14 Ways to Stand Out if You’re Applying to Jobs Right Now
Let’s get one thing out of the way: I am not a recruiter and I’m not a certified resume writer. What I am is someone who approaches job applications as a creative challenge. When I’ve applied to jobs in the past, I’ve always thought:
- How can I stand out?
- How can I make it clear I really, really want this job?
- How can I go beyond what everyone else is doing?
- How can I do these things in the most efficient way possible?
I’m also a content strategist by trade, which comes in handy here. Telling memorable stories is my thing.
By mid-March, it became clear that widespread layoffs were inevitable. As the months went on, I saw post after post from friends, current and former colleagues and other connections who were out of work. I didn’t have jobs for them, but I knew I had to do something. So I posted the following, which I’ve been happy to see all over LinkedIn the past several months.
It’s a chaotic time to apply for jobs at best. Many are juggling taking care of family and other obligations and have little time to devote to the search. And with so many people looking for a new role right now, it’s important to stand out.
Here’s the thing: I’m the mom of a four month old born at the start of the pandemic. I’m not going to pretend like anyone’s focus is at an all-time high or that anyone has the time and energy to devote to job searching right now. So I tried to fill this article with things that don’t take hours to do. Depending on your bandwidth, choose one of them, try all of them or go for something in between. My hope is that these tips will show employers how lucky they’d be to hire you.
Again, this advice is only proven with a sample size of one (me, in the past… and hopefully some of the people I’ve helped over the years). But when nothing is normal, isn’t that the best time to try something different? Let’s dive in.
Job listings are just the beginning
Ah, job boards. They’re so convenient. That’s why everyone uses them. By all means, start here to get a sense of open roles, but please don’t stop here. Below are three more things you can do to increase your chances of finding relevant openings that a bunch of people don’t know about already.
- Do a “reverse job search”: Make a list of companies where you could see yourself working. Do a little searching on LinkedIn to find a senior-level employee in the right department. Send a [thoughtful] message explaining what interests you about their company and what you have to offer. Let them know that you’d love to stay in touch should a role open up on their team. Before reaching out, make sure to check their job board. You may find the perfect open role sitting right there, but not widely publicized.
- Join a Slack community for your industry: If you haven’t heard of Slack, it’s a collaboration tool for companies to communicate in real-time. Members join channels for different discussion topics (#pets or #gameofthrones or, you know, projects at work). Members can also have one-on-one conversations. Did you know there are also public Slack workplaces? Here’s an article I found when I searched “marketing Slack workspaces”. These groups often have a channel for people to post job opportunities, so do a quick search to see if there’s one (or more) available for your industry.
- Make the most of LinkedIn: If you haven’t been on LinkedIn in a while, now is the time to dust off that profile. After you’ve made sure all your info is up-to-date, spend some time sending connection requests to current and former colleagues and other people in your field. I’d recommend against sending requests to people you’ve never met before/don’t actually know. Finally, make a habit of scrolling LinkedIn once or twice per day. You might discover a post or two from connections looking to grow their teams. And a private message to that connection might just be what you need to get your foot in the door.
Give ’em a resume worth talking about
Sure, resumes are not the most exciting things in the world. The person reviewing yours probably won’t read every word, so why not give them something great to skim? Here are six things to consider when preparing your resume.
- Design: Simple is best, but that doesn’t mean your resume has to be a bunch of bullets in a Microsoft Word document. Drag-and-drop design program Canva has a bunch of free resume templates to choose from. Pick one that works for you and start formatting!
- Quantify your experience: How many people did you manage? How many projects did you lead? How many blog posts did you write in a month? How much did you grow company revenue? You get the point. Attach a number to your accomplishments when that number is impressive. You worked hard for that result.
- Use strong action words: Were you “part of a global team spanning multiple departments” or did you “collaborate with cross-functional teams in China, Germany and the UK”? Technically, both. One sounds way better, though.
- Don’t talk the talk: Ask yourself: “would someone who didn’t work at this company understand? Sometimes we get so used to company terminology, we forget that the rest of the world doesn’t speak that language. As a general rule, make sure your resume is clear, even to someone who doesn’t have years of experience in your specific field. Better yet, ask a friend in a different industry to give it a critical read.
- Do a spelling and grammar check: There’s nothing worse than discovering an error after you’ve submitted your resume. So review it with a close eye, and then have someone else do it, too. Make sure tenses are consistent while you’re at it. Past jobs should be in the past tense.
Make sure your cover letter is covered
Some jobs require a cover letter. Others have an optional field for one. I say, why skip this great opportunity to make yourself stand out. There are three rules I live by when it comes to cover letters:
- Don’t re-state what’s on your resume: This is your chance to add to your resume— not say what’s on it word-for-word. What should you say, instead?
- Tell a story: I’m sure there are fields where a templated cover letter is expected. If you work in one of those fields, you know who you are and can ignore this tip. If you don’t, I highly recommend making your cover letter personal. Talk about a challenge you overcame that relates to the company. Tell a story that captures why you’re so passionate about the products they sell. Or, tell a story that captures your best characteristic as an employee. Hiring managers are people, too. So write like it. Speaking of stories, see below.
- Never send the same cover letter twice: Every job is different, so every cover letter should be different. Even if you customize just a few sentences that small amount of effort can go a long way.
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Prepping for the interview
Congrats! Getting a message from a real, live human saying they’d like to schedule an interview is a great feeling. Odds are, you already know how to sell your own experience (this is not the time to be humble), but there’s more you can do. And it won’t take more than 20 minutes.
- Get familiar with the company: Read their “about us” page, blog and skim the descriptions of their products or services. Imagine the interviewer asks: “why do you want to work here?” Now, imagine you say: “I spent some time reading through your website and I love your mission statement of x, y, z. I think my approach to [marketing, product development, etc.] aligns with this perfectly.” Of course, only say this exact quote if it’s true. The goal is to find something that bridges the gap between your experience and the company where you want to work.
- Ask thoughtful questions: That research you spent 20 minutes doing? It’ll give you two results for the price of one. There comes a time in every interview when the interviewer asks: “so, do you have any questions for me?” Please, please, please never say no to this. Come prepared with questions that show you’ve spent time learning about the company. If you work in marketing, you might say: “I noticed you have blog posts from employees across the company. Can you tell me about how marketing collaborates with different functions?” You can even preface it with: “In my last role, I worked really hard to build strong working relationships with our sales and engineering teams.”
- Send a thank-you email: If you end the interview excited about the role, tell the interviewer! A simple email thanking them for talking with you and letting them know how great of a fit the position sounds can go a long way. Bonus points if you reference something specific that was discussed. Interviewers meet a lot of people, and they’re likely juggling a lot at home and at work too right now.
Job searching is tough during normal times. And while I wish I could spend days just reviewing resumes and cover letters and introducing my connections to one another, I hope this advice gives you a bit of an advantage — without taking up too much of your time (which is so valuable right now).
Tell me: What tips do you have for standing out as a job applicant?
And for my fellow writers, here’s some more advice, specifically for you: