How many of these tips have you heard before?
- “A strong resume and cover letter are important.”
- “Bring your resume to their office.”
- “Always be one of the first people to apply!”
- “Get your resume professionally designed!”
In 2023, this advice for job seekers doesn’t cut it anymore.
How can you stand out online when there are hundreds of people applying to the same job as you?
The short answer is: to stand out in your online job search, you need to use your personal connections, make the hiring manager’s job easier, and stay true to you.
The long answer? Here are 7 tips for how to stand out in your job search:
- Start with the people you know.
- Focus your cover letter and resume with facts and formatting.
- Communicate, communicate, communicate.
- Create a website.
- Learn a new skill or certification.
- Show your personality.
- Stay organized and respectful.
Let’s get to it!
1. Start with the people you know.
If you were going hiking, who would you rather go with: a friend of a friend or a complete stranger?
Probably the friend, right?
The same principle applies to your job search. People build connections based on experience, trust, and positive impressions. The more people you’re connected to, the more shortcuts you have available. People know people.
Before you spend 3 months mass applying to roles online, make sure to reach out to your personal and professional networks to let them know what you’re searching for and how they can help. Connect with people in your industry, attend events and workshops, and join professional organizations. You never know who might be able to help you find your dream job! (Be careful not to spill the beans to anyone in your current company, though.)
If you’re nervous about contacting that one guy from high school who works at your dream company, don’t be.
Most people love to help others find work, and many companies offer financial incentives for their employees to refer candidates like you.
All it takes is a simple message to start the conversation. You’ll probably be surprised how fast it snowballs after that!
2. Focus your cover letter with facts and formatting
When hiring managers have hundreds of applicants to sift through for a single open role, they’ll do everything they can to filter candidates quickly and accurately.
Your cover letter and resume should communicate your value in under 10 seconds.
Optimize your content for an ATS.
With Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS), companies use automated systems to rate incoming resumes based on how many keywords match with their job posting. Your resume and cover letter should be text heavy with keywords from the job ad. Resumes with too many graphic elements are illegible to an ATS, so make sure not to use headers, footers, tables, or full-width lines. An ATS can’t process these and will mistakenly mark your resume as a low match percentage.
Use bullet points on your cover letter and keep it short.
Your cover letter and resume have one goal: demonstrate why you deserve a phone call. This is done best with clear, concise, readable sentences. The old essay structure you learned in high school doesn’t necessarily apply anymore; feel free to use just a few paragraphs, one followed by some bullets, or whatever short message you would be happy to receive if you were the recruiter.
Bold the most important facts.
Again, this is about skimmability. Make your accomplishments pop off the page by bolding them. Use this sparingly, though, or it’ll make your content look messy.
Follow a format they expect.
You can use phrasing and word choice to show personality, but make sure your cover letter isn’t hard to understand. Separate your paragraphs, end on a positive note that reiterates your interest in next steps, etc.
Pay attention to the little details.
The job market is insanely competitive right now, so the little stuff counts.
If a recruiter is deciding between you and someone else, good grammar, spelling, and considerate formatting will set you apart!
Use spell check. Proofread. Name your file something relevant and easy to read, such as “JaneDoe_MarketingSpecialist_Resume_AcmeCorp.pdf” The hiring manager shouldn’t have to think twice to find you in a list. It doesn’t help you or them if your file is called “resumedraft-2-new.pdf”
3. Communicate, communicate, communicate
You should strive to communicate your interest, qualifications, and availability in all stages of your job search. Start with these basics, then go above and beyond.
Fully fill out the application.
We’ve all been there: it’s 11pm, you’re about to log off, but then you see your dream job was posted 37 minutes ago. This is your chance to be an early applicant! You click Easy Apply on LinkedIn only to discover you have to retype every single thing from your resume into 900 fields on the company website.
Not cool…but necessary.
If it’s required to get you in front of the recruiter and/or hiring manager, it’s worth your time.
Message the recruiter.
Whether it’s on LinkedIn, via email, or over the phone, get your name to the top of the pile by adding a short, personalized message. One thing not to do? Spam them. Choose your words carefully, express your interest, and leave the next steps up to them.
Be active on LinkedIn & build an audience there.
This may depend on your industry, but it’s almost always a good idea to build your voice and presence on a networking site like LinkedIn. If other candidates are doing this (which they are), you should be, too. Being active on LinkedIn has a few potential benefits:
- Recruiters and hiring managers can check out your profile and activity.
- Your potential manager and teammates can look at your activity to see more of your personality (and whether you’d fit well on their team).
- Your activity reaches a wider audience with every new connection you make.
4. Create a website
With drag-and-drop editors, better pricing, and easy signups, websites aren’t as intimidating or expensive as they used to be. Anyone in any industry can create and maintain a website to help with their career, and they’re not just for designers, artists, or programmers.
Your website is a great way to showcase your work, skills, and personality, and you can add the link to your resume and LinkedIn profile. Any recruiters or potential coworkers can get a good preview of you as a person, which will help you stay top-of-mind during the hiring process.
To help you in your job search, your personal website should include:
- Bulleted, easy-to-read points about why you’re qualified for the roles you’ve applied for
- A downloadable copy of your resume in PDF format
- Examples of your best work
- Quotes from former managers, colleagues, or clients highlighting your unique abilities
- A professional or semi-professional photo of you looking at the camera
- Your email and phone number or a form people can use to contact you
It’s also important that your website is fast, easy to navigate, and a good representation of who you are. Luckily, those are easy to accomplish with modern options for personal websites like WordPress, Squarespace, Wix, and Behance.
One way to test the effectiveness of your website is to ask five friends or family members to browse and then suggest one adjustment each. Bonus points if one of the people you ask is someone…shall we say…unfamiliar with computers. Also, don’t forget to view your website on a computer and your phone!
5. Learn a new skill or certification
If you don’t have a particular skill or certification that often pops up in the job descriptions you like, why not start learning while you apply? Employers often look for candidates with a diverse set of skills, and even if you aren’t fully certified, ongoing learning shows initiative and personal development.
Online and in-person classes range from free to expensive, but even studying the basics will allow you to add important keywords to your resume and set yourself apart from other candidates.
If you’re looking for free certificates, ClassCentral has a great list of free certificates for adding new marketable skills, including:
- Google Certificates (Analytics, Marketing, Cloud Computing)
- Harvard (Computer Science, Programming)
- Stanford (Medicine, Nutrition)
- LinkedIn Learning (Marketing, Project Management, Sales, Customer Service, etc.)
- Microsoft Learn (Analytics, Data Fundamentals)
- Others like IBM, Salesforce, freeCodeCamp, Coursera, SEMRush, and more
6. Show your personality
Your job search is a chance to show your personality and what makes you unique. Don’t be afraid to let your personality shine through in your application materials and interviews.
In the end, the right job will be a match between you and an employer. To find that match, it’s important for you to be honest about who you are and why you’re qualified. Just remember to stay professional at all times!
7. Stay organized and respectful
Job searching can be frustrating and exhausting.
You might get annoyed at the process, the timing, or what feels like endless hamster wheeling toward an impossible task.
However, if you let that frustration seep into your communications or your strategy, you’re only sabotaging yourself, damaging your reputation, and lowering the bar.
Remember to take deep breaths, stay organized, and continue to be respectful at all stages of the process. This way, you’ll impress recruiters no matter what happens—and you’ll be prepared to thoroughly answer interview questions and rebound quickly from situations that don’t work out, both of which will help you find that dream job faster!
After you apply for a job, follow up with the recruiter or hiring manager within 24 hours to emphasize your interest and remind them of your qualifications. If you don’t hear back or receive information about next steps within 7 days, follow up again.
With these 7 tips for your job search, you’ll be more likely to stand out and find the job you want.
I believe it and so should you: you can get in front of the right team and be on your way to starting your next job!