Job hunting is highly competitive. When you submit a job application, you’re competing against dozens if not hundreds of other applicants, each with similar qualifications and wanting the job as much as you do. How will you get noticed?
It’s not just hiring managers you’ll need to impress. Before a human even sees your application, it must make a good impression on an Applicant Tracking System (ATS). These automated systems screen resumes, flagging keywords and phrases that match job requirements. If a resume doesn’t include those keywords, it’s discarded without a human ever looking at it.
Once your application passes the ATS screening, it now needs to capture the imagination of a human hiring manager. We humans tend to assess people using qualitative measurements like creativity, initiative, passion, likeability, and adaptability. By highlighting these types of characteristics along with your objective qualifications, you can put yourself at the front of the line.
Ultimately, a well-crafted job application will make the difference between you landing an interview or your resume landing in the trash bin. By following the seven helpful guidelines below, you’ll ensure your application gets seen by the right person and gets you hired.
Customize Your resume and Cover Letter
Writing a custom cover letter for each job application may seem time-consuming, but it is a crucial first step toward getting hired. Moreover, getting hired is a much more effective use of time than sending job applications no one will ever see.
Sending out the same resume and generic cover letter to every employer is the surest way to be ignored – the shotgun approach to applying for jobs does not work. When you tailor your application materials to the job requirements, it shows that you have read through the job posting, highlights your relevant skills and experiences to match the job requirements, and proves you are a person who puts in the extra effort.
To customize your application, carefully review the job description of a specific role for the required qualifications and responsibilities. Take note of the specific terms and language they use to describe them. Once you clearly understand what the position entails, start evaluating your existing resume and cover letter to see how you can highlight your qualifications and skills in a way that aligns with the job requirements.
For instance, if a position requires knowledge of a specific software tool, ensure your experience with that tool is clearly stated in your application using the same terminology used by the job description. If they’re looking for a ‘wizard’ with Excel, show them you’re Gandalf.
Leverage Industry-Specific Keywords
If you can speak the lingo, you’re more likely to get the job – using industry and company-specific keywords is another critical strategy to help get your application seen by someone who matters. Swamped with applications, companies often use Applicant Tracking Systems to screen applications for certain words and key phrases.
Including these words throughout your application materials increases the chances of your application getting past the initial screening and being seen by someone who can grant you an interview. To identify targeted keywords for jobs in your industry, check job postings on the company website for similar positions and note the skills, certifications, and requirements included in the descriptions.
Demonstrate Your Personality
While recruiters and hiring managers are looking for candidates with the right skills, they’re also looking for the right personal fit – demonstrating your personality can give you a competitive edge. This can encompass a range of personal and professional qualities such as your communication style, work ethic, attitude, and talents like speaking a foreign language or playing a sport. If you have creative hobbies, include a link to your online portfolio.
One way to focus on your personality is by crafting a well-written cover letter. Use your cover letter to tell a story about yourself and show how your personality fits the advertised position. For example, if the job you’re applying for requires excellent communication skills, highlight how your outgoing personality helped you in your previous position.
Showcase Your Achievements
Don’t just list your job qualifications. Use your job application to showcase your achievements. A list of skills can demonstrate the value you bring to an organization, but a series of well-presented achievements tells how your skills translate into success in a real-world setting.
When highlighting your accomplishments, use clear, specific, and quantifiable language. Instead of writing a vague statement such as “Increased sales,” create a concrete example like “Implemented a new sales strategy that led to a 25% increase in monthly sales.”
Leverage Social Media
Recruiters and hiring managers often use social media to check out candidates before deciding who to bring in for an interview. You must have an online presence that aligns with your professional brand. Here are some quick tips to optimize your online presence:
- Use professional handles and usernames on all social media platforms.
- Keep your profiles up to date.
- Share industry news and insights from reputable sources.
- Participate in online conversations and engage with your professional community.
Volunteer or Freelance
Employers value candidates who have demonstrated initiative and commitment to their work. Volunteering or taking on temporary assignments in your area of expertise can help you get recognized by employers and strengthen your resume and cover letter.
Volunteering can also provide valuable networking opportunities, leading to open positions in your field. Remember that volunteer or freelance work often provides robust references for job applications and useful experience to discuss in a job interview.
One final way to make your job application stand out is to follow up after applying. Essentially, you want to make it easy for a company to hire you – putting yourself in their path does just that. Following up with the hiring manager or recruiter via phone call or email demonstrates your interest in the position, your professionalism, and your commitment… and keeps you on their radar.
When following up on a new job application, use the following tips:
- Wait at least five business days before following up with an email or phone call.
- Be polite, professional, and respectful of the hiring manager’s time.
- Ask if they have any updates about the position, and if not, express your ongoing interest in the role.
Stand out to get ahead
Today’s job market is highly competitive. You’ve got to find ways to make your application stand out. If your application is blending in with all of the other qualified candidates, it’s unlikely you’ll make it to the interview stage of the job application process.
Thankfully, one can take some simple steps to separate themselves from the competition in the eyes of employers… and their digital screeners.
The tips we suggest are not revolutionary, and they’re not difficult. Customizing resumes and cover letters and leveraging keywords is not new. Demonstrating your personality, achievements, and showcasing volunteer work is easy to do. Maintaining a professional social media presence is just common sense, and following up on applications is hardly a groundbreaking strategy. But, the number of job seekers who fail to do these things would astonish you.
This lack of initiative on the part of others presents a valuable opportunity for you: by simply investing just a few extra minutes into each job application, you’ll gain a strong competitive edge in the job market and a better chance at landing the career of your dreams.