Four Ways to Stand Out in a Job Search

Stay in fighting shape in a competitive job market.

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Hannah Morgan
Hannah Morgan
Are you frustrated because you've applied for dozens of jobs online and haven't heard back? This is probably one of the most common frustrations of job seekers. What can you do? Differentiate yourself from the hundreds of other job seekers. Here are four ways to be that stand-out applicant:

1. Adapt your resume and cover letter. Take the time to adapt your resume to address the requirements of the job posting. First look at the job posting and carefully analyze what they are looking for. Underline key skills sets, technical terms, and technology mentioned in the posting. Have you used these specific words in your summary of qualifications? Do you incorporate them in the accomplishment bullets under each job? Have you included them within your resume's technology section? Use the same underlined words and phrases in your cover letter and, most importantly, make sure you explain why you're interested in working for that company. Your final step is to ask yourself this: can the employer clearly see (without having to think) how your experience relates to the job? This sounds like a lot of work, but once you get the hang of it, the process gets easier and faster. And honestly, are any two job descriptions exactly the same? Why would you think you could use a single, unmodified version of your resume?

2. Take ownership. Stop waiting. Take action. If the jobs you applied for are truly of interest, then it is worth your time and effort to follow up with an email or phone call. Be sure you follow the instructions—for example, if the ad said, "No calls please," that means you shouldn't call. It is up to you (for your sanity) to find out the status of the job opening. When you do make contact or before you leave the interview, always ask what the next steps are and when you can follow up. You shouldn't have to, but the reality is, if you want an answer, you will need to. A very general rule of thumb is to follow up weekly, but ask the question to know for sure. We can't change other people's behavior, we can only change our own. Be systematic and persistent.

No news is NOT necessarily bad news. Companies don't keep applicants waiting purposely. There may be many valid reasons why they haven't contacted you yet: time lines slip, priorities switch, and sometimes financial situations change. Instead of assuming the company has filled the position or is not interested in you, follow up persistently and regularly and be sure to ask when you should follow up again. If you haven't already identified someone within the company, see the next point to understand why that is important. If it is a company or job you are interested in, don't give up.

3. Find an insider. Reach out to everyone you know and find someone who works for the company with the posted opening. When you find someone, ask them if they know about the job, its status, and who they might recommend you speak with to find out more. A company insider could potentially forward your resume along as a referral. They could also become a source of information for the status of the hiring process and let you know what is going on.

You might be able to find names of people to contact on the company website, on LinkedIn, the company's blog, in press releases and newsletters, or on Twitter. People want to help if they can, but remember to be polite and respectful because you will need them to be an advocate for you or perhaps an informant.

4. Don't be a victim. Sure the employer has what you want…a job. But, that doesn't mean they have all the control. Think about what you can do to feel empowered. Take control of what you can. By taking action, at least you will know that you did EVERYTHING possible.

Hannah Morgan is a speaker and author providing no-nonsense career advice; she guides job seekers and helps them navigate today's treacherous job search terrain. Hannah shares information about the latest trends, such as reputation management, social networking strategies, and other effective search techniques on her blog, Career Sherpa.