Here’s the good news: As of September 2015, the unemployment rate in the United States is the lowest it’s been in more than seven years. The bad news? The competition for current job seekers is steep.
You may spend hours researching a position, adjusting your resume, and crafting the perfect cover letter only to have some arbitrary algorithm eliminate your application before HR even sees it — let alone a hiring manager. Of course, you need to ensure your resume is optimized with proper formatting and keywords, but there are better ways to impress your potential employer.
You need to set yourself apart, and we’re here to help you do it. Here are five ways to stand out from the applicant crowd and score that coveted first interview.
1. Hack the Algorithm.
In the past, you’ve created your resume with an actual person in mind. These days, 90% of large companies and 80% of mid-sized businesses use an applicant tracking system (ATS) to eliminate less-qualified candidates. The systems are efficient, but they aren’t perfect. You may be a great candidate, but if you don’t include the specific keywords, previous employers, or schooling that HR is searching for, then your resume may not make it past these filters.
To avoid the resume black hole, take a close look at the job description and make sure you include keywords from the desired skills and qualification sections. You’ll also want to avoid formatting faux-pas that will quickly to get you eliminated. Business Insider has compiled a great list of no-no’s from Rick Gillis’s book “Job!: Learn How to Find Your Next Job In 1 Day.” Among other tips, he suggests using conservative fonts and no graphics or logos.
If you work in a creative field or want to have a resume that showcases your personality, you may consider making two versions—one for those pesky robots, and another for the hiring manager (once you’ve made it past the algorithm).
2. Introduce Yourself to the Hiring Manager.
This is a topic that’s been hotly debated—but, generally, if you’re a good fit for the position, a hiring manager won’t be annoyed that you reached out. If you truly think you’re a strong candidate, then go for it. It’s better than being eliminated before you’ve even had a chance.
Now the question is: how do you find them? First, check your LinkedIn network to see if you have any connections who could help you get an introduction.
No connections? Use Linkedin to search for people who work at the company—specifically, those with the title above the job you’re applying for (if it’s an Associate role, think Manager. Manager role? Director.). If all else fails, try department heads.
Still no luck? Start Googling. You may find press releases, a company profile, or team pages that will point you in the right direction.
Now it’s time to reach out. This is where Inmail comes in handy—but email is better. Generally, cold-calling is perceived as aggressive.
If you don’t have their contact information, try to figure out the email permutation (firstname.lastname@example.org, firstname.lastname@…. firstname@…). Now, your content here matters—remember, you’re about to send an unsolicited email.
- Be humble. Acknowledge your note as unsolicited but that you have a strong interest in the position and ask that they spend one minute reviewing your resume (you have it tailored, right?).
- Don’t mention that you haven’t heard back from HR. This could upset the HR team, and make the hiring manager wonder why you haven’t been shortlisted.
- Offer three reasons why you would be a great fit for the position. Make sure to address the job description and how your experience qualifies you.
- Explain why you want to work for the company.
- If you think you can figure out what keeps them up at night (taking cues from the job description, industry news, or people who work there), address how you can help.
- Ask them if they have time to speak with you about the role at their convenience.
3. Build a personal website.
Having an online portfolio has been standard for those in creative fields for quite some time. But building a website to showcase your personality and work experience is no longer limited to graphic designers, artists, or web designers.
The advent of services like Wix and Squarespace has made building a personal website available to anyone who has Internet access and a computer (and the $90 or so annual hosting fee).
These websites help employers see you as more than just a name on the page. While it shouldn’t be a substitute for the traditional resume, a website can help you stand out and build a personal brand.
Take Phil Dubost, whose resume went viral after he built a mock Amazon product page to emphasize his work experience, engineering savvy, and creativity. Mashable dubbed his work as the “best online resume ever.”
4. Add value to the company.
While it’s unrealistic to go above and beyond for every application, sometimes going the extra mile can work in your favor. Take Nina Mufleh‘s social resume. Nina really wanted to work for Airbnb. After months of applying and emailing with no luck, she decided to take a unique approach. Nina designed a report analyzing the global tourism market to help Airbnb decide where to go to next. She then seeded the campaign by sharing it on social media with friends and family and then tweeting it directly to the executive team of Airbnb.
Her resume went viral — and, while she didn’t get a job at Airbnb, she did manage to nab interviews not only at Airbnb but dozens of other successful startups like Uber and Linkedin. Nina is now working at Upwork.
What makes her resume so interesting is that she didn’t just focus on herself. She showcased her knowledge of the travel industry and Airbnb itself, simultaneously displaying her creativity and marketing chops.
Winning a job interview in today’s competitive market takes more than just the skills necessary to do great work. You need to set yourself apart by building a personal brand and letting your personality shine through. Sometimes going the extra mile may just land you your dream job. And, if it doesn’t, think of how much you’ll learn along the way.
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