It’s the perfect job with the perfect employer. Your training and experience check off all the boxes. The job posting practically shouts your name from the rooftops. You follow the application instructions to the letter, fearing that even the slightest infringement could relegate your resume to the electronic junk pile.

You hit send with a shaking hand. After sending your application out into the job ether, you wait. And wait. You only know you weren’t considered by virtue of the silence that follows. Your application has had the misfortune of falling into the Job Application Black Hole, never to be seen or heard from ever again.

It’s a tough world out there especially if you’re looking for a job. Experts predict a war for talent as a huge cohort of retiring Baby Boomers leave the workforce, taking their knowledge and experience with them, leaving staffing and skill gaps organizations will struggle to fill. But there’s another challenge for everyone looking for work today: how do you set yourself apart from other candidates when you’re part of a swarm of fish hunting for bait in an endless, electronic sea?


the confusion surrounding online job applications is growing

According to recent research commissioned by Randstad and Ipsos, job seekers and hiring managers feel overwhelmed by the number of options available to find jobs online. Unless you have an ‘in’ somewhere and advanced knowledge of an opening, you’re responding to job postings online at the same time as everyone else sees them. Unless you’re quick out of the gate, there’s a good chance the hiring manager has application fatigue by the time they read your application, if they get to it at all.

Electronic responses can also mean the company has created an impenetrable wall around itself that prevents you from reaching out and connecting with someone – anyone – in order to make human contact or be memorable. That said, electronic applications have made the process of applying for jobs relatively easy. So much so that job seekers are responding to anything and everything, submitting more applications than ever. But quantity doesn’t translate to quality or effectiveness. Last year, statistics showed that only about 2% of online applicants went on to secure an interview.

Many job sites invite you to register and keep your resume on file with them; registration through these sites is largely hitting ‘apply here.’ You often find yourself having submitted your resume before you’ve had an opportunity to customize and update it. And that’s not good.

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how to stand out from the applicant pack online

only apply if you’re qualified.

Make sure you have the most important skills and experience the job posting identifies. You don’t have to have absolutely everything –companies are sometimes guilty of adding their wish list to their ‘must haves.’ For example feel free to take anything that says ‘would be an asset’ with a grain of salt. Same goes for years of experience. If the job posting asks for 5 and you have 4, don’t sweat it too much. The likelihood of someone with 5 years of experience being significantly more qualified is relatively small. That said, stick within a year or two to increase your odds. Someone with 1 year of experience applying to a job that asks for 5 is likely to end up in the junk pile immediately.

Take time to ensure you understand what the job entails and that your skills, goals and personality align.  Use your cover letter as an opportunity to speak to those that don’t by making comparables to the experience you do have and your potential value to the organization.

customize your resume and cover letter to the job.

Mass, generic resumes and cover letters just won’t cut it, not if you want to stand out. That’s why looking for a job is a job. You want someone reading your resume to know you go the extra mile even when looking for work. Address key requirements in the job description and highlight your training and experience that directly apply. Describe specifically how your corresponding experience brought value to your past employers and what you bring to this role and the organization.

You don’t (or shouldn’t!) need to be reminded to make sure your resume and cover letter are well written and focused, with clear, simple language, and free from spelling or grammar errors. Articulate in your cover letter why you’re the right person for the job and why they should hire you. Even electronically, your job application is your first impression. Make it a good one!

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apply for jobs you actually want.

Throwing a hundred applications against the wall and hoping something sticks is a futile exercise. It’s better and more productive to spend the time carefully crafting your resume and cover letter on an individual basis than a mass-emailing. So only apply for jobs you’d accept in a heartbeat.

You’re more likely to stay longer and be more engaged in a role and with an organization if you’re happy with the work and if your values align with the company’s. Let that enthusiasm shine through in your cover letter. Do your research before you apply, so you have a better sense of the organization and its culture. Let them know you’re excited about the opportunity; be professional and polite but don’t be afraid to let your personality shine through.

be a little creative.

Emphasis on little! Don’t go overboard with a rainbow of colours and ‘creative’ fonts and effects that make reading your resume akin to deciphering hieroglyphics. Your resume should be clean and presentable, but a little splash of colour or personality is more likely to make your resume stand out in the sea of resumes void of personality. Imagine you’re flipping through a stack of 200 papers, but only a few have colour or differ from the others – those are the ones that will catch your eye first. The one exception: if you’re applying to an extremely traditional organization – think a law firm – it’s usually safer to stick with a simple, black and white document.

Just remember: getting attention is only step one. If you don’t follow up with great content within that design, it will all be for naught! Not sure where to start? Search the web and you’ll find hundreds of adaptable resume templates that take out the guesswork and won’t require you to be a graphic design expert.

add relevant keywords to your resume.

In many organizations, the first review of your resume is performed by an Applicant Tracking System, or ATS, designed to cull the herd by identifying the presence or absence of relevant keywords and phrases. Only when technology has selected you as a potential candidate will your resume find its way into the hands of an actual person. Read the job description carefully and use the language and terminology found in the posting in your resume and cover letter to increase the odds of being shortlisted.

keep your linkedin profile up to date. 

If you’ve managed to catch a hiring manager’s attention with your resume and cover letter, you can bet they’ll check you out on LinkedIn as soon as you’re in the ‘to be considered’ pile. Often job seekers are so focused on step one (writing a great resume and cover letter) that they aren’t prepared for what recruiters do next before setting an interview (check out your online profile and LinkedIn.)

Make sure that the social media presence associated with your name is clean and your LinkedIn profile, in particular, is updated. Use it as an opportunity to fill in any gaps in your resume, and add new achievements, courses, skills enhancements, volunteer efforts and network groups you’re involved with often. Whereas your resume should be a summary of your greatest hits, your LinkedIn can be a lot more detailed and hiring managers won’t blink an eye. So load it up with all your skills, qualifications and past jobs! This is where hiring managers will go for a deep dive into your qualifications after you’ve passed the initial resume check.

It’s amazing how much the small details matter when you’re applying to jobs online. You may think that customizing your resume doesn’t matter if there’s a 98% chance it’s going to end up in the ‘no’ pile, anyway. But it’s the resumes that are unique, personalized, and clear about why they want this job, not just any job, that stand out and are memorable to hiring managers.

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