The Secret to Standing Out When Applying for a Competitive Job

When you’re applying for a job, standing out from the crowd is always a challenge. But, this tough task can suddenly seem insurmountable when you’re applying for an extremely competitive position.

However, spending all of your time obsessing over the intense competition will only serve to make you feel more anxious and self-conscious—qualities that definitely won’t help you approach your job hunt and interviews with confidence. So, let go of that intimidation and instead focus on doing what you need to do to separate yourself from the pack.

But, how can you draw positive attention to yourself, when there are hundreds of other people applying to that exact same job? Here are five tips that are sure to help you stand out from that pile of other applicants.

1. Get Personal

Feeling like you’re submitting your materials into cyberspace is always frustrating—especially when you put so much time and effort into them. And, when you know that tons of other people are following that exact same process, it’s easy to feel like you’re in a long line just waiting to draw your number.

This is when making a personal connection can make a huge difference. What exactly does this mean? Start by seeing if you know anyone who currently works for that employer. Whether it’s an old friend or an acquaintance on LinkedIn, having someone who can hand-deliver your resume or put in a good word for you can really help to put your name at the top of the interview list.

If you can’t track down someone who can refer or recommend you, you should still make an effort to be as personal as possible in your application materials. Skip that generic “To Whom It May Concern” line (those letters typically find their way directly to the wastebasket!), and instead do some digging to see if you can find the name of the person you’d be working directly for—or even the hiring manager.

Knowing that you put in the legwork and research necessary to personally address your documents immediately portrays you as a dedicated and resourceful applicant. And, that reputation is sure to put you back at the top of the pile!

2. Improve Your Documents

A resume that’s riddled with typos and grammatical errors. A cover letter that contains the wrong company name. Yes, they’re all sure to make the hiring manager remember you—but not necessarily in a positive light.

It seems basic, but going through your resume and cover letter with a fine-tooth comb is absolutely necessary. Not only is this a best practice when applying for any sort of job, it’s also a surefire way to help you differentiate yourself from the crowd—you wouldn’t believe how much of your competition is immediately discounted, simply because their documents are sloppy.

Aside from just scanning for basic errors, now’s also a great time to polish your materials and make sure that they’re memorable and impactful. Ensure that you include quantifiable achievements in your resume that don’t only tell how great you are at what you do, but show it as well. Start your cover letter off with an engaging and captivating story, rather than that standard, “I’m writing in regards to…” line.

No, you don’t want to send a singing telegram or print your resume on hot pink paper. However, these more subtle tweaks and additions can really help you to be remembered—in a way that’s not eccentric and over-the-top.

3. Go Above and Beyond

I won’t deny that your resume and cover letter are extremely important documents for job search success. But, does that mean they’re absolutely the only things you need in order to land your dream job? Absolutely not.

You should never hesitate to go the extra mile, show some initiative, and share some other materials that a potential employer might care about. Go ahead and send them a link to your portfolio or personal blog. Anything that helps them to get a better sense of who you are as a candidate will benefit you!

You can even take things one step further by completing a sample specifically for that employer. Applying for a social media management position? Pull together a brief example of a social media strategy that you think could work for them. Want to be a data analyst? Share that amazing Excel spreadsheet you built—complicated macros and all. Showing that extra effort demonstrates how interested you are in the position. And, if they actually like the sample work you create? Well, then you’ve already got one foot in the door!

4. Polish Your Social Media Presence

Your work examples and official career documents will only take you so far. After all, employers pretty much expect that you’ll put your best foot forward when it comes to those materials. So, what will they do next? More than likely, hiring managers will look you up on social media.

Believe me, you don’t want to be remembered as the candidate who stars in that video for “Phi Sigma Rho’s Longest Keg Stand” or the applicant who writes scathing reviews of every single ex-boss on Facebook.

So, before even submitting your stuff, ensure you’ve taken the time to clean up your social media profiles. Bonus points for actually taking the time to polish and update your LinkedIn profile while you’re at it!

5. Follow Up

You know all of that intense competition we talked about? Well, it not only overwhelms you—it’s also pretty overwhelming to the hiring manager as well. Suddenly, they have an inbox full of submissions, and it’s up to them to weed out the junk in order to find those diamonds in the rough.

So, don’t be surprised if you don’t hear back immediately about that job you’re so excited about. In fact, you likely won’t receive a super timely response. This is why following up is so important.

If you haven’t heard anything (whether that’s a “yes”, “thanks, but no thanks”, or a “we’ve received your submission” email) in about a week or two, feel free to reach out personally and check in on a timeline for a hiring decision. Make an attempt to use the most personalized email address you can find. But, if you can’t hunt one of those down, a general “info” or “careers” address will suffice as well.

Craft a friendly message just asking for an update on the hiring process for that specific position, reiterate your excitement about the opportunity, and thank them for their time. Still radio silence? You’re free to follow up once more. But, after that, it’s time to let it go. We all know there’s a fine line between being persistent and being a pest.

Standing out from the crowd when the job competition is stiff can undoubtedly be tough. But, it’s not impossible! It just involves some thought and creativity. Put these tips to use, and you’re sure to find your way to the top of that resume pile.

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