Career Focus

How to Stand Out in a Competitive Hiring Environment


As a job seeker, you probably know by now that merely applying to a job you want online through a careers page and crossing your fingers is not enough to land you the job of your dreams.

The good news is, there are plenty of ways you can stand out, make a positive impression both online and offline, move further along in the interview process, and be more likely to nail a new gig. And even when you don’t, if you follow these tips you’ll build meaningful relationships along the way.

As the CEO and Founder of FindSpark, a community of over 30,000 that is dedicated to connecting diverse talent to employers like NBCUniversal, IPG Mediabrands, L’Oreal, and Yelp. I’ve learned from in-house recruiters at all types companies about what makes candidates memorable and strategies job seekers can use to stand out from a pile of resumes.

Spend more time on research and less on applications

When you take time to research and dig in to what makes a company tick, you’ll create stronger, customized application materials and be more prepared for interviews. Scour the company website, social media pages, and LinkedIn profiles of those who currently work there as well as folks who were there previously. Use the job description to customize your resume and cover letter, making it very clear how your experience will add value to the company and role.

While doing research takes more time up front, it will ensure you are ready for an interview and be able to speak clearly to what attracts you to the company. You may even stop yourself from applying to a specific job because of of something you learn. Consider that time saved and not wasted.

Clean up your online profiles

In this digitally-driven age, you know potential employers are going to look you up, even on sites not expressly dedicated to professional networking. Take control about what they learn about you when they inevitably search for you. While it’s OK not to use every social media profile for professional reasons, make sure you’re clear on what’s public and private. At minimum, make sure you have a complete LinkedIn with a compelling headline (not just your current job title), profile and cover photo, and a summary that explains your key experiences and goals. 

Go to networking events

Face-to-face connections are incredibly valuable when it comes to building relationships. It’s important to put yourself “out there” when job hunting—and that means investing in career fairs, conferences, happy hours, and industry gatherings.

At Hustle Summit by FindSpark, a large-scale recruitment event and career fair-style event I organize, we make it easy to connect with recruiters and mentors before, during, and after the event and list the company representatives who will be there on our website.

Whatever event you are going to, research which company representatives and speakers will be there in advance and take the time to connect with them on LinkedIn or social media with a custom message such as:

Hi (Name),

I’ll be at (event) and look forward to meeting you and learning more about (company). The open role of (title) seems like a great fit for my background in (work) at (current/past employer). I hope we can talk soon!

Sending notes like this means you make the connect before you even step in the door, which gets you ahead of the majority of attendees.


Go to informational interviews

Informational interviews are pressure-free opportunities to learn about industries, companies, career paths, job hunt strategies, and to make connections. To secure useful informational interviews, reach out to people you genuinely admire with a thoughtful message. Start the message with your quick pitch and a summary of your background and share what you aspire to do in the future. Prepare to impress your reader.

The most important part of your outreach message should explain why you’ve picked them. This is the part of your message that you shouldn’t be able to duplicate in another request, because it should be unique to that person.

Next include what you hope to learn from them. Make sure it’s not something they already have discussed on their website or a in blog post. Many prominent leaders share career advice in those places, and it can be annoying to get a request where the answer is readily available on the internet.

Of course, close with your ask. Do you hope to meet in person? Are you looking for feedback via email on your resume or portfolio? A Skype interview? And always thank them for their time.

Persistence is the most important part of the job hunt

As a general rule of thumb, about a week after you apply for a role, follow up via email.After you apply online, do some research to find recruiters or hiring managers who may be involved in the process to let them know you applied and look forward to hearing back about the opportunity. If you’ve had any sort of interview, ask what the expected timeline is for the process so you really know when is best to check in. Throughout the interview process, send thoughtful follow up emails to anyone you interview with that reiterate your interest in the role and key elements of your conversations.

The same goes for meeting people at networking events and reaching out about informational interviews. Building relationships is one thing and maintaining them is another. They both take time work and effort.

Finally, practice what I like to call “unforced follow up.” As you go about your day, you likely see or hear things that remind you of your connections—recruiters, people you’ve met at events, and mentors. Most people think of the person, then move on with their day. When you think of people, take the few minutes to reach out and let them know—share the article you saw or tag them in the comments. Those small acts of follow up with no expectation of getting anything in return or even a response, serve to strengthen the relationship.

While job hunting is a long process, focused research, persistence and thoughtful follow up, will go a long way to securing your next great job.

Photography by Mel Walbridge


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