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7 simple ways to stand out in a crowded applicant field

Competition for jobs is stiff. Here’s how you can make yourself an A-list candidate.

7 simple ways to stand out in a crowded applicant field
[Photo: Sid Balachandran/Unsplash]

One of COVID-19’s legacies has been turning the labor market from one of the lowest unemployment rates in history to one of the highest. Within a matter of weeks, millions of people filed for unemployment benefits. And companies that were worried about a talent shortage suddenly had their pick of qualified applicants.

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The good news is that companies are still hiring. Demand may vary depending on region, industry, and other factors, but companies hired 5.2 million people in April, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The difference between those who landed the jobs and those who didn’t was their ability to stand out.

How can you be memorable in a crowded field of applicants? Here are seven simple moves that make a difference, according to experts.

Write your résumé to the job description

Having one résumé that goes out to everyone is a mistake, no matter how fancy the formatting. Today, you need to tailor your résumé specifically to each job and company you’re pursuing, says Lora B. Poepping, president of Plum Coaching & Consulting, an HR consulting firm. If you have a job description, rewrite your résumé to ensure you’re reflecting the necessary skills and achievements the hiring manager is seeking. Don’t stuff your résumé with keywords—that backfires, Poepping says. But use it to write the story of why you’re the best candidate for the job.

“This is the best advice I can give any candidate from a recruiter perspective or from a coach perspective: Don’t just copy the job description language verbatim. What you want to do is tell me a story. That is a story of success,” she says.

Show your impact areas

Recruiters and hiring managers want to see that you can make a positive difference for them, Poepping says. So, as you do your homework about the company, think about the way its needs intersect with your greatest wins—and be prepared to talk about them, she says. “The best way to differentiate yourself is to understand the pain of the person you’re speaking to,” she says.

This may require thinking on your feet and being prepared with various anecdotes that relate to issues the interviewer brings up. Get beyond platitudes. Be ready to explain what you’re really good at and how you’ve used that to make a difference at employers in the past, she says. Make it easy for them to see what you can do for the team.

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Treat every interview like it’s the most important one

When Ann Willets, an executive recruiter specializing in public relations and communications positions, gets on a video conference with a new candidate, she’s routinely shocked by how casual they are. “It blows me away when you’re interviewing for a job that pays $75,000 to $100,000 and you can’t dress appropriately or do your hair,” she says. Sure, you may be staying at home, from the very first interview until the last, but you should be looking and acting the part, Willets says. Putting the effort in up front could make all the difference later on.

Practice the technology

Since most interviews are remote now, Willets says it’s also critical to practice the technology you’re going to use. Find out the platform you’ll be using beforehand and find a friend to test it out with you, if possible. Your recruiter may be able to help, too.

That’s a must for Chao He, the head of our recruiting team at Swenson He, a Los Angeles- and Dallas-based digital product agency. Video interviews are a necessity now, he says. You should spend some time ensuring you’re adept at using the technology. After all, you’re not going to win anyone over if they have to spend the first 10 minutes of the interview getting you up to speed on the tech.

Show off your communication skills

When He is looking at candidates, the ones that truly stand out have the technical skills, but also have strong communication skills. He wants to hear about tough conversations you’ve had or times when you’ve solved a problem. And don’t be afraid to ask questions.

“Having that raw technical ability and work product output doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re going to be successful or that you’re going to be valuable to us,” he says. If you can’t communicate problems or address circumstances when they go wrong, that in and of itself will likely be a problem.

Clean up your digital footprint

It’s been said before, but you can really turn off a company with your digital footprint, says Ana Agneshwar, founder of Aimient, a human resources consulting firm. Google yourself. Check your public social media feeds. Clean up what needs attention and start posting content that shows how knowledgeable and forward-thinking you are. Candidates that stand out “have a curated digital footprint on channels and networks that create instant credibility,” she says.

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This is also a good time to port your network online, follow employees at the companies you’re targeting, and interact appropriately with them, she says. “If a recruiter or hiring manager sees that a candidate is connected to many of the same people they are connected to, it offers social proof, a key principle of persuasion,” she says.

Show you’re self-motivated

Remote work has had quite a moment, and it’s likely here to stay in a bigger way. “You can’t put the genie back in the bottle,” she says. So, find ways to illustrate your ability to be self-motivated and work in different environments, she says.

Standing out is a matter of being honest about your strengths and finding ways throughout the process—from your LinkedIn profile to your final interview—to showcase why you are the solution the company needs.

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About the author

Gwen Moran writes about business, money and assorted other topics for leading publications and websites. She was named a Small Business Influencer Awards Top 100 Champion in 2015, 2014, and 2012 and is the co-author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Business Plans (Alpha, 2010), and several other books

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