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Job Applications: How To Stand Out

Elise GelwicksUpdated Oct 13, 202115 min

Job Applications: How To Stand Out

Updated Oct 13, 202115 min
Job Applications: How To Stand Out

Job Applications: How To Stand Out

Elise GelwicksUpdated Oct 13, 202115 min

Job Applications: How To Stand Out

Updated Oct 13, 202115 min
Job Applications: How To Stand Out

Introduction 

 🏆 Goal

Land multiple interviews weekly through a targeted application approach.

📗 When to Read

When you’re ready to apply to jobs you’re excited about (and you’ve already read our Master Guide on Job Searching). Applications play a key role in ultimately landing a job, so learn how to do them right!

🔑 #1 Tip

The job search is a numbers game - know that you may fill out 100 or more applications during your job search. It’s also a mind game, so don’t feel discouraged when an opportunity doesn’t work out! 

⌚ Time Required

Plan to spend at least 1-2 hours a day on your job search. We estimate that you should spend about 50% of the time you allocate to your job search submitting online applications (which we’ll focus on in this guide!). 

✅ Done When

You’ve signed an offer that you feel great about.

Understand

job application is a form completed by a job seeker with their contact information, professional experience, and employment details to be considered for an opportunity. Job applications are almost always completed online and submitted electronically. 

Note that your application usually includes your resume, LinkedIn profile, cover letter, and portfolio - in addition to the actual online application you submit! All of these elements shape your candidate story and are reviewed by a recruiter to determine if you’re someone they should interview.

Caution: Finding a job doesn’t happen overnight. We’ve found that it takes most people about 100 job applications and 10 interviews to land one offer. That’s a lot! We know. But through this guide and all of the other resources on the Placement platform we have you covered every step of the way :)

Before we get into the nitty gritty, a few things we should get clear on…..

Applying online often isn’t enough. Submitting job applications is one part of the job search process. It’s not how most people actually get hired, but it can be a very helpful component of an overall job search strategy. We talk about the high-level strategy and the blend between applying and networking that will make most sense for you in our Job Search Guide. We recommend starting there. 

Yes, it is a numbers game. One of the strongest predictors of ending up working somewhere is that the company aggressively hires for the particular role you’re interested in. 9 times out of 10, you won’t have any information about that. Applying online is like guessing that the company is genuinely looking hard today for someone to be in that position. Many times, you’ll never hear back about an application because the role you applied for is posted but isn’t actually a priority for the hiring team.

Rejection is completely normal. Applying for jobs is a lot of “nos” and the occasional “yes”. You’re going to get rejected from plenty of companies and that’s OK! It’s expected. Sometimes a rejection has nothing to do with your application - there could be a hiring freeze, internal transfer, or a variety of other factors outside of your control. Keep pushing and stay positive.

Speed is key. The chances of hearing back about an application online are 8x higher when you apply in the first 72 hours. That’s incredible, right? Companies tend to interview the first 6-10 people who apply who look incredibly qualified. Many people aren’t getting their applications in early enough.

Before you start firing off applications to the companies you’re excited about, you should know the two biggest keys to success:

Small mistakes kill. To ensure your job applications are tailored to the role and 100% error-free (which is super important!), you’ll need to invest quite a bit of time into completing them. Some recruiters will throw out applications with even one typo in them. Always triple-check your materials before sending them in. Have someone else look at them. 

Keep it truthful. It’s tempting to fudge the numbers or claim accomplishments that didn’t happen on an application. But it’s just not worth it to lie. Employers have a way of finding out (whether they see discrepancies with your resume, do some digging, or contact your references), which can be detrimental to your reputation and long-term career prospects. 

Should I Go For it?

As you’re browsing through the range of job openings out there, you’ll need to decide for each one whether it’s worth your time to move forward or not. 

You’ll read the job description for some jobs, consider the company, and love 🤩 the opportunity. When that’s the case, plan to invest 2+ hours in going the extra mile to get in touch with a real person at that company. 

In other roles, you’ll get that far and think, “Yeah maybe, I could be convinced! 👍 ” When that’s the case, invest 30 minutes in putting in an application and quickly reach out if you have a connection there. The overlap between what a job description says and what someone is actually looking for is only 60%, so bias toward saying yes if you’re not sure.

If a job is a reach for you, it’s not worth pursuing unless you love 🤩 the opportunity. And if you do, you should absolutely go for it! You’re more likely to end up in a job that you initially love 🤩because that positive energy will be felt by the company and help carry you through the process.

On the other hand, If a job is only slightly interesting, it may well be worth pursuing the interview practice - plus the chance it’s actually a much better job than it sounds in the job description. You might end up realizing the job is something you’d love doing.

Reach, Fit, and Fallback 

Now that you know the keys to success for applying to jobs let’s get specific about which individual roles will and won’t be worth your time to pursue! 

You’ll want to cultivate a healthy blend in your pipeline of opportunities that have varying levels of selectivity. We recommend at least 10-15 roles in your channel at all times.

This mental model is a bit like college admissions, and we call it the Reach-Fit-Fallback approach. Here’s the deal:

reach role is one that you’re really excited about but where you meet less than 60% of the qualifications listed on the job description. While you have some of the required experience and skills, it would be an ample growth opportunity to get the position. Reach roles can also be the highly coveted, highly competitive roles that thousands of people apply for (i.e., jobs at Apple, Google, Facebook, etc.). Even if you have over 60% of the qualifications, the odds of landing this job are slim.

fit role is when you meet over 60% of the qualifications listed on the job description and have experience in the industry. And where you’re legitimately excited about at least one aspect of the opportunity. It’s decently likely you’ll secure an interview for the position if you play your cards right.

fallback role is where you meet 100+% of the requirements for the position and have experience in the industry or with a competitor. You might even take a bit of a step down in the hierarchy to accept this kind of position. If you love the team, the mission, or need a job quickly, you might end up with a fallback option.

Another thing we’ll note is that much of this advice goes out the window if you’re unemployed and need to get hired quickly. In a situation like that, focus on fallbacks and forget stretch roles for now. If you’re happily employed, you can naturally take the risk of having a more prolonged job search and apply to more stretch roles.

Making a Change

Most people who currently work are looking for some change in their next role. Often, candidates we work with at Placement are looking to change:

  • Industries - i.e., from financial services to technology

  • Roles - i.e., from account management to customer success 

  • Company Context - i.e., from corporate to startup

It’s great to go after the change you’re looking for. Just keep in mind that looking for a change of this magnitude turns a fallback role into a fit role and a fit role into a reach. So, we generally recommend trying to change just one big thing at a time. Changing two big things at the same time is hard and only happens with strong networking. Changing three things at the same time is mega hard.

To make it concrete, let’s say you have 3 years of tech project management at Allstate. Moving on from there, you’d be well-poised to:

  • Do tech project management at a large B2C company or non-profit

  • Do an adjacent role within the insurance industry

However, doing an adjacent role at a small tech company would be a challenging move - that’d be changing two big things simultaneously. If you’re hellbent on getting there, more power to you. It will be easier if you change the more important thing first and move toward changing the second thing over time.

Finding Your Best Path

You’re going to find a ton of awesome jobs that you’re not only excited about but also realize you’re totally qualified for. 

Feel excited about this!

Once you’ve identified specific opportunities you want to go for, it’s time to get strategic about aligning yourself for each role best. There are two primary paths: networking your way in and submitting an online application. Let’s review the scenarios that warrant each track.  

Networking Your Way In

Positioning yourself for an interview slot is far easier when you advocate on the “inside” who works at the company and thinks you’re great. While this isn’t always possible, there are ways to identify someone who can become your advocate.

The person you want to reach out to is whoever is most likely to respond warmly to you. People are always more inclined to want to help someone they have something in common with, so start by scanning LinkedIn for people you have mutual connections with. You can also go to your alma mater’s LinkedIn page and search for alumni who work at the company you’re applying to. This same trick works for companies you’ve worked at in the past. Go to the LinkedIn pages of the companies you’ve contributed to and see who you can reach out to that has moved on to an organization or role you’re interested in.

If you can’t find an insider with who you have commonality, then try to find someone who is your similar age (that’s a point of commonality!). You can also reach out to the head of the department or team you’d be aiming for. They are highly invested in finding top talent, so they have a high chance of being responsive to your outreach.

If you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed here, we get it. Networking and reaching out to people can be daunting. We go into a lot more detail about how to do it so that you feel comfortable in our Networking Guide. 

Reaching Out

Once you’ve determined who the best person would be for you to reach out to and establish a rapport with, it’s time to consider the best mode of communication.

If you have a mutual connection, ask the person you know if they’d be willing to introduce you. 

If you don’t feel comfortable asking your mutual connection to introduce you, then reach out yourself and acknowledge that you’re both connected with the same person on LinkedIn. 

What if you don’t have any points of commonality? Then go ahead and send them a note yourself! You have nothing to lose. At a minimum, you’ll be seen as an ambitious candidate who makes every effort to learn more about a position.

You’ll want to craft all of your messages in a way that makes it easy and appealing for the recipient to get to know you. Check out our expertly-written templates here that give you the best chance of securing a networking phone call! 

When deciding which mode of communication to choose, pick a platform that they’re active on. We recommend you default to email because it’s the most likely to get seen. But, if the person is very active on Linkedin or Twitter, that can also work great. 📧

Make It A No-Pressure Conversation

People often get uncomfortable when they feel like someone is asking for something big. Especially if you are reaching out to someone for the first time, you want to make your request as small and easy as possible.

We see candidates make the common mistake of coming out of the gate with a huge ask - such as saying in their outreach email that they’d like help getting a job. Ah! That’s way too big of a request!

Instead, your outreach should be about simply having a conversation. We don’t even recommend mentioning a specific job you’re interested in. It’s best to express an interest in learning about the other person’s background and the company at large. Then, once you’re in the meeting with them and have developed some rapport, you can mention you saw an open role that you’re interested in.

Your goal is not to scare them off before you even get them on the phone! ;) 

Applying Online

There are sure to be instances where you’ve found a job you’re over the moon about, but you can’t find a way to network your way into the company. That’s OK! Here is when you focus on making your online application absolutely stellar. 

Before we even dive into how to create that stellar application, though, we should mention that you should always submit your application through the company’s website. Never use a third-party website to apply because it hurts your chances of getting seen!

OK, enough about that. Let’s move on to putting together your application.

Tailor Your Resume

By the time you start focusing on submitting applications and positioning yourself for specific roles, you should have a solid resume complete. If you haven’t done that already, head on over to our Resume Guide. 

You’ll stand out (in a really positive way!) if you submit a resume that’s tailored to the job you’re applying to. We recommend doing a “Save As” of your resume and updating it to include the job title of the role you’re interested in. 

Then, tailor your summary and bullet points to incorporate the keywords and phrases used throughout the job posting. This conveys your experience directly translates to the work you hope to be doing. 

Once you’ve tweaked the wording to match the most critical elements of the job posting, rearrange your bullet points, so the most relevant experiences are at the top. If a recruiter only has time to do a quick scan of your resume, we want the most compelling bullet points to stand out!

Once you’ve updated the content of your resume, double-check the document name to ensure it has your full name and company name. Save it as a PDF.

Tailor Your Cover Letter

Like your resume, you should tailor your cover letter to the specific job you’re applying to. Recruiters want to feel like you’re genuinely excited about working at their company and a customized cover letter allows you to reflect that.

We recommend our Cover Letter Guide for this - you’ll learn everything you need to know about drafting a cover letter that speaks to your experience and convinces a recruiter you’re a no-brainer candidate! 

Follow-Up

You tailored your resume, updated your cover letter, and submitted your online application. You’re all done, right?! Nope. There’s one more step!

To really stand out as a top-notch candidate, follow up with the recruiter a few days after submitting your application. This shows them you care about the role and are invested in the opportunity.

The Placement app has several templates for what to say when following up with the recruiter. Could you give it a peek? 

Track Your Progress

Even if you’re in the earliest stages of the job search process, you’ve probably already realized that there’s a lot of moving pieces to keep track of. Staying organized can be the most challenging part! 

Particularly with your job applications, it’s essential to be methodical about not letting applications and opportunities fall through the cracks. 

Stay Organized

We’ve built a tool entirely devoted to helping job seekers manage all of the opportunities they’re interested in and the roles they’ve applied to.

Click here to learn more about our Opportunities Tracker. We highly recommend this tool (well, obviously, we built it!). In all seriousness, it’s designed based on what job seekers told us was the most challenging part of keeping track of their applications. We want to make life easy for you!

Learn As You Go

As you submit job applications and keep track of when applications are turning into interviews, you’ll gather valuable data points that help you know how much time you need to invest in your job search. We call this process of tracking the number of applications that lead to an interview conversion rate monitoring. 

If you’re currently employed but looking for a new job, we’ve found three networking outreaches, two applications, and one conversation each day is the right number.

Based on our earlier data point of 100 submitted applications typically leads to about ten interviews, you should have at least one interview based on only three days of submitting four applications a day!

Note that these numbers don’t consider all that you’re doing outside of submitting online applications - like networking - part of your holistic job search strategy. Because you’ll use a multi-faceted approach, you’ll have more interviews at more companies in less time than if you only focused on online job applications.

You’ll quickly learn your conversation rates as you track your progress in Placement’s Opportunity Tracker. If you notice that you’re not landing interviews at the cadence we’ve described, or you aren’t able to secure one networking conversation every day, it’s time to talk to one of our Career Coaches.

Your time is valuable, and we won’t want you wasting it by submitting bad job applications or not reaching out to people effectively. Schedule time with a Career Coach so you can get an expert opinion on how to change your approach. It will save you a ton of time in the long run.

Elise Gelwicks
Elise is a communications and emotional intelligence training consultant for companies and law firms
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