Career / Finding A Job

6 Ways To Make Yourself Stand Out In A Super-Competitive Pool Of Job Applicants

By Tuesday, February 16, 2021

This article is sponsored by Squarespace.

With many companies transitioning to fully-remote workspaces there are far more opportunities for people to work in places well beyond their immediate communities than ever before. At the same time, this shift toward a more virtual job marketplace has increased the application pool for many positions — meaning competition has increased, too.

Prior to COVID-19, it was estimated that HR managers would receive at least 250 applications per every job posting they shared on average. And with a higher rate of unemployment, it’s fair to assume that number may be even greater now. A quick glance at LinkedIn, and you’ll find entry-level job postings with upwards of 1,000 applications.

If you’re in the market for a new job, seeing these numbers can be incredibly discouraging. Some days, it can seem like you’d have better luck winning the daily lottery at a casino than actually getting that request for an interview.

As someone whose current career exists exclusively online, I know that feeling well. When I first started writing, I sent out upwards of hundreds of cold emails and applications and didn’t even receive so much as a “thanks no thanks” from a single company. It wasn’t until I started taking a quality-over-quantity approach to my job applications that people actually started noticing my applications and considering me for work.

Now after a few years of freelancing full time (among other side jobs), I’ve learned that putting in that extra effort to distinguish yourself among other job applicants can make all the difference between landing an interview or being left constantly agonizing over whether your application ever met another human being’s eyes.

Whether you’re fresh out of college and looking for your first post-grad gig, or a working professional who is hoping to make a career change, here are some tips that can help you stand out from the crowd:

1. Have a sleek, personalized website that highlights your skills and accomplishments.

In the current virtual job marketplace, gone (thankfully) are the days of awkward, clunky resume “objective statements” that sound like a robot trying to fit in amongst humans. Because as it turns out, being qualified to do the technical work of a job is pretty much the bare minimum. You also need to be the right fit for that company’s culture.

As a result, companies today are much more interested in knowing who you are as a person so they can gauge whether you’re a match for the company’s culture, which for them, may help them predict your likelihood to stay. (Remember, onboarding a new hire is expensive, so companies try their best to ensure people will stay.)

As fellow TFD writer Tiffany Verbevk wrote on the hiring process, personality matters, along with a willingness to do the work. This is why it’s important to have a professional online presence that goes beyond a digital resume. You don’t want to be just another professional headshot in a sea of Sans-Serif on white blocks. You want to be a name that employers recognize and tie to a specific visual or memory.

One effective way to make yourself stand out from the crowd is to have a professional website that highlights who you are, along with your achievements and abilities. With Squarespace, you can select from over 200 website design templates and customize them to suit your aesthetic while maintaining a sleek, professional appearance. And the best part is you don’t need any coding skills to make your Squarespace site look impressive. Their easy-to-use design tools and 24/7 support allow you to add separate, fully customizable pages for a biography, portfolio, photos, and contact form so you can market yourself effectively to potential employers.

And although job search sites like LinkedIn and Monster provide an easy way to virtually host your resume, relying on them as your sole digital footprint restricts hiring managers to judge you based on your title alone, or whatever else they can gather from your profile in 6 seconds. And if you’re someone who doesn’t have a ton of experience, or, worse, if you’re at the mercy of being prejudged by words like “freelancer” or “student,” this limitation can be a one-way ticket to being moved to the automatic “nope” pile.

Another added bonus to consider: having a professional website subtly communicates to employers that you’re at least somewhat tech savvy, which is huge in a world where more companies move toward transitioning to totally-virtual work. By having a polished, personalized website dedicated specifically to your work, you’ll distinguish yourself from other applicants by creating a digital footprint that will allow companies to tie a name to your achievements, rather than just see you as applicant 704 of 1,507.

Even if you’re not necessarily looking for a job in a creative field, putting in the extra effort to show your work in a personalized manner demonstrates to employers that you take yourself seriously as a professional and are willing to go above and beyond what is expected of you. And that’s the kind of quality you can’t really list on a standard resume.

If you’re ready to get started building your own personal website, head to Squarespace.com for a free trial. With our offer code “FINANCIALDIET,” you can also save 10% off your first purchase of any website or domain.

2. Cite relevant, specific examples of your work on your application to prove to potential employers exactly what you can do.

You may recall for English class that the golden rule for writing convincing essays was always to show never tell. The same mantra holds true for capturing the attention of employers. Don’t tell them what you can do. Show them proof of how you’ve done it.

One way to do this is to build a professional online portfolio that highlights your accomplishments. And while you could simply upload a Word Doc version of your resume online, using a feature like Squarespace’s grid tool allows you to emphasize your most relevant achievements with a visual reference point so you can stand out to the types of employers you want to attract. Their customizable pages allow you to upload photos of both current and previous projects, along with testimonials and links to external project websites. If you’re a dog groomer, you might include photos of the pups alongside your customer’s happy comments. If you’re a health professional, you might include links to different publications you’ve contributed your insight.

They also have special design tools that let you drag, rearrange, and shift text boxes to your liking so that when people come to your site they know exactly what you’re about.

This is especially helpful if you’re someone who has a varied skillset and hoping to land particular job types.

By taking the time to showcase your relevant accomplishments, you’ll provide employers with a visual picture of your strengths, which can make you stand out among a crowd of people who have the exact same level of on-paper experience as you.

3. Regularly update your website to showcase your most recent and best work.

I once had a friend who works in HR tell me that consistency and dependability are almost as valuable, if not more valuable, to some employers than talent or accolades. And that makes perfect sense. Companies would much rather hire someone who they can actually count on to do the work over someone who impresses them for a minute but doesn’t follow through.

This is why it’s especially important to maintain an updated professional online presence at all times. This can be as simple as writing a brief blog every day about relevant topics to your industry or keeping a running portfolio of projects you have that are in progress. If you’re a makeup artist, for instance, you could write about the latest products you’ve tried. Or if you’re an environmental activist and filmmaker, you share a blurb with links to videos of the penguin habitat you’re currently building or a trailer for the short film you’re making. Not only does this give employers your commitment to the type of work you do, but it also shows them that you’re actively engaged and aware of current issues related to your field. 

4. Prove that you did your homework on the company.

You’ve likely heard it time and time before, but one of the biggest mistakes you can make during a job search is to send out a generic application to a bunch of different companies. You may as well have sent out a letter in the mail with no specific address in the hopes that it would end up in the right hands.

Always take time to learn about a company and its mission before submitting your application. If they have a company culture or HR blog, read as much of it as you can. If the HR manager or other higher-ups are on Twitter or Instagram, take a quick glance at some of their recent posts to see if you can find any information about their current challenges and goals. Just be wary of overdoing it so you don’t verge into stalker territory.

Taking this extra step will allow you to gain a better understanding of how you can actually contribute to their specific, current needs, which you can include in your cover letter. This is a smart way to impress a hiring manager because it shows you actually care about the company and not just what the job can do for you.

Because remember, it’s not just an editorial assistant job. It’s an editorial assistant job at VOGUE magazine. It’s a writing job at TFD. A reporting job at the Washington Post. By doing your homework and being able to articulate how you can add value to their company, you’ll be much more likely to stand out among the many people who are just ‘passionate about writing’ or ‘hard workers.

5. Get a referral from somebody who already works for the company.

Consider this: A study of millions of job applications and hires from SkillRoad’s Top Sources of Hire Report 2016 found that employee referrals accounted for nearly 37% of hires at companies during that year. Even though people who relied solely on search engines earned more interviews overall, employee referrals resulted in more applicants actually getting hired.

Part of the reason why companies like to use referrals to gauge prospective applicants is because it allows them to get an immediate verification on a person’s character and whether they can be trusted to do that job, from someone they already view as a reputable source. This saves them from wasting a lot of time and resources on interviews with people who sound great on paper, but aren’t the right fit. In some ways, the process is not so different from online dating. You’re probably more likely to value your friend’s opinion of a person over an eye-catching profile.

That said, the right recommendation can help you stand out among the sea of hundreds applicants because that person can actually vouch for you and your abilities in ways that listing a bunch of impressive accolades cannot. And since that person knows the company from the inside, they can specifically speak to why they believe you would be a good fit to their overall company culture.

If you’re lucky enough to know someone who works in the company you want to work for, asking for a referral can be as simple as sending a quick LinkedIn message that lets that connection you want to know more about the company’s culture.

Of course, if you don’t already know someone at the company you want to work for it can be a bit tricky. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to form a new connection, either. Thanks to social media, it’s easy to reach out to people in your field who aren’t in your immediate circle and build a totally virtual network of contacts.

And if you’re not so sure if you’re ready to slide into the DMs of a person you don’t know just yet, you can still make your presence known by engaging in discussions about relevant topics on Twitter. Be sure to include a link to your professional website in your bio, so that when people go to your page they can click on something that takes them directly to your work.

Also, be sure to do a thorough cleanup of your social media pages to ensure that everything you have on public mode is something you would want a prospective employer to see (this includes the things in your ‘Like’ section.) The last thing you want is for a hirer to click on your page after seeing your tweet with an interesting opinion on market trends for them to see your page littered with retweets from a Bridgerton fan account.

6. Follow up politely and intentionally.

With many job postings these days receiving thousands of applications, it’s very easy for some to get missed simply by accident even when there’s nothing wrong with them. This is why one of the most important steps you can take to ensure you’re still in the running for a job is to follow-up on your application.

In addition to providing you with an update, following up allows you the opportunity to reiterate to the hiring manager your interest in the position as well as your qualifications. It also signals the hiring manager to actually make a note of your specific name, rather than just thinking of you as person 01 of 1,507.

When writing a follow-up email, be sure to keep it as a brief as you would with any cold-email: Begin with a polite greeting and then immediately mention that you applied for x position and are interested in knowing their hiring decision timeline. Next, include a statement on why you’re specifically excited about the potential opportunity to work for the company. Finally, close by thanking them for their consideration and asking if there’s anything else you can provide them to help with their decision.

And although some recruiters may have varied definitions over when it’s acceptable to send a follow-up email, the general consensus seems to be that if you haven’t heard anything one to two weeks after sending the app, you can go ahead and send one.

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Remember, you never get a second chance to make a first impression, so it’s best to do everything you can to ensure that you’re always selling the best version of yourself to potential employers.

Although you can never really predict whether you’ll land the interview every time, curating an online presence that distinguishes you from fellow job applicants can encourage recruiters to actually reach for your name when it’s time for them to make hiring decisions. And even if that company doesn’t see you fit for the position at that moment, it doesn’t mean they won’t keep your name filed under their bookmarks folder for future opportunities. 

If you’re ready to get started building your own personal website, head to Squarespace.com for a free trial. With our offer code “FINANCIALDIET,” you can also save 10% off your first purchase of any website or domain.

Image via Unsplash

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