You have your eye on a competitive position. You know that the application you send in will be your first official presentation of candidacy—and maybe your one shot to get noticed. To stand out from the pack, you’ve decided to submit a creative job application. You’re hoping a bold, innovative approach will be just the thing to get the recruiter’s attention.
And sometimes, that’s exactly the thing that’ll snag you that interview. But, stepping out of your traditional comfort zone means you also need to learn some new best practices—as well as the common mistakes to avoid. To make sure your application is memorable for the right reasons, here’s what not to do.
1. The One-Size-Fits All Applicant
If you were writing a traditional cover letter, you’d work off a common template—but you’d know not to send the same letter out for an admin job as you’d send for an outreach position. In the creative game, individualizing your applications is equally as important. You can’t just switch out video frames with names of different companies. That video set to popular music might be perfect for that startup gig, but it isn’t going to be right for the white-text-on-black-slides classical music organization.
What can you do? For each position, familiarize yourself with the organization’s website and promotional materials. Synergy with the organization’s own style will make your application appear a natural fit. And if that sounds like a lot of work—well, yes, creative applications are a lot of work. That is, after all, why they stand out.
2. The Aesthetics-Only Applicant
Your application is stunning. Your resume is three-dimensional (glasses thrown in for good measure), shows your flair for design, and is sure to be reviewed by the hiring committee. It won’t matter who sees it, however, if when the recruiter goes to read it, it’s full of typos and lacks substance. Even if it’s a creative or design job, you’ll need more than a well-designed pretty page to land the job.
How do you avoid this situation? Resist the temptation to spend 90% of your time on how your resume looks and then just cut-and-paste (or worse, find-and-replace) your qualifications for the position. All the traditional proofreading techniques apply here, so read your entire application aloud, and make sure the words on the page showcase concrete examples of your skills and past accomplishments.
3. The Egocentric Applicant
Submitting a creative application demonstrates that you are confident, talented, and willing to break away from the pack—and those are all good things. But coming off like you think your application is the best thing ever isn’t going to do you any favors. Maybe you are outstandingly qualified, but your strutting is just going to seem to shout “not a team player.”
How do you distinguish yourself from the pack without sounding cocky? Keep the focus on the position. Instead of asserting that you’re perfect, focus on being perfect for the job. Also, as with a traditional application, base your assertions on concrete facts and accomplishments rather than bold generalizations about yourself—no one can argue with numbers.
4. The Applicant Who Lacks Creativity
It’s okay if the first time you heard “creative application” you pictured Elle Woods’ pink, scented resume in Legally Blonde. But if the next day that’s still the only example you can think of—it’s a bit of a red flag. Writer’s block is one thing, but if your attempts at a creative application come off clumsy and unpolished, just remember this: the best job application is the solid application, not the trendy application.
How do you know if you’re putting your best foot forward or putting your foot in your mouth? Along with assessing the final product, think about how the application makes you feel. Ask yourself: Does it feel like the kind of work you can generate on a regular basis? Does it feel true to you as an applicant and future employee?
Much like interviewing in a different field, you may bomb a new application style here or there as you get the hang of it. And, if creative applications are uncharted territory for you, there’s some likelihood of missing the mark early on. But, nonetheless, creative applications can sometimes also be the difference between getting lost in the shuffle.
So, if you want to give it a shot (and it’s right for your industry)—go for it. Just pay attention to these guidelines, get feedback along the way, and, as with anything new, learn from your mistakes. Soon enough, you’ll be proficient in your new creative application style and on your way to landing a great new job.
TopicsCandidate Experience: Application Under Review , Resumes , Mistakes , Job Search , Creativity , Syndication , Video Resumes , Resumes & Cover Letters
Sara McCord is a freelance writer and editor, who most frequently covers the career beat. For nearly three years, she was an editor at The Muse, and she's regularly contributed career advice to Mashable. Her advice has been published across the web (Forbes, Newsweek, Fast Company,TIME, Inc., Business Insider, CNBC and more). Sara has experience managing programs; recruiting, interviewing, and referring job applicants; building strategic partnerships; advising executive directors; and supporting a national network of volunteers. Learn more and send her a note through her website, or follow her on Twitter @sarajmccord.More from this Author