5 Ways to Make Your Job Application Stand Out

by Odysseas Papadimitriou on April 12, 2012

Things are looking up for job seekers. According to the Department of Labor, December 2011 marked a three-year high for job postings, and while the numbers dipped slightly in January, they were again on the rise as of February, the latest month for which data is available. Just because employers are hiring doesn’t mean you’re assured of a job, however, so how are you going to differentiate yourself?

If the Great Recession has taught us anything, it’s that competition for jobs can be fierce. Under healthy economic conditions, roughly two people compete for every job opening, yet there were as many as seven candidates for each available position in 2009. Now, with 12.8 million people unemployed and 3.5 million jobs available, there are roughly four people per each open job. And when you consider that most jobseekers apply for a number of different openings at the same time, it’s clear that the competition level is actually exponentially higher than that.

It’s therefore highly likely that prospective employers are inundated with resumes that all look the same at first glance. You have to get your foot in the door before references, interviewing skills, and personality can really come into play, so while there are certainly countless tips for getting hired, I’m going to focus on the little things you can do to draw attention to yourself as a viable candidate.

1. Don’t “Reply to this Ad”

Many popular job posting websites, such as Craigslist, provide the option to reply to an ad directly, but avoid the temptation. This will simply result in a form letter being sent and the employer assuming that you’re either lazy or oblivious to the fact that appearance matters to business correspondence.

2. Don’t carpet bomb your resume

Too often job seekers simply apply en masse, sending the same cover letter and resume to any employer advertising a job that is at all related to their area of education/interest, figuring that one is bound to bite. The truth, however, is that you aren’t saving time or improving your odds with this play-the-numbers approach. You’re actually wasting time by applying for jobs you might not want and are hurting your chances by putting a bland first foot forward.

3. Personalize your cover letter 100%

When I say 100%, I mean 100%. First of all, employers can spot generic cover letters with a couple of customized fields a mile away. And as you can imagine given the aforementioned applicant-per-jobs ratios, they get a ton of responses to each listing posted. If you send a stock cover letter that doesn’t specifically refer to why you want to work for the particular company and why you’d be a good fit for the open position, you’re settling into the pack instead of separating yourself from it.

4. Include your cover letter in the body of your e-mail

A cover letter is supposed to be your introduction to a potential employer. It should explain who you are, why you’re interested in the job, and why you’re well-suited to it (particularly important if it’s in a field unrelated to your educational or professional background). It should also be the first thing the employer sees, which means if you apply by e-mail, it should be included in the body of the message, rather than being attached with your resume.

5. Follow up

You want to project conscientiousness, organization, and drive to employers. Not only will a quick follow-up e-mail (sent a week or so after you apply) exhibit these qualities, it’ll also give you a chance to inquire about the status of the position as well as reiterate what you bring to the table.

Ultimately, you just have to ask yourself: Why should I expect a potential employer to invest his or her time carefully evaluating whether or not I deserve a job if I don’t invest the same level of care with my application (which includes both my resume and my cover letter)? You shouldn’t, so avoid the cookie-cutter job applications, and soon enough you’ll no longer have to read how-to-get a job articles.

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