Real talk: I’ve never gotten a job by submitting an application and crossing my fingers. My first internship I found through a friend of a friend who connected me to the hiring manager. And when I applied to the Muse, I landed the gig by reaching out via email to the editor-in-chief.
I’m not a rare case, either. I have friends who’ve received jobs through personal projects, by networking with college alumni, or from connections who liked their profiles on LinkedIn. In fact, I can count on one hand people I know who got a job the old-fashioned way.
Before I go any further, I want to tell you that I know this can be frustrating. There were times during my job search when I screamed into a pillow, cried, and moped around. I hated that I had worked so hard only to get rejected over and over. Not to mention that I resented companies for using a mere piece of paper to decide if I was the right fit.
However, I finally accepted that there were two things completely out of my control—I couldn’t force someone to hire me, and I couldn’t predict who I’d be competing against. In addition, there are two realities I had to face: Most companies get a lot of applications, and most of those applications look the same.
Realizing this might bum you out for a bit, but it also might be useful when evaluating what you’re currently doing so you can come up with solutions to actually get your application into someone’s hands.
I’ve tried almost everything on this list, and since then, I’ve found myself more marketable, more confident in my skill set, and more successful in getting interviews. Plus, without going above and beyond the submit button when applying to The Muse, I wouldn’t have the amazing opportunity to write this for you. So, behold, the best ways to get your materials out of the online ether and in front of a person.
1. Does Your Application Check All the Boxes?
Before you go all, “Alyse, of course my application is perfect, I looked at it 100 times,” hear me out. I believe you when you say you spent hours crafting the perfect paragraphs and spellchecking it so many times your eyes hurt.
What I mean about “checking all the boxes” is if you’re really nailing your cover letter and resume on the head. Here’s what you should be aware of:
In Your Resume
Your resume may be well-organized, your bullets qualified and quantified, and your length at the ideal one-page mark, but did you tailor it to fit the specific job? You need to make sure that what you submit lines up with what the job description listed. Not only will that get you further along, but if you don’t take the time to customize this document and use the right keywords, your materials are never getting in front of a hiring manager. (Seriously, this article about how an ATS works will change your whole approach.)
In Your Cover Letter
I will just say this now: If your cover letter is merely a summary of your resume, get rid of it and start over. One of the biggest mistakes people tend to make with cover letters is that they say very little that’s meaningful about themselves. Rather, it’s all empty buzzwords or long-winded explanations as to why this job would benefit them.
Embrace this opportunity to share who you are in your words. Get rid of all those silly clichés and instead focus on one to two big accomplishments or stories that give readers a well-rounded picture of you. And keep it short—if it’s longer than a page most people put it down.
In Your Experience
Finally, think about whether or not you’re applying for jobs you’re really qualified for. As Muse Staff Writer and Editor Sara McCord says, “It doesn’t matter how passionate you are about working in a foreign language—if the job requires translating documents, and you’re only conversational, you’re not qualified. Similarly, it doesn’t matter how fascinating you find a company: You shouldn’t apply for a job running its website if you don’t have any of the technical skills required.”
While it’s definitely OK to throw a few reach jobs into the mix, you should focus your time and energy on the jobs that match up with your experience.
2. Did You Follow Up With the Hiring Manager?
This may sound redundant, but you should always follow up with the hiring manager for each position you apply to.
Why is it so important? Well, for one thing, your application sits in a giant pile. And if you don’t remind someone that it’s there waiting, he or she may forget about it. But following up also says a lot about your interest in a company. Taking that extra step lets the person know that, even if it’s been a while, you’re still interested—and he or she just might pull your specific resume out of the masses of people who didn’t check in.
With this, you do have to be careful as to how and how much you follow up. You can’t very well say, “Why haven’t you gotten back to me yet? I’ve been waiting,” and you also shouldn’t follow up the day you sent your application or multiple times in a week. Instead, try one of these email templates.
3. Have You Reached Out to Your Connections?
You know people, right? And those people know people who know people who work somewhere. They don’t have to be your best friends or first cousins. They don’t even have to be folks you’ve met before. All you need is to send a quick email to people you think might be able to help you in your search.
When I first started looking for opportunities in publishing, I realized that the only way I would get somewhere was to talk to people who knew more than I did. I contacted college alumni over LinkedIn, personalizing my message and asking if they would chat with me for 15 minutes over the phone about their position, or even (gasp!) meet for coffee. This is basically an informational interview—and while “informational” doesn’t sound very promising, you’d be surprised to know that people do remember you later on, and they might just recommend you for an opening.
Who else can you reach out to? Tons of folks. Just think: You have the power to email anyone at any time, whether it’s a friend of a distance relative or someone kind of random (I once emailed my dad’s old college roommate—and yes, he got back to me). This power isn’t about bugging people to give you a job, nor should you take advantage of the detachment of email—even in writing you should be respectful, grateful, and aware that he or she may be busy. It’s about showing people that you admire their work, aspire to reach their level, and appreciate any advice they can offer.
Last thing I’ll say is that I understand networking can be exhausting. Sending out messages won’t guarantee you a response every time, and coffee dates don’t always lead to interviews. But as you build and grow your network, those connections last for your entire career. So even if you don’t feel the immediate satisfaction now, there’s a good chance they might benefit you down the road.
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4. Are You Working at Being a Thought Leader?
Do you have a side gig, a hobby, or unique insight? Each one of those things makes you distinct and very possibly qualified for a job. But merely throwing them in the skills section of your resume or in the introduction sentence of your cover letter may not fully express your expertise.
So, take your resume off the page and onto the internet—because your hiring manager lives there, too. Publish your advice on LinkedIn Pulse, weigh in on LinkedIn group discussions, share valuable insights from yourself and other experts on Twitter. And, if you can write, get on Medium—it’s an easy way to show off your expertise and transform yourself into someone who looks important.
The more you share, the more aware you’ll become of your industry and the players within it, and the more you’ll be recognized as a thought leader within that space—a.k.a., someone worth hiring.
5. Are You Aware of What Your Social Media Presence Says About You?
Social media is a huge resource for the job search, even for networking, but first I want to talk about how it could be hindering your progress.
First, are you active on it? Merely creating a profile, throwing a picture up, and forgetting about it doesn’t cut it. I know there was a moment in my career where I didn’t use Twitter for a year—but yet it was still out there, unintentionally making me look bad. As you have more experiences, you should be consistently updating your information. On LinkedIn, make sure you have reliable recommendations and a kick-ass summary. On Twitter, update your bio and interact with your followers. No followers? You should still be sharing relevant links on occasion. It’s as easy as retweeting every few days.
Second, are your profiles appropriate enough to be seen by your future employer? If not, consider making them private or removing old, incriminating photos and posts on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, and Tumblr. It takes two seconds for a hiring manager to see you doing a keg stand or tweet-complaining about your past job and decide you’re not a serious candidate.
Finally, are you overdoing it? It’s great to love social media, but do you need to include 30 hashtags? Or comment on every article your role model posts? Treat social media as you would real life—no one wants to hire someone who won’t stop talking, complains all the time, or abbreviates every other word (OMG TGIF, amiright?).
6. Have You Tried a Personal Website?
Now, when the traditional job search strategies aren’t working, sometimes you have to get creative. If you don’t think your bland, white resume does you justice, try building a personal website that better showcases your creativity and enthusiasm.
Or, for those who are a bit terrified by this big feat (even though, trust me, everyone can do it), try out a one-page resume website instead. It's easy to share with employers and keep all your updated information in one convenient place. Plus, it'll look gorgeous!
Finally, if you want to share with hiring managers examples of the kind of work you’ve done before, why not make a portfolio? And this doesn’t just apply to photographers and creative writers—sales associates, product managers, and the like can use portfolios to show off prototypes, creative processes, or tangible achievements.
7. Can You Get Really Creative?
This tactic is a bit tricky, because not every company will respond the same way to a “wild” approach.
However, for a lot of creative positions with fun office cultures (Hint: Look at the company website to figure out if it seems to fit in this category), thinking outside of the box could be just what you need to stand out from the pack.
The key to crafting a creative resume or cover letter is to think about what your relevant interests are and how you could best express them in your application—without gimmicks or going too over the top. Some cool examples are rapping your resume, attaching your favorite meme at the end of your cover letter (hey, it worked for one Muse employee), laying out a solution to one of the company’s problems, or writing up your own job description.
But here’s the real challenge: Come up with your own idea that I haven’t suggested!
8. Have You Met With a Career Coach?
Last, but certainly not least, sometimes there’s no better way to learn and improve than by sitting down with an expert. These people know the process, understand the ins and outs of your industry, and want to help you land your dream job.
You can meet with a coach once, or on a more frequent basis. And he or she can answer any questions you have, glance over your resume and cover letter, offer suggestions, or just listen to your story and give you advice.
No, a career coach can't give you a job or get your application passed on, but he or she can provide you with the tools needed to do it yourself—so when you make it happen, all the credit goes to you.
And the best part, you can look right here to hire one!
Tossing your application to the internet might feel like the hardest thing you have to do in the job search, but sitting and waiting for someone to find it could be worse. Despite how many fish there are in the sea of jobs or how many resumes look just like yours, you do have something to offer that other people don’t. Once you find a way to share it, whether it’s in the form of a friendly email, a creative cover letter, or an awesome LinkedIn profile, I’d place big money that it’ll get you far.
As an Associate Editor for The Muse, Alyse is proud to prove that yes, English majors can change the world. She calls many places home, including Illinois where she grew up and the small town of Hamilton where she attended Colgate University, but she was born to be a New Yorker. In addition to being an avid writer, Alyse loves to dance, both professionally and while waiting for the subway.More from this Author