Skip to main contentA logo with &quat;the muse&quat; in dark blue text.
Advice / Job Search / Resumes

My Team Reviews 1,000,000 Resumes a Year and These Are the People Who Stand Out

people reviewing resumes
Hero Images/Getty Images

Does standing out really help you get hired? And is there such a thing as being too different? The answer is yes—to both.

As VP of Talent Acquisition at Johnson & Johnson, I’ve seen it all: the good, the bad, and the pink. (No really, we’ve received perfume-scented applications printed on pink paper.) After overseeing a team that screens one million resumes a year, I can tell you how to stand out from the crowd—the right way.

So if you’re thinking of taking a creative approach, keep the following in mind:

Do: Show Off Your Work in a Portfolio

Why not take a cue from designers and architects and display your accomplishments in a portfolio?

Even if you don’t work in one of those two fields, you can still showcase a recent project in a visually interesting way. For example, I recently interviewed a digital marketer who walked me through her three most recent influencer-marketing projects. She had created a simple PowerPoint presentation with three case studies outlining what she had done and the results for each initiative. She made it easy to see how she could add tangible value to our business by highlighting how she approached these influencers and how she measured her projects’ success.

Even before the interview stage, a portfolio can help you get noticed. For example, you can create a personal website that showcases your work (more on exactly how to do that here). You can send the link to networking contacts and even include it your email signature.

Don’t: Go for Quantity Over Quality

Do you know someone who humblebrags about sending out hundreds of applications? If so, my guess is they achieved this seemingly impressive feat by sending a generic message out as widely as possible.

I receive at least 10 LinkedIn messages a day from candidates throwing their resume over the digital fence and hoping it lands. These generic messages expect me to do the work to match them to our open jobs.

While employing social media in your job search can be an effective strategy, using it to mass contact decision-makers with a form message is a gimmick (and one that doesn't work). For all I know, your exact message has also been sent to 20 other companies. How do I know that it’s our organization you’re really interested in?

Instead, take a more thoughtful approach. Utilize your professional network. Do you know anyone at the company you’d like to work at? If so, find out whether it has an employee referral program and send this note. If you reach out to someone cold, use a customized template.

Do: Solve a Company Problem

Do your research on the role you’ve applied for. What’s the team working on? Can you identify any pain points? Even better, can you solve them?

Demonstrate how much you want to work at the company by arriving at the interview equipped with fresh ideas and solutions. Knock their socks off with your insight and give the recruiter a sneak preview of what they’ll be getting.

For example, I recently interviewed a social media manager who came to the interview with a complete scan of our social media properties and a set of recommendations that left me wondering what we had been doing the last year. He not only demonstrated that he had the skills needed to be successful in the job but also that he cared enough about the opportunity to put in the work before we gave him the job (which we did).

Remember, your relationship with your boss starts during the interview process, not on your first day!

Don’t: Propose Something That Shows You’re Out of Touch

Caveat: It’s not enough for your solution to be innovative. It only works if it still fits with the overall goals, vision, and values of the organization.

For example, just last week, we interviewed a candidate who suggested a sales method that was so far removed from the values of the J&J Credo that we had to wonder if he’d even heard of it. Had he spent a few minutes researching the company, he’d have understood that it’s the underpinning to everything we do.

If a company truly is on your wish list, it shouldn’t be a chore to do your research. Find specific open roles that match your abilities and honestly assess your skills against the listed requirements. Follow your target company’s social handles, see what current employees are discussing, and get to know the culture.

That way, if you’re asked to interview, you can show the recruiter that you understand and embody the values.

Some companies and recruiters appreciate an unconventional approach; others most definitely don’t. What is universal, however, is that employers want to see that you’re serious about the opportunity and that you have the skills they need. So, if you’re considering doing something unconventional, first ask yourself, “Does this help demonstrate my skills and experience?”

If you have to think about it, the answer is probably no.

Is there something that worked well for you? I’d love to hear from you on Twitter.