The Job Hunt Jam: How to Make your Application Pop among Hundreds of Other Job Seekers

by Christopher Kokes, Recruiter

Let’s face it – no matter how you slice it, the job search can be an arduous process. You send your resume out to dozens, maybe even hundreds, of companies, and many times all you get back is a generic “thanks for your submission” email, if you’re lucky enough to get any response at all. One of the most common questions I get as a recruiter is, “How do I make my application stand out to prospective employers?” The truth is, there isn’t any hard and fast rule to follow that will get your resume noticed. However, I hope that at least one of these tips will resonate as something you could try out before you send out your next application!

Identify Job Keywords

Some companies utilize keyword tracking software that scans resumes for particular keywords that the hiring manager has identified as being important to have on your resume. Unfortunately,  this software often fails to search for equivalent terms or phrases. For example, if the software is scanning for “administrative assistant,” it may leave out phrases such as “admin support,” “administrative secretary,” “office assistant,” or other closely related terms. While it’s impossible to know for sure what exact words or phrases are being scanned for, you can typically get an educated guess by taking a very close look at the job posting. Is there a word or phrase that repeats itself frequently? Is there particular emphasis placed on one or two skills? If so, it’s a safe bet that these are probably going to be words that will make your resume stand out, whether it’s an automated software or a human being reviewing your application. If you can learn to identify job posting keywords, you’ll be well equipped to potentially get your information properly reviewed by the company.

Have some Fun with Formatting

While non-creative industries probably aren’t going to be looking for a resume with different fonts and color schemes, it never hurts to slightly alter your resume’s format in order to try to get it to stand out. Think of it this way: if you were tasked to look through 100 resumes, and the first 50 were all formatted the same, do you think you might take a few extra minutes looking through one that sticks out as being different from the rest of the pack? As someone who reviews hundreds of resumes every week, I can confidently say that I definitely notice when someone has used an original format. As strange as it sounds, small alterations to the “traditional” formatting of your resume can really help you get the edge over your competition.

Include a Cover Letter

Including a one-page cover letter to further highlight some of your key skills can be the difference between getting a call back and getting your resume added to the “rejected” pile on someone’s desk. A cover letter allows you to expand on any questions that may come up from looking solely at your resume. Do you have a period of spotty history? Do you have a sudden career change that you feel merits additional information? Do you have a skill or past job that you think sets you way apart from other applicants? If so, address it in a simple cover letter. If a company’s application doesn’t allow for multiple files to be uploaded, I like to recommend that people simply include it as page one of their resume! And speaking of things that merit additional information…

Don’t Hide your Flaws

Despite what some might like to think, there is no such thing as a “perfect employee.” Part of the human condition is to make mistakes and to have periods of trial. If you shy away from those by leaving gaps when you may have jumped jobs or by hoping that the hiring manager doesn’t notice your two-year hiatus from employment, you are doing more harm than good. Did you spend two years pursuing a music career with your band? Fantastic – that means you were motivated and driven enough to try and achieve your highest goals! Did you have multiple jobs in the same year? If paired with an otherwise solid work history, you probably had opportunities to learn from each of those roles! Being forthcoming to employers can make you stand out in ways you may not have even thought of before.

Pick Up the Phone

Nowadays, most job applications are done online, which can be a very impersonal process. You’re asked to fill out the same information you’ve already filled out more times than you can count, and you’ll be lucky to get an actual human interaction. You can really stand out by following up with the company about your application a few days later. This isn’t the time to try to push for an interview or give the person who answers your entire work history, but it is a great time to just mention that you saw the job posting, submitted your application, and are very excited to hear if the company is interested in moving forward with your candidacy. This can be an extremely powerful gesture that will only take a few minutes of your time at most.

Find a Specialized Recruiter

As a specialized recruiter myself, I might be a little bit biased on this one. However, the fact remains that no one knows your industry like a specialized agency recruiter. Good recruiting firms will have recruiters who only work in one industry, like Engineering, or who only recruit for one skill set, such as office professional support. Specialized recruiters spend their careers fully digging into one industry or skill set to learn as much as possible about the roles in order to better serve both their clients and their candidates. Oftentimes, companies will partner with specialized recruiters on jobs that they don’t even post publicly! Recruiters can also help you improve your resume based on their industry knowledge, and know how to make your information pop since they review thousands of resumes. The best part is, most specialized recruiters also charge their clients rather than their candidates, so there is typically never a charge to you for the service.

Hopefully these tips will serve you well in the job search. After all, I think everyone could benefit from a little extra help navigating the world of the job hunt!