There it was. After days spent trawling through LinkedIn and Indeed, I found the perfect job opening.
Did I meet the qualifications? Check. Was there a mission statement I believed in? Check. Women-run? Not a necessity, but a huge bonus—check. When I stumbled across the opening for my current position as editor for Millie magazine, I knew I had to do everything in my power to nab it.
So, I filled out the online application, crossed my fingers, sat back and hoped for the best. Just kidding—there was no way I was letting this one slip away. But at the time I wondered: What else could I do to ensure I at least got an interview?
Turns out, a lot.
“If someone creates something custom or out of the ordinary for the job application, I’ll almost certainly speak with them,” says Grant Duncan, vice president of marketing for Voximplant, a cloud-based communications company. “To me, it shows a higher level of initiative and interest, and finding someone who is driven and creative is sometimes hard to do on paper.”
Because the Great Resignation has helped job seekers gain bargaining power, the market is hot for those on the hunt for a new position. But it’s still not a one-and-done online application process. In fact, I later learned that had I not been proactive, my resume never would have made it from the HR recruiter to my current boss’s desk. Here’s how to ensure you stand out, make an impact and secure that interview when applying for jobs.
Having clean, concise and tailored resumes and cover letters are key when applying for any job, it’s true, but you can also use these documents to showcase a little something “extra.” Consider creating a website that highlights your writing, art, projects or marketing plans you’ve worked on—the list is endless and, obviously, tailored to your industry and the role. Then include a link to that site in your resume and cover letter.
I used WordPress to build a site to feature my writing and add more color and voice to the piece of paper that was my resume. If you’re in graphic design or another creative industry, chances are you already have—and need—a portfolio to demonstrate your artistic abilities, so don’t forget to showcase that strongly on your application.
If you are required to complete an assignment for the job you’re applying to, here’s a trick to give you an edge. “I researched the company’s preferred font and color scheme, and used those in my resume and required presentation,” says Jessica O’Neill, account manager for a prominent social media company. “I also included their logo (easily grabbed from their site) to stand out and let them know how passionate I was about this position.”
If a website or portfolio isn’t your jam, consider recording a YouTube video that speaks to why you would be ideal for the position. “When I was fresh out of Beauty School, I wanted to work at a high-end salon in Manhattan,” says Teresa Jack, founder of Louder Lashes. “I interviewed people who trained me and asked what strengths of mine would make them hire me. Then I used this knowledge to make a YouTube video and sent it to salons.”
It worked: Jack landed a gig at top salon Ted Gibson out of thousands of applicants, she says.
Sometimes It’s Who You Know
Never underestimate the power of connections—no matter how or where you find them.
For my current role, I happened to mention the job posting to a former colleague of mine. She posted my resume to a Facebook group for editors, asking whether anyone knew anybody at Meredith Corporation. As luck would have it, a woman in that group—who didn’t know me at all—knew Millie’s editorial director, Diane di Costanzo, and passed along my resume. This convoluted web of connections landed me an interview.
But, as always, what happened next was critical, too. Whereas I followed up with an email, Christina Russo, creative director of The Kitchen Community, a recipe and food education company, did so much more. Russo, who knew the CEO of her target company, used that connection to really put herself out there.
“When asked to create an inventive five-course menu, I decided to go one better and suggested that the CEO hold the interview in her own kitchen. This gave me the opportunity to present and create from scratch,” Russo says. In other words, she let a personal relationship drive the application and interview process, but ultimately clinched the position—which she still holds—through her creativity.
The bottom line: While “who you know” will help you get your foot in the door, it’s your own talent that will seal the deal.
Connect, Connect, Connect
Request to connect on LinkedIn with the person or people holding the interview and send them a note letting them know you’re applying. This does two things: It tells them you’re in the running and gives you an opportunity to do a little reconnaissance. Do you have anything in common with them, gleaned from their profiles? If so, mentioning that in your message could help you stand out.
“A LinkedIn request says to me that the candidate is interested in forging a professional connection, not just chasing after the job they’re applying for,” says Michael Moran, owner of recruiting firm Green Lion Search Group. “Even if they don’t end up being the best candidate for this role, the connection makes it more likely I’ll think about them for a more suitable position in the future.”
And don’t worry about coming across as pushy—LinkedIn was built for this. In fact, I’m still connected to the two guys who ghosted me after a two-round, written assignment, multiple follow-up emails, and … nothing. But no hard feelings, right? Right?!
Finally, remember not to overdo it. “There’s a fine line between ensuring you’re making a good impression and going too far,” says Brian Donovan, CEO of TimeShatter, a company that helps with timeshare contracts. “Connecting with the company’s CEO on LinkedIn won’t automatically move your resume to the top of the pile. Be confident in your abilities, but don’t digitally stalk recruiters, employers, or employees of the company.”
Kelly Meehan Brown is Millie’s editor and an Irish expat who has been covering all things at the intersection of money and fun for the past five years. She currently lives in New York City with her husband and one-eyed black cat.
Millie content is licensed from Dotdash Meredith, publisher of Millie, Real Simple, InStyle, Investopedia, The Balance and more.