When you’re applying for a job, a few things naturally start to happen as you tweak your cover letter and resume for each company you contact.
First, you get a bit anal about every detail being correct and not saying anything that could be interpreted as a red flag. Then you just get an old fashioned case of the blahs. You’re so tired of looking at the same two pages of text that you forget to make it amazing.
What you might not know is this happens on the other side, as well. When hiring managers have dozens or even hundreds of applications to sift through, they get downright bored. Their eyes glaze over and all the faceless, perfectly formatted documents start to blend together.
Once you understand this, you can use the inevitable boredom to your advantage by being different. Even if you don’t have the perfect qualifications, there’s a good chance of getting in the door if you can grab hiring manager's attention, bait their curiosity, and maybe even make them smile. Here’s how.
1) Tell a story.
If there’s one thing no human can resist, it’s a good story. Remember that companies want to hire a person, not a list of skills and accomplishments. The place for a snippet of your personal story is your cover letter. (Speaking of which, I can’t tell you how many people forgo a cover letter these days. Believe it or not, I’ve received entirely blank emails with just a resume attachment, which is a clear indication that someone doesn’t care.)
Grab the hiring manager’s attention in the very first sentence by talking about what you wanted to be when you were six, an experience that made you who you are, or the moment you decided you wanted to be in your field. Heck, you might get an interview because the hiring manager simply has to meet the person who was bold enough to talk about their failed super hero dreams in a professional cover letter.
2) Use unique language.
Corporate speak has become the bane of every employer’s existence. If I had a nickel for every time I read the phrases “team player,” “problem solver,” and “communications skills,” I could afford to quit working forever. Don’t fall back on these ambiguous, played-out words because they no longer hold meaning.
The old creative writer’s rule, “Show, don’t tell” applies here. Why should someone believe you’re innovative or creative just because you say so? Show what you’ve done that’s innovative or creative and let the reader draw their own conclusions. Write like a human and not a mindless corporate drone and you’ll get noticed.
3) Link to evidence.
Most resumes and cover letters are now sent electronically, so you have the opportunity to include links that will give employers more insight into you. Think about any online evidence of something you accomplished in a previous position and be sure to include it in a relevant place in your resume or cover letter. It could be an online portfolio, a website you helped create, an article you published, or even video of a presentation you did.
4) Showcase the above and beyond.
Stop copying and pasting the job description of your previous gigs in your resume. It’s not helpful to see what you were responsible for; employers want to see what you accomplished. Highlight the times you took the initiative to do something that wasn’t in your job description. You saw a need and filled it even though no one was expecting you to, and that’s impressive.
5) Make it cool but clean.
You’ve probably been told to keep your resume simple and minimal so many times that even the thought of using any font besides Times New Roman strikes fear into your heart. Understandable. But if you want to stand out, you should embrace a tiny bit of style variance. It’s actually okay to use a subtle color or a different font in the masthead (where your name and contact info goes). Keep it simple and classy, but distinct enough to show you’re not afraid to choose the resume format path less taken.
6) Acknowledge the holes.
Most of us have things in our professional histories we worry will drag us down or eliminate us from the hiring pool. Realize that you’re in the same boat as everyone else on that front, and the worst thing you can do is to pretend the holes aren't there.
If there’s a proverbial elephant in the room of your resume, acknowledge it, explain it, and turn it into a strength. Yes, you might have been in a totally different field before this, but that experience gives you a unique perspective. This strategy will make you come across as confident about your ability to meet the demands of the job.
7) Flattery gets you somewhere.
When applying for a job, flattery doesn’t get you everywhere ... but the right sort could at least get your foot in the door. Instead of blathering on in your cover letter about how amazing the company is, mention one specific thing they did that impressed you -- it shows that you did your homework and you’re not just blowing smoke.
8) Include an endorsement.
You could talk all day about how awesome you are, but it’s much more powerful to show that other people you’ve worked with agree. Instead of offering to send reference letters if requested, just go ahead and include them. Or be fresh and modern and create a one-page insert that features a quote about you from three different people.
In this super competitive job market, you simply cannot afford to bore the person whose desk your resume lands on. You’re better off taking a risk and being totally different from everyone else than you are playing it safe and ending up in the reject pile.