How to Standout When Applying for a Job and Get an Interview

A blunt guide to conquering the job hunt game.

We've all been there. You're ready to move on from your current job but applying for a new position can feel like a full-time job in itself. You spend hours searching, twice as long applying, and wait for a "call" that never comes. You know you're qualified–over-qualified for the positions you're settling for now–but there's no pay-off. No one calls. No one emails. You don't even get the courtesy of a rejection notice.

In all reality, a job posting will receive only a handful of applications worth consideration. Want to become one of those handful that actually gets read and called in for an interview? Here's how.

Stop Wasting Your Time Applying to Every Job Out There

When you spend time applying for positions that aren't what you're looking for out of desperation, you're not devoting enough energy to the applications you really want to make shine. If reading the job description doesn't get you a little excited, you're putting yourself in the same position you're in now when you apply. You'll quickly tire of that new job and be back at square one-starting this application process all over again.

'Click to Apply' Will Never Get You Anywhere. Don't Do It.

It's tempting after months of searching to jump on those career board apply buttons. You click and off goes some generic resume and cover letter. No personalization. Nothing that separates you from other hundreds of applicants who took the easy route. Avoid these quick-apply options.

Focus Your Effort on the Jobs You Desperately Want

Aside from eliminating jobs that fall below your qualifications, avoid applying for jobs that aren't impressing you. If you don't think you'd actually enjoy working as XYZ Coordinator at ABC Company, don't bother applying. You need to focus in on the positions that get you excited. It'll save you a tremendous amount of time, you'll feel less burned out, and more rewarded when you get the job.

Research the Company You're Applying To

Companies want to hire the best possible candidate to fill their open position. They want someone who shares their passion and demonstrates a genuine interest in the company. One of the simplest ways to express interest is through some good old fashioned research. Get to know the company you're applying to:

  • skim through their website
  • familiarize yourself with their products/services
  • search Google News for current articles and PR
  • read the "about us" page. Get a feel for their work culture and atmosphere.
  • check out their social media pages

Take the info you learn and sprinkle it into your application. Knowing the company you're applying for will become especially useful when it comes time for the interview. You'll be better prepared to answer questions and have a greater sense of what they could be looking for in a candidate.

Find Out Who's Going to Review Your Application

After you spend some time learning about the company in general, do some deeper digging and figure out who's going to read your application. If you're applying to a managerial position, chances are the department head will have the final say.

Whoever it happens to be, go ahead and online "stalk" them.

Read about your interviewer through the website, find their Twitter profile, check out their past work on LinkedIn, etc. Put some effort into familiarizing yourself with the person who's going to decide if you get the job or not.

Spot and Get Past The Application Firewall (Screening Phase)

Much in the same way a firewall on your computer is meant to block junk from entering your computer, employers like to throw in some obstacles meant only to weed out the junk applications. This could come in the form of simple requests like:

  • send a cover letter
  • have a bachelors degree
  • send salary requirements
  • send availability

These application obstacles may also come in the form of personality tests or surveys. If you can't follow direction by doing everything an employer requests, you're not worth their time. You're automatically rejected-no matter how amazing you might be for the position.

Requested Materials & Surveys

Most job postings will ask for you to send something aside from a resume. If they request you submit a cover letter, send one. If they ask you to provide your salary requirements, tell them a range of what you're looking to make. Do NOT answer salary questions with blanket "I'm open to discussion" statements or by simply ignoring the request. (If you'd rather avoid the salary discussion until an interview, there's a piece from Forbes with a few tips for doing just that.)

Send every piece of information an employer requests. If there's something you can't produce, such as an example of your past work, explain why you're unable to share it.

Follow Directions

Always read the job description in it's entirety. Oftentimes, an employer will ask that you apply in a specific manner with a specific set of information. Do everything they ask and nothing they ask you not to do.

If the job posting specifically states " no call, emails, etc.," do not contact them. By doing so, you've demonstrated you can't follow directions. Not only will you jeopardize your chance of employment by going against their wishes, you could start internal problems. e.g. A company is looking to replace a current employee and doesn't want word to get back to him or her.

You Need to Personalize Every Single Application

One of the biggest pitfalls of applying for a job is sameness. I get it, finding open positions can be a real pain in the @$$. It's easier to ship off the same exact resume and some generic cover letter (if you even bothered to include that).

Here's the problem: not a single position you're applying for is exactly the same. It's a different employer, a different set of requirements, and a different position. Stop for a minute and customize your application. Speak directly to the hiring manager and give them reason to believe that you genuinely want to fill their opening.

Highlight Their Preferred Qualifications

9 times out of 10, a job posting will clearly state the characteristics or qualifications of the ideal candidate. Take the time to point out to them that you are that "ideal" applicant.

Get creative, use some bolding in your resume to highlight the main points an employer is seeking. Tweak your employment descriptions to more closely match the required experience; don't lie, but push your matching qualifications to the top.

Write a Cover Letter

Whether or not an employer asks for a cover letter, take the time to write one. Write a unique letter for every position, one that highlights your ability, personality, and makes reference to the job/company you're applying for.

There's an overwhelming wealth of information out there on how to write a great cover letter. I could write posts upon posts just about cover letters (someday, maybe), but for now, here are some great articles already in existence:

Customize Your Resume "Objective" or Get Rid of It

One thing that really irks me is the generic objective statement tacked onto every resume. They're more wasted space than anything else. Everyone knows you want a job: you submitted an application.

Either customize it for every position you apply for or don't bother including it all. It's not make or break; that's what your cover letter is for.

Put Yourself in the Hiring Person's Shoes

Getting sucked into the depressing dark hole of a job hunt could be limiting your viewpoint. Step back for a moment and think about what the hiring manager is going through.

They're getting bombarded with hundreds of other applications. They've got "better things to do" than read through resumes all day and they're getting mentally exhausted by the overwhelming number of poor applicants (it's disheartening).

Make their job easier! You know what they're looking for (it'll be clearly stated in the job description), so spell it out for them. e.g. the job posting requests salary requirements, X number of years experience doing Y, a bachelors degree, and a sample of your past work. Respond to their request–straightforward–like so:

.....your compelling application email.... Desired Salary: $A-Z/year Y Skill: X years Bachelors Degree of EFG (20XX) Sample of my work: (link/attachment)

Laying it all out makes the hiring managers job simpler and it tells them you know how to follow direction with attention to detail. This is the single biggest hurdle to getting noticed. It's how applications go from being unread & dismissed to considered.

Be Personable. Be the Person People Want to Work With

Don't be bland. :P Don't get so caught up in promoting your stellar achievements that you forget to tell people who you are. Take every opportunity in your cover letter and email to express your character.

Employers are just as interested in finding someone with all of the required qualifications as they are finding someone who's going to work well with their existing team. They want someone who's going to promote a positive work culture, not an employee who's just going to "be there."

  • Write Conversationally
    • It's okay to use contractions
    • Speak in the first-person to one person (use "you")
  • Show a Little Enthusiasm
    • An exclamation mark here or there isn't a bad thing when you mean it (don't over do it though, that'll come across as insincere)
    • Speak energetically. Standout as the person wants this position. (careful not to sound desperate)
  • Let Your Personality Shine Through Your Writing
    • Focus on expressing yourself, naturally, through your writing
      • Don't try coming across as someone you're not. If you're bubbly, be bubbly. If you're a go-getter, throw some "pow" in there.
      • Avoid phrases like "I'm friendly" or "I'm motivated." Let your writing (with examples) and resume show that.
    • If the position speaks to you, tell the employer why.

Email Your Application Whenever Possible

The surest way of getting your application in front of the right person is through email. Unless explicitly stated–no emails–email your entire application. Attach your cover letter, resume, supplemental material, and introduce yourself with a quick, personal note.

Follow-Up with Your Job Applications

If you've done your homework and know who'll be reading your application, it's a smart move to send a follow-up email. After a week goes by without response, shoot the hiring manager a quick email. One to four sentences at most:

  • State when you applied and for what position
  • Politely ask if your application has been received and reviewed
  • Offer to send supplemental information if needed
  • Suggest availability for an interview

That's it. Be short and to the point, don't try reiterating what you've already sent in your resume.

Now there may be some that disagree with me here, but I'd advise against calling. More often than not you won't be able to find the direct number of the hiring manager and it's even more likely they're not interested in taking calls. Screening applicants is enough work in itself and calls may end up being more aggravating than helpful.

Emails are less obtrusive and don't disrupt hectic schedules.

Final Thoughts

  1. Put energy toward creating fewer, richer applications.
  2. Speak directly to the hiring manager as if you were having a conversation with him or her.
  3. Get to know the company you're applying at.
  4. Determine any application hurdles and clearly address them.

Additional Resources

Business Insider - How To Write The Perfect Resume
Forbes - 12 Myths About Writing Your Resume

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