How to Stand Out When Applying For A Job During Competitive Times

How to Stand Out When Applying For A Job During Competitive Times

If you're one of the 40 million Americans who've lost their jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic, then you've probably covered the bases to finding new work: updating your resume, searching on career sites, and reaching out to your network. But even with your best efforts, you may be striking out and wondering how to make your job application stand out among the rest.

“Even with the huge disruption to the job market caused by COVID-19, there are definite strategies you can use to stand out from the (larger) crowd,” John Roccia, director of career services at Ama La Vida, tells Woman’s Day. “The common thread to all these tips is this: remember that there are companies hiring right now, and that those hiring managers are also facing unique challenges from the disruption.”

Though applying for a job is stressful, remember that it can be a good time to reassess what you want to do and find something that you could actually stick with for the long haul. (And while you’re searching for your dream job, consider some of the work-from-home gigs that can bring in some extra cash. )

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Craft your message.

Before you reach out to your contacts, work on what you want to say. Make sure that you’re being specific about exactly what kind of opportunity you’re looking for. You want to make it easy for the contacts in your network to help you.

Lora Poepping, president of Plum Coaching & Consulting, encourages job seekers to draft a one-paragraph summary of their career and what roles they are targeting. “You need to take control of your message and make it easier for people to connect you with their connections,” Poepping tells Woman’s Day. “By providing this simple paragraph, you remove any obstacle to someone moving you forward through the process of introduction. You have crafted a message that is accurate and not created by your friends or former colleagues, who sometimes get it wrong.”

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Do something unconventional.

One problem that hiring managers face is sorting through the significantly higher volume of applications they get. Under that kind of stress, they will look for shortcuts in their search—so give them one.

“Use a PowerPoint ‘pitch deck’ instead of a standard cover letter, or even a short video,” says Roccia. “Present an actual sample of your previous work, or even create something custom for your target company, depending on your line of work.” This can put your application at the top of the pile to get you noticed.

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Get comfortable in front of a camera.

Although many companies across the country have resumed in-office operations, others are still operating remotely. It’s essential that you know how to conduct a video interview. Chris Murdock, chief sourcing officer and co-founder of IQTalent Partners, offers these insights: before you begin your virtual conversation, ensure you have a good microphone, a quiet space, and an interesting, but not too busy, background.

Make sure you look at the camera when you speak, not at the screen. If you're self-conscious about your pandemic hairstyle, frame yourself starting at the top of your forehead. Your skills helped you get the interview — it’s just as important to feel comfortable and confident in the interview, so maintain eye contact and bring a positive attitude.

One of the worst things that can happen to you on the day of the interview is a tech glitch, so make sure you’ve tested your device. If necessary, consider purchasing a microphone or lighting equipment. You should treat a video interview the same way as an in-person meeting: be conversational and build rapport to help you develop a relationship.

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Go the extra mile.

Make it easy for hiring managers to understand how you fit in their organization. Instead of just listing skills on your resume, spell out what your contribution will be. “Tell the hiring managers what those skills will do for them, whether it be ‘make our product easier to use’ or ‘reduce losses from cybercrime’ or even ‘make our workforce healthier,’’ says Roccia. “Too many job seekers make the hiring managers guess how they'll contribute.”

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Turn your down time into active time.

Employers will be asking you how you spent your quarantine, and you’ll want to have an impressive answer. If you were laid off, it may be tempting to say you spent the time searching for a job. But hiring managers are looking for more than that. Whether you sewed masks, watched a YouTube video to fix something in your home or taken online courses to sharpen your skills, you’ll want to show an employer that you’re a go-getter who’s eager to keep learning. Taking the initiative to establish yourself as an expert in your field will give you an edge on other applicants.

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Build your brand.

Social media is one of the most powerful tools that you have in your arsenal. Aside from LinkedIn, many hiring managers will do some digging on your other channels. This is a great time to promote yourself on social media, whether you’re producing content, volunteering your time or starting a side job.

You may also want to take things one step further and create an online portfolio to display your work. “Share it and build a reputation on social media,” Anne Baum, Lehigh Valley executive and vice president for Capital BlueCross, tells Woman’s Day. “This will help you gain a reputation and stand out as a proactive, interesting and knowledgeable candidate. Remember to build a brand that is attractive to employers."

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Do more with LinkedIn.

LinkedIn is an excellent tool for connecting with professional contacts, but there’s more that you can do within that space. First, make sure that your profile matches the jobs you’re looking for. Many staffing searches use algorithms that are coded to find key words, so you’ll want to embed those in your profile.

Dana Case, director of operations at tells Woman’s Day to utilize LinkedIn as a space to build a thought leadership presence. “Standout candidates are the ones that generate buzz on a regular basis and recruiters will take note of your activity on the site,” she says.

Case recommends writing thoughtful, researched articles on topics that you're interested in and posting them to your page. Also, include relevant hashtags in your captions so that your content has the ability to trend and build up a following in the professional community. Don’t forget to engage with trending content. You can develop new connections by writing comments, sharing your thoughts and asking questions.

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Think outside the box.

Don’t just focus on the job postings you see. Some hiring managers will fill open positions without posting ads, making it especially important to stay visible online. “Think about the keywords you're searching for when looking for jobs, and then think like a hiring manager,” Roccia says.

He recommends typing in those same keywords into the search bar on LinkedIn and seeing who comes up. Think about why those specific people are dominating the feed. “Chances are it's because they're posting relevant content or using those keywords in their profile—or both,” Roccia says. “To stand out, you’ll want to emulate those methods to appear in that search.”

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Tap into your transferable skills.

Due to the economic downturn, job seekers are branching out of their comfort zone and searching in new industries. “Transferable skills are incredibly important because even if someone’s experience is from an industry that is not hiring now, they have likely developed skills that would make them a strong candidate for open roles in another sector,” Liz Cannata, senior manager at CareerBuilder, tells Woman’s Day.

Applicants need to be smart about how they’re tailoring their experience to fit these opportunities. If you aren’t sure where to start, consider online tools that can help you identify which skills you have that you aren’t even aware of. “Calling out these skills can help a job seeker attract the attention of a hiring manager even if their experience is from a different industry,” Cannata says.

Once you secure that interview, you should be ready to talk about your skills and provide specific examples of how you’ve used those skills in the past. You want to be sure that it’s easy for the hiring manager to make a link between your experience and why you’re the right candidate for the position.

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Be business savvy.

If you’ve started a side business during the pandemic, now’s the time to let your story shine. “When I’m in the process of hiring and I’m reviewing resumes, I look for candidates who display entrepreneurial behavior,” Kevin Miller, founder and CEO of The Word Counter, tells Woman’s Day.

A side hustle doesn’t have to be income-producing. Starting an organization or spending significant time on charity work while you were unemployed also speaks volumes. “This demonstrates scrappiness, initiative, and the types of traits that are incredibly valued by employers,” Miller says.

This helps separate you from other candidates because you can speak to real-life examples of your work and how you’ve applied that passion in real life. It’s also a good sign for the hiring manager to see that you will likely take that same vigor and apply it to their business.

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Record a video.

You already have a solid cover letter and polished resume, but how about something extra? Alex Azoury, founder and CEO of Home Grounds, recommends creating a short video (less than two minutes) to accompany your job application. In your video, focus on how you believe you could add value to the role and why you think you'd be a good fit for their company culture. Cite specific examples as opposed to offering general information.

“By seeing you, they will get to know you better and see firsthand the value and personality that you'll bring to their organization,” Charlene Walters, author, entrepreneurship and branding mentor, tells Woman’s Day. “Plus, the act of going the extra mile by creating a video will show them that you are a go-getter and an innovator which all companies want. The bottom line is that in order to stand out, you need to understand the unique value you bring, and use it to sell yourself and outshine the competition.”

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Hit the ground running.

Starting a new job during the pandemic is unlike any other time, but there are certain things you want to highlight to your potential employer. Whether or not you’ll be in an office or working remotely, a hiring manager wants to know that you’re able to adapt to a flexible environment. Be sure to draw attention to your tech skills and any experience you have collaborating and communicating with colleagues and clients in various locations. If you’ve never worked in a remote environment, take some classes online and read some articles for first-time remote workers.

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Market your soft skills.

According to Amy Warner, director of talent acquisition at iCIMS, the most sought-after soft skills are communication, intellectual curiosity and adaptability. Companies are looking for versatile workers who are willing to bend and flex, learn new skills and help communicate change across their organization.

Make sure you show off those soft skills in your resume from past work experience, community service work, internships and high-visibility projects. Then, when you land the interview, have examples on hand that best represent your strengths and showcase how you’ve displayed your soft skills in the past.

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Do some extra research.

While it’s obvious to scan a company’s homepage, this is the time to dig deeper. “Make sure to read up on what the company’s leadership has said in relation to this new climate and any hints they have offered about their future workforce needs or potential investments,” Christy Pambianchi, executive vice president and chief human resources officer at Verizon, tells Woman’s Day. “I am much more interested in meeting with a candidate who has done their homework and can pitch me on how they will be an asset in this next normal.”

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#5: Turn your down time into active time.

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