10 Steps to Stand Out from the Crowd in Your Job Search

10 Steps to Stand Out from the Crowd in Your Job Search

Today, getting lost in the crowd of job seekers in the applicant tracking system (ATS) happens constantly.

You apply, and hear nothing. Ever.

Today, successful job applications for most jobs require 2 elements:

1. You must be qualified for the job (meet at least 50% of the requirements).

2. You must have a solid online reputation that an employer can easily find via Google.

If you repeatedly apply for jobs without being at least partially qualified — and making those qualifications clear –you may be added to an employer’s or recruiter’s always-ignore-this-unqualified-candidate list (also known as a “resume spammer” list).

How to Be a Successful Applicant

View your job search as a sales job — you are “selling” your work as an employee, and the employer is “buying” your work based on your “features” (skills, knowledge, experience, and accomplishments). Check out these 9 ways to differentiate yourself from other job seekers:

  1. Leverage your network to jump to the head of the (hiring) line.  

Job candidates who are referred by a current employee are hired most often — MUCH more often than someone who simply applies online.

Referred candidates are, in fact, the top source of new hires.

To encourage employees to make referrals, employers often financially reward those employees who refer successful job candidates if that candidate is hired and works well for at least three months.

So, before you apply for that next job, check your friends, family, and LinkedIn connections to see if you know someone who currently works there.

Check to see if you can find anything about the employee referral program (ERP) for that employer to see when and how the referring employee is rewarded. Employees will often be more open to making a referral when they know they will be rewarded by their boss.

The advantage for you is that someone you know already works there and can help you navigate the first few weeks on the new job. They have put their reputations on the line that you will be a great employee, and they usually have a vested interest in seeing you succeed (so they can collect their reward).

Read How to Make Employee Referral Programs Work for You and  Shortcut to a New Job: Tap an Insider for more information.

  2. Leverage LinkedIn for Visibility and Credibility  

For most jobs, employers usually do a quick search of the Internet to see what they find. Are you qualified? Did you tell the truth in your application or resume? Will you fit into their organization — or not?

If you cannot be found in a Google search, over half of employers will ignore you.

To an employer, invisibility means you are either very out-of-date or you are hiding something. Neither reason is something an employer would want in an employee.

The best professional visibility you can have for most jobs is a solid, complete, accurate LinkedIn Profile which includes references written and endorsements. Google trusts LinkedIn, and LinkedIn is often near the top of the first page of search results.

Leverage LinkedIn by:

  • Having a complete profile that makes your professional skills and accomplishments visible to employers and recruiters.
  • Being intelligently and carefully active on LinkedIn, focused on your field of expertise, is excellent marketing.
  • Making your LinkedIn profile easy for employers (and others) to find is very important. Include your profile’s URL (linkedin.com/in/yourname) in your resumes and applications, business cards, email signature, Facebook profile, and other professional visibility.

Read 10 Elements of an Effective LinkedIn Profile, 12 Steps to Outrank Your Competitors in LinkedIn Search (Personal LinkedIn SEO), and FREE eBook: Smart Personal Branding with LinkedIn.

  3. Use “personal SEO” (search engine optimization) to be easily found.  

If you are not referred, the next best option is to be found by a recruiter. These days, recruiters are almost always searching for qualified “job candidates” — much more interesting to employers than “job applicants.”

To be easily found, you need to pay attention to the terms you use in your resumes and online profiles, particularly in your LinkedIn Profile (over 90% of recruiters search LinkedIn to find qualified candidates).

If you are applying for a job, use the terms the employer uses to describe the job in your application or resume. For example, when they use the term “Microsoft Office” in their job description, you should be sure to include that term in your application (assuming you know how to use Microsoft Office). If they use the term “Microsoft Word” instead of Microsoft Office, again, you should also use their term in your application if you have that skill.

When it comes to LinkedIn Profiles, different employers require different skills which may be described in many different ways. Perhaps the job title used by your target employer for administrative assistants is “Admin Ninja.” Find a way to include that term in your LinkedIn Profile so your Profile appears in LinkedIn search results — for example, convert your current job title to “Admin Assistant/Admin Ninja” if your current job title is Admin Assistant.

For more about SEO for your job search, check out the articles in Job-Hunt’s Guide to Personal SEO and Guide to LinkedIn SEO.

  4. Research the employer before you apply for the job and go to the interview.  

It’s hard to make a “sale” when you don’t understand your “customer” or what they need and want.

Researching the employer will help you avoid wasting time (and compromising your privacy) by being fooled by a scam job.

Fortunately, much information is available on the Internet! At a minimum, visit the company Web site to see what it says. Employers usually have the choice of very many applicants, and you will stand out by being well-informed about the employer’s organization.

  • This research will enable you to do a better job of customizing your resume and cover letter (next point below).
  • You will be able to ask informed, intelligent questions during the interview, based on your research, which will impress the interviewer.
  • Your research may also help you to avoid wasting time on a company that isn’t a good fit for you or that is in the midst of a declining market and potentially planning layoffs or job freezes.

Visit the employer’s Web site. What do they do? Where are they located? Who works there?

You can find information about publicly-traded companies everywhere, from Google Finance and LinkedIn Company Pages to AnnualReports.com and Hoover’s. Find the quarterly financial reports required by the U.S. government in the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Edgar database.

Don’t know how to research a company online? Read Job Interview Preparation with Smart Google Research and 50 Google Searches to Avoid Layoffs and Bad Employer for details.

  5. Customize your resume and cover letter for each opportunity. One-size-fits-all doesn’t work now.  

Think of your resume and cover letter as your “sales flyer.” Few sales result from a generic flyer. Make it clear to the employer that you want to work for THEM by customizing your resume and other documents to the specific employer.

Because most employers and recruiters use some form of applicant tracking system (a database of job applications and/or resumes), customizing your resume for each opportunity is required today. Read Optimize Your Resume for Recruiters and How Top ATS Systems Analyze Resumes to understand how to meet the requirements today.

For example, if the opportunity you want is in HR, emphasize the skills and experience you have related to HR. If the company is in the medical industry, highlight the experience you have in HR in medical or related industries.

Use your research! Make a reference to their products or services, by name if possible, or to corporate officers. Demonstrate that you know something about this employer and this opportunity.

Send out fewer resumes, and use your research to include proof that you’ve paid some attention to this specific opportunity. You and your message will stand out.

For some good ideas on how to create a cover letter that will really stand out, see recruiter Sandra MacKay’s article on Getting Recruiter Attention.

  6. Write your resume and cover letter in terms of what you can do for the employer, NOT what they can do for you.  

Would you buy a service from a company that said the reason you should buy from them is because they need the business? Nope. Often an applicant’s cover letter will say something like “I need experience in a [whatever you need] company like yours.”

Why should an employer care? They don’t! I’m sure they’d be glad if you benefited from working for them, but they aren’t in business to make job seekers happy.

When filling a job, most employers don’t care what they can do for you; they are interested in how you can help them be more successful. Don’t let them try to figure out how you can help them – tell them.

Present your skills and knowledge in terms of how hiring you will be a benefit for them. Don’t minimize your skills, but don’t over-inflate them either. Stick to the facts – selecting the ones most relevant to the opportunity you are are seeking and linking them to the employer’s specific needs.

  7. Use e-mail as back-up and/or follow-up, but don’t be a pest.  

Use snail mail, FAX, the telephone, etc. to reach the employer or recruiter, unless directed to “use e-mail only” by the employer. Even then, try to network your way into the company to find out what’s going on and advance your search. See Job-Hunt’s “Tapping the Hidden Job Market” article for networking ideas.

E-mail has been killed as an effective “cold-call” communications medium. “Spam” (bulk, unsolicited, commercial e-mail) clogs company e-mail systems, reportedly more than 90% of e-mail in 2014.

Most companies use spam filters to eliminate junk e-mail before it ever reaches anyone’s Inbox. So, don’t assume that your e-mail will be read or even received by the addressee, and don’t assume that you will receive a notice from the “postmaster” when your message is blocked. Most spam filters just delete the messages without any notice to the senders.

Do assume that every potential employer uses spam filters.

Ask your contact(s) in the company to add you to their “friends” (or “white”) list.

NOTE: If you do send an e-mail, use the spam problem as a reason to contact the employer. Call to see if they received your e-mail. Ask to speak with the recruiter or hiring manager, and then, see what else you can discover.

For 7 tips on avoiding spam filters, read Job-Hunt’s article “Keeping Your E-Mail Out of the Spam Filters.”

  8. Send a thank you for each interview, to each interviewer, both for job interviews and informational interviews.  

A thank you is a simple courtesy that is so important, and so often ignored by job seekers that you will stand out from the crowd if you send one!

  • Thank them for their time and their consideration.
  • Include the job title and date and time of the interview to help them remember which interviewee you were.
  • Include something to remind them of who you are — maybe a former employer, project, or school.

It’s smart to also include a few additional snippets of information that help them see you as the best qualified applicant, particularly if you think something from the interview needs clarification. Or, to provide a better answer to a question they asked that you feel you mishandled.

But keep the thank you short – no longer than one page (3 to 5 short paragraphs).

[More: Sending Your Thank You After the Job Interview with sample thank you notes and emails.]

An e-mailed thank you is acceptable to most employers these days, according to a recent CareerBuilder.com survey. But, your e-mail may not get through the company spam filters, so your nice gesture (and great follow up!) may be lost.

Off-line, now, is often the most reliable, and it’s a very nice touch to do it the “old-fashioned way” with REAL paper, envelopes, and stamps – a.k.a. “snail mail.”

  9. Don’t stop looking!  

No matter how perfect a job is for you, or, even, how great the interview went. Keep reminding yourself that you don’t have a job until you have a written job offer, with the right title, salary, and start date.

I’ve seen too many job seekers pause their job search waiting for that offer they knew they were going to receive – the offer that didn’t come from that employer. So they often lost both time and momentum.

Employers can take months to fill a job, with several rounds of interviews, reference checks, and more. As many as 30% of jobs are NEVER filled. So, once your job search is rolling along, keep at it until you have that job offer in your hand! Don’t lose momentum!

BONUS TIP: If you receive the dreaded “thanks for your interest, but..” letter or message…

Send a thank you note. Seriously!

The interview was great, and you were expecting a job offer. Instead, you received a rejection letter. Major disappointment, but not necessarily the end of an opportunity to work for that employer.

If you really liked the people and want to work for this organization, send a thank you after you receive the rejection.

A thank you for being turned down? Yes! They work!

I’ve spoken with countless people who landed their job after initially being turned down for it. They followed up on the rejection, and were at the top of the list when something didn’t work out with the “winning” applicant or when the next opening appeared. For tips on how to handle this situation, read Turning Rejection into Opportunity.

The Bottom Line

Unfortunately, the hiring process is not perfect, and people on both sides of the process are imperfect, too. The technology added during the past few years has only made the process more challenging for everyone. Job seekers can improve the probability of success by taking care during the application and follow up by focusing on being easy to hire.

More About Finding Jobs Today

Susan P. JoyceAbout the author…

Online job search expert Susan P. Joyce has been observing the online job search world and teaching online job search skills since 1995. A veteran of the United States Marine Corps and a recent Visiting Scholar at the MIT Sloan School of Management, Susan is a two-time layoff “graduate” who has worked in human resources at Harvard University and in a compensation consulting firm. Since 1998, Susan has been editor and publisher of Job-Hunt.org. Follow Susan on Twitter at @jobhuntorg and on Facebook, LinkedIn.
More about this author

Don't forget to share this article with friends!