You’ve done your research, narrowed down your choices, and found the company you most want to work for. And after a long period of waiting and watching, that company has posted a job that perfectly matches your desires and qualifications.
When your dream job is on the line, applying for it can be both exciting and intimidating. How do you make your application stand out, and what are the best ways to make sure you come across as the perfect hire?
Here are four things to consider before submitting your application.
- Your Application Represents Who You Are (Make It Count)
Lisa Koluvek works in operations at Instrument, a digital creative agency in Portland, OR. For years, she was the first point of contact for candidates interested in working at this sought-after company. She sifted through applications and résumés and provided feedback to leadership based on her initial impressions. When asked for advice for candidates based on her experience screening hundreds of applications, she replied:
“Try to be as authentic as possible. In general, people respond way better to authenticity than to something contrived. Eliminate popular buzzwords from your cover letters and résumés, and use language that you would personally respond to… If the hiring manager on the other end also responds well to it, then there’s a better chance the position is a good fit for everyone all around.”
However, that doesn’t mean you should go completely off script. Employers using technology to help sort through massive numbers of applications do screen résumés and cover letters for the same language that appears in the original job posting. Make sure your application includes a few phrases that mirror the ones used by the company you are targeting.
- Referrals Do Matter
If you know someone who works at the company you’re considering applying to, it’s a good idea to touch base with them early in the process. Not only can your contact help demystify how things work in that particular organization, but often they can also provide tips that might help you tailor your cover letter or answers accordingly. Ask the person you know if they would be willing to pass along your application personally, or if you can use them as a reference.
Having an employee’s endorsement is always a positive in the hiring game: according to a 2015 infographic by Jobvite, an international recruitment agency, 40 percent of all job candidates put forward via employee referrals are hired. These trends continue today. Many companies offer cash incentives for referrals, so it can be a win-win for both you and your contact to come in as a vetted applicant.
Think you don’t know anyone at the company you’ve targeted? You’d be surprised. Put the word out on your social media network asking for an introduction to employees of the company—in our six-degrees-of-separation world, chances are someone will know someone who can put you in touch.
- Google Search Tells All
This may seem obvious, but keep in mind that by the time you reach the interview stage, your dream future employer has absolutely Googled your name. Before you send out any applications, take some time to clean up your online presence. It’s worth doing a cursory search for your name in incognito browser mode to see what comes up for others. Delete content that doesn’t serve you well, or consider making non-professional social media (like Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter) private.
Aside from the obvious red flags, recruiters and employers often look for activity and engagement online. Writing new content or reviving something you’re proud of on LinkedIn or Medium is a great way to add new activity and information to your virtual presence. If you maintain a professional Twitter account, take time to share content, or even pin a Tweet to your profile that suggests you’re looking for new opportunities. Your social media profiles have the potential to represent you (for better or worse), so be sure they do so in a professional and genuine way when you’re on the job market.
- Intention and Practice
Finally, spend the extra time to be thorough, specific, and intentional in your application package. Do not rush the process for any job you truly want.
Sit down and spend time visualizing why you want the job you’re after and why you would be a great candidate for it. Imagine yourself landing the job and consider what unique aspects you’ll bring to it. Putting that kind of thought in before crafting your cover letter and résumé will make it easy to tailor these documents. Your application will shine and help you stand out in a sea of other candidates.
After putting in your best effort, give your résumé and cover letter a final review several hours or even a day later to make sure you’re approaching them fresh and attentively.
If, after giving it your best shot, you fail to receive a job offer for a position you were excited about, consider asking for feedback. Recruiters and hiring managers should be able to justify their decision in a constructive way. You can use these insights to improve your performance and make any changes needed before your next round of interviews.
Rhienna Renée Guedry is a Louisiana-born Portland transplant best known for her writing, illustration, and curation of the best Halloween parties this side of the Mason-Dixon.