Standing out in a sea of applicants

2005

This month and next, hundreds of thousands of people will graduate from schools worldwide and want to enter the workforce. They'll be educated and enthusiastic, ready to make their mark on the world.

The problem? Companies don't hold all their open positions until late April/early June to make their hires from this sea of hundreds of thousands of new graduates. So anyone looking for a job this time of year has to stand out and be noticed, or the job search may be a long one.

What follows is a fresh look at some of the basics to give you an edge and help you stand out.

1. Polish your resume for consistent appearance. This ought to go without saying, but some folks don't take time to do this.

Most folks take time to choose words and phrases that create impact, and that's good. But to experienced interviewers, formatting inconsistencies are glaring warnings of "lack of attention to detail."

Therefore, go over your resume's formatting with a fine-tooth comb. When you review it, do so looking at one facet at a time. For example, check the entire page only for proper punctuation. Then check it again from the top down, but this time look only at how the tabs line up. Then check it again from the top to make sure the spacing is pleasing to the eye. Then check it for consistent use of capitalization.

The average resume gets only a seventeen-second scan. It must look sharp and be consistent or it gets a 'ding' in the scanner's mind.

You get the idea. Double and triple check every aspect. Then ask someone else to do the same.

The average resume gets only a seventeen-second scan. It must look sharp and be consistent or it gets a 'ding' in the scanner's mind.

2. Write a first-class, custom cover letter. Although people can and should labor over their resume, many interviewers place equal weight on the strength of one's cover letter.

The reason? A cover letter says a lot about how an applicant communicates, and communication is a key function of just about every job.

Here's why this is important: Interviewers know that people spend a lot of time polishing a resume, so they expect a resume to be good. But they also know that most applicants spend much less time polishing their cover letters. Therefore, a well-written letter can add a lot of weight to even an average resume.

Three tips for quality cover letters: Avoid starting sentences with the word "I." Cover letters that start every sentence with "I this" and "I that" rarely make it to my "A" stack. Such writing shows lack of quality communication skills. (Once I received a letter that had sixteen sentences in it - each one starting with the word "I." Not good.)

Customize your cover letter to each recipient. Nothing shows lack of initiative or shouts "blanket mass mailing" more than an obviously generic cover letter. But if a letter mentions unique facts about my company, I as a resume scanner am going to think this applicant truly wants to work for my company, and is not out there just fishing for any old job.

Third, don't state that you're going to call to schedule an interview. I know all the resume books say to include such verbiage, but such wording is arrogant and presumptuous, not professional.

Better to state that you'll call to confirm they received your resume, and that you would welcome the opportunity to meet face-to-face and explore how your skills and abilities would be of benefit to the company.

3. Use express mail. When resumes appear in company mail, they are often mentally categorized as "just another resume." But when companies receive those oversized, eye-catching express mail envelopes provided by the postal service, they usually open these first, often with great curiosity.

Be aware that this technique doesn't guarantee special treatment. However, it certainly gives your resume submission a better first impression, especially in small and medium-sized companies.

Everyone's situation is unique, but these tips ought to help you stand out and get noticed. And this time of year, an applicant needs every edge possible.

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About The Author

Dan Bobinski
Dan Bobinski

Dan Bobinski is a training specialist, author, and an accomplished keynote speaker. He's been providing management and leadership training to Fortune 500 companies as well as smaller, regional concerns for more than 20 years.