Standing Out in a Competitive Job Market: Tips for Jobseekers

Despite a declining unemployment rate, at 5.6 percent in West Michigan and 5.1 percent statewide, there are nearly twice as many jobseekers looking for work now than there were at this time last year. That means that if you’re looking for work, you’re likely competing against a much larger and more diverse pool of candidates depending upon your industry, occupation, and specific skillset. For jobseekers, today’s hiring climate demands not just patience and persistence, but a fundamental shift in strategy as companies begin to expand their recruiting efforts nationwide according to long-term remote work policies. Not only will you now be in competition with dislocated workers transitioning from different industries, but you’re also likely now competing with jobseekers from across the country — especially for middle- and high-skill roles with a greater capacity for remote work. Key among these fundamental shifts is to ensure that you don’t just make a good impression, you make a lasting impression. Capturing the attention of recruiters and sticking in their memories is going to be more critical, and more difficult than ever before.

Here’s a few tips we’ve gather from HR leaders on how you can stand out in the contemporary, hyper-competitive job market and ensure continued success once you’ve secured the role.


How Candidates Can Stand Out

  1. Tailor your resume (and cover letter, if applicable) to the position you’re applying for — use key words from the job description whenever possible and carry this verbiage into the interview. Demonstrating familiarity with industry/organizational jargon shows a degree of experience that you might not even have, but it will leave a good impression on your recruiter/interviewers. On your resume, highlight transferable skills and unique job qualifications. Try to show an upward trajectory in experiences (how have you continued to grow as a person/professional?).
  2. Demonstrate knowledge of the organization you’re interviewing for by looking at their website, past work, and/or the background of staff members and tailor your interview responses accordingly. Talk about a time you used their research/reports or ‘product’ and what you thought about it or how it might be improved. Don’t be afraid to provide a recommendation on how they might improve X, Y, and/or Z, this shows you know what the organization does and have thought critically about how you might elevate their work if chosen for the position.
  3. Provide examples of [relevant] previous work to your interviewers, even if it’s not asked of you, this shows you’re willing to go above and beyond and leaves a lasting impression on your interviewers.
  4. Be open and honest about what you don’t know and express a willingness to learn and grow. A majority of recruiters/interviewers will pick up on the fact that you don’t know what you’re talking about and dishonesty is a huge red flag. Most employers recognize that the perfect candidate is typically the one they can train/grow into what they need them to be, and hardly anyone possesses ALL the knowledge, skills, and abilities required of the position they’re applying for. Those that do typically come with a huge price tag, so emphasize the fact that you’re a lower-cost option for the company to internally develop their own ‘perfect’ candidate.
  5. Develop an elevator speech – who you are, area of study, experience, and desired job.
  6. Develop and be able to articulate criteria for your desired job – nonprofit or for-profit, preferred management style, industry sector, location, company size, work alone or on a team, etc. 
  7. Create a LinkedIn account. Use a high-resolution photo or professional headshot for a profile picture. Ensure the content is up to date and easy to understand. Turn on the feature that indicates you are “open to” finding a new job. If interested in a specific company, search for the company’s ‘recruiter’ and send an introduction.
  8. Always find ways to build connections and build your network. Attend networking events and career fairs.
  9. Follow up after an interview. Many people appreciate candidates who send thank you e-mails/cards.


How To Be Successful During the Onboarding Process

  1. Be careful what you post on social media. Digital records are forever, and your stance on a certain issue might change over time. Before you post, think about whether or not this might negatively affect your odds of securing a job 5, 10, or 15 years in the future and what your opinion would be if you saw this posted by your boss or parents (you might be in a supervisory position someday, so adopt a future-focused mindset).
  2. Demonstrate initiative by scheduling regular checkpoints with your leader and reaching out to key stakeholders to introduce yourself and learn how best you can collaborate with them.
  3. Request an informal/formal buddy or mentor.
  4. Ask question, take notes, be attentive, put the phone aside.
  5. A positive attitude goes a long way.
  6. Build relationships with colleagues in various departments to learn more about them as individuals, their roles, and the organization. 
  7. Share meaningful ways you can contribute to your department and the organization. 
  8. Be a lifelong student. Approach things with an open mind and always be willing to learn. 


How to Take Advantage of Learning/Development Opportunities After Hire

  1. Advocate for yourself by looking into potential opportunities and prepare yourself to ‘pitch’ this to a supervisor, specifically tailoring your response to how this developmental opportunity might benefit the organization (not just yourself) — emphasize the ROI for the organization.
  2. Be open to new experiences and opportunities, you never know where your career might take you. Even if it’s not in your wheelhouse, seize every opportunity to expand your knowledge-base and become a well-rounded candidate for your next role.
  3. Technology is constantly evolving, so try to stay up to date on emerging technology, practices, strategies, etc. LinkedIn is a great resource to identify these emerging trends, just be sure you’re following relevant organizations and outlets (Forbes, McKinsey, etc.). Especially those organizations you want to work for someday (this is also a great way to familiarize yourself with their work for your future interview). 
  4. Talk to professionals in the field. Most practitioners are more than willing to provide advice or explain how they got where they are. This is a great way to leave a lasting impression and expand your network, while learning from an insider what skills, credentials, or abilities might give you that competitive edge in the future.
  5. Ask questions of the company or your supervisor on what it takes to get additional professional development or tuition reimbursement.  Let this person know that you are eager to continue learning.  Each company has a different policy on when they may pay for education/professional development but if you can make sure they have it on their radar, it can show initiative.
  6. If your manager doesn’t already do so, ask if you can carve out periodic meetings to discuss your development.

Although some of these tactics may appear more obvious than others, they each provide a simple and effective method for you to leave a lasting impression on employers while applying, interviewing, or furthering your career through professional development or continuing education. Now, more than ever before, the best investment you can make as a jobseekers is to invest in yourself. Learn how to market your skillset to recruiters, highlighting transferrable skills and how you might apply lessons learned from other industries to succeed in your chosen role, and uncover which additional competencies you need to refine in order to continually advance in your chosen field. 



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