taking an exam in school, the recipe for success is to practice and prepare. Each application and interview is an opportunity to improve your game. Knowing these job-search errors and solutions could help you eliminate some of the competition and help you land your dream job faster. (For related reading, see "Job Hunting: Higher Pay vs. Better Benefits")