When you apply for a job, you’re doing more than submitting your resume to a potential employer; you’re also entering into a kind of competition. Whether you realize it or not, you’re being compared to other applicants from the moment you hit “send.”
Once you’re invited to an interview, the competition field gets smaller, but the lens on your skills, experience, and personality gets a major spotlight.
When you’re in the running for a job you really want, you need to know what sets you apart from the other applicants. Beyond recounting your job history and listing your technical skills, you can differentiate yourself from other candidates by explaining what your unique perspective and expertise brings to the role and the company.
Let’s explore some key strategies for standing out as a candidate.
1. Create a clear, concise resume.
It may be your instinct to load your resume with every single skill and accomplishment of your professional life. Hiring managers, however, probably won’t find all of it relevant, and it may detract from the skills and achievements that would otherwise make you stand out.
A better way to approach your resume is to consider the perspective of a hiring manager who is “meeting” you for the first time. Start with a clear, concise objective and summary of your career goals. When it’s time to list your skills, think quality, not quantity. Ask yourself, which of my skills are the most relevant to this position? If your list starts getting long, consider trimming it to 10—this will ensure you’re showcasing the range of your abilities without getting too granular.
The same goes for your job history. When it’s time to list your previous jobs, limit yourself to relevant positions over the previous 15 years. Pare down the bullet points describing your responsibilities to around 3-5 per position. If you can, include specific examples of improvements you made or results you generated while in the position.
Finally, don’t overlook the details. Carefully review your resume for formatting, spacing, and alignment. If you aren’t a grammar whiz, find a friend or colleague who is, and ask them to give your resume a quick glance. You’d be surprised at the things you can miss when you’ve been staring at the same lines for hours on end, and these little details can often make or break your chances of being selected for an interview.
Read more: How can you create a resume that makes a dynamic impression?
2. Embrace your inner researcher.
When a hiring company selects its pool of candidates for a particular position, most of those candidates are likely to have similar skill sets and years of experience. Even with a great resume, you may still feel that you and your competition look the same on paper.
One key tactic for standing out from the crowd is to do your homework on the hiring company. Research their company history, key leaders, products or services, and any recent acquisitions or expansions. Read up on market changes or shifts from the previous few years. Check out the company’s social media profiles to get even more insight about their industry, current initiatives, and even their company culture.
Perhaps most importantly, go back to the job description that convinced you to apply for the role in the first place. Pay close attention to the skills, experience, and personal qualities the company values.
Also, if you know the team member with whom you’ll be interviewing, view their profile on LinkedIn to get a sense of their professional history and their path to their current position within the organization. You may have mutual connections or other things in common. This information will give you key insight into how to present yourself and effectively frame your skills and experience for the position you’re applying for.
3. Demonstrate a results-driven approach.
Impressive skills and education and a solid job history are key to getting yourself from the job application to the interview room. Once you’re in the interview, however, it’s important for you to bring more to the conversation than what you can do. You need to be able to illustrate how you’ve put your skills and expertise to work on specific projects or problems in the past.
Think about three separate instances in your professional life where you took part in a project or initiative. Provide specific examples of problems or challenges, and explain your own role in solving them. Finally, illustrate how you were able to produce measurable results and achieve a desired goal. When it comes to standing out for your problem solving and strategic thinking, the more specific you can get, the better.
4. Ask thoughtful questions.
Many candidates get so caught up in preparing to answer interview questions that they don’t consider which questions they should be asking. Remember: an interview is a two-way street. You can and should ask thoughtful questions of any potential employer, not only to emphasize your interest in the position, but also to help you figure out if the role and company are right for you.
When it’s your turn to ask questions in an interview, it’s the perfect opportunity to tap into your research on the hiring company. Ask questions specific to their clientele, market, or services. Ask about their onboarding and training process—especially if you’re interviewing for a fully remote position. Ask how the position you’re applying for would contribute to future company goals, and how success in your role would be measured.
Great questions show that you’re an inquisitive, big-picture thinker, one who considers how your work might impact the wider department and organization. At the end of your interview, you’ll stand out for all the right reasons, and you’ll have a better idea of whether or not the role is right for you.
Read more: What questions should candidates ask during a job interview?
In your professional adventure, we’re with you all the way.
In the current labor market, candidates have more opportunities than they’ve had in years. Whether you’re considering a professional switch, or you’re ready to embark on an entirely new career path, the recruiters at Vaco are here to help you find your dream job.
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Learn more about Eric Holler of Vaco in Indianapolis.