The 2020 pandemic shifted the way many of us think about our jobs permanently. Remote work has become a new normal for millions and doesn’t appear to be going away any time soon. According to a Pew Research study in December of 2020, 71% of individuals in fields where teleworking is possible noted that they were currently working from home while more than half reported wanting to continue working from home after the pandemic ends.
On top of this, 10 million Americans are currently unemployed, many of whom have been jobless since the pandemic started in March of 2020. As cities and states begin to reopen and COVID-19 cases decrease, competition for jobs is tighter than ever before.
If you’re looking for new employment this year, the competition is fiercer than ever, but there are a few pro tips that can help you stand out during your job search.
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Rising job competition in 2021
With millions out of work and a new class on the brink of graduation this summer, the competition for employment is expected to be tough. Employers are likely to have more candidates to choose from, which could prevent them from selecting employees fresh out of college with little to no work experience. Of course, job selections could swivel in the opposite direction, with employers opting to hire more entry-level workers for less pay.
According to a pre-pandemic HR survey, it can take between 100 to 200 job applications for job seekers to land a position. Below are our tips for landing a job in a competitive market.
Related: Best High-Paying Jobs in 2021
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1. Follow the application directions
I repeatedly hear from hiring managers that more than half of the applicants who apply to an open position ignore at least one part of the application instructions when applying, which automatically excludes you from being considered. I can see how easily this can happen when you’re going through the grueling task of applying for job after job, but it’s important to double-check your application before submitting it.
Review all of the requirements and make sure you’ve fully satisfied them before clicking that apply button. A few extra seconds of review could be all it takes to move you on to the job interview stage.
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2. Don’t skip the cover letter
Writing a cover letter may seem daunting, but ignore any temptation to skip this crucial step. I know many hiring managers who won’t go any further with a candidate no matter how qualified they are simply because they did not take the time to turn in a cover letter. Even if it’s not a requirement, turning in a cover letter shows employers you’re very interested in working for them specifically and can help you stand apart from other applicants.
I recommend taking some time to put together a few stock cover letters (at least one per industry, but it’s even better if you can tailor it to a position). Have them at the ready when needed, but always be sure to update them to fit the specific job requirement and show off what you know and love about the company you’re applying to. Lastly, reread them for clarity and grammar before sending them off. You can also use a tool like Grammarly to ensure your cover letter is polished and error-free.
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3. Create a website or online portfolio
Standing out can be difficult in a virtual pile of identical PDFs. One easy way to stand out is to direct employers to your website either in your cover letter or when applying for the job directly. A personal website allows employers to learn more about you, shows them you’re serious about your professional career and makes you a more memorable candidate.
You may think it only makes sense to have a website or portfolio if you’re in a creative field where you can display your design, video or writing skills online. However, taking the extra time to create a one-page site that highlights your brand, experience and passions is something everyone can do. You can use Squarespace, WordPress or Wix to quickly create a site using a professional template that’s easy to update and maintain.
A website allows you to showcase your accomplishments and projects you’re proud of in visually appealing ways, using grid color boxes or animations to help tell your story. Be sure to link to any relevant professional social media accounts, such as your LinkedIn profile.
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4. Look outside your city/state
Since remote work is happening everywhere, many companies are expanding their searches to applicants across the country, and in some cases, even the globe. If you’re searching for jobs based on the distance to your home, it may be time to expand your parameters. Add remote jobs into your search filter, and be sure to scour the career pages of any national companies you may know are working remotely indefinitely.
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5. Check-in with your network
You’ve likely made professional contacts over the years, and now is the perfect time to check in with them. It never hurts to ask if a peer knows of any job openings. Even if they don’t, if they know you’re looking, they can keep you in mind if an opening pops up at their current company or elsewhere. Even if they don’t have any full-time work available, they might have part-time positions or freelance work you can tackle in the meantime.
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6. Consider positions outside of your industry
The pandemic caused many of us to look at our lives a little differently. For some, that meant realizing how much they value working with people in-person. For others, it meant looking for opportunities that empowered them to work remotely from their homes or while traveling. In addition, many of us have been rethinking what we do for work and deciding how it fits in with our lifestyles, passions and future goals.
In many cases, this might mean looking outside of your traditional job industry to find a new position that excites you and still aligns with your skill sets. Not sure exactly what you want to do? Reach out to a career coach to learn more about positions that you might be a good fit for that you may have never considered before. Career coaches can offer career advice that can help you nail interviews and stand out from other applicants.
As hiring becomes more diverse, many potential employers are looking for candidates with varying levels of experience across many different industries. Not having the traditional resume or background a specific position generally calls for could help you stand out positively.
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7. Create a quick video summary
Another way to stand out for other candidates is by creating a quick one- to two-minute video for jobs you’re particularly interested in. Start by telling the employer your name, a quick sentence or two about your background, why you’re excited about this role and company and why they should hire you.
Be sure to leave them wanting more by adding a quick selling point or two. For instance, let them know if you have ideas you’re bursting to share with them or if you’ve read any recent studies that might have implications for the future of the role or their business overall.
Companies love to find engaging talent that goes the extra mile when applying, so hearing and seeing how invested you are in a potential position with them can speak volumes more than a black and white resume can. Like your cover letter, be sure to adjust this for each position you apply for.
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8. Ask former colleagues and classmates for insights
When you’re applying for a job, it’s important to highlight your best qualities and let employers know the specific skills you bring to the table. However, some of us struggle with figuring out our best skills. When you’re particularly good in an area, it can begin to feel commonplace and not worth mentioning.
For instance, if you’re particularly great at communicating verbally, you might not mention this skill because it begins to feel like something in which everyone is (or should be) adept.
To figure out what unique skills have been the most helpful to your job growth, reflect and reach out to old coworkers, bosses, friends and classmates. Ask them to send you a quality or two that they think of when they remember working with you in the past. You might be surprised at the skills you’ve been taking for granted all of these years.
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9. Tailor your resume for each position
This tip may seem painstaking, but it’s extremely worthwhile. Just like you’d tailor your cover letter to suit each job position, you’ll also want to ensure your resume is updated for each role you’re applying to. Even jobs in the same industry might require slightly different resume highlights or formats.
For instance, when applying to a professional management position, you might not need to detail out your job responsibilities in creative freelance positions, but instead highlight your professional and full-time positions, while listing freelance work to showcase your ability to manage multiple projects.
Once you start using this technique to apply to jobs, it becomes easier to quickly tweak your resume for new jobs.
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10. Work with a recruiter
Recruiters have access to a wide network of jobs, and they’re tasked with finding the right people for roles. Finding one or two recruiters who understand your background, skillset and job potential can help you not only land a job faster, but it can help you find a position that best matches your needs and talents.
You can generally find job recruiters online through LinkedIn and other job sites (Indeed, Monster, Simply Hired, etc.), but in many cases, if you show that you’re actively looking for a job, recruiters will begin reaching out to you.
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11. Reach out to the hiring manager directly
Once you’ve applied for a position, you can go the extra mile by finding and connecting with the hiring manager. When done correctly, this step can improve your chances of moving on to the next steps in the hiring process. When done incorrectly, however, it could ruin your chances of being considered for the position.
A good way to connect before or after applying would be through LinkedIn (or the social platform where they’ve posted the job). Briefly send them a message summarizing your skills (or better yet, link to your online portfolio or website) and let them know why you would be a good fit.
Ask them to reach out if they have any questions and thank them for their time. Keep this brief and be humble. Don’t continuously follow up after sending the message (unless they engage you in a conversation). Lastly, if you’ve already applied, let them know.
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12. Never underestimate the power of a thank you email
This last tip may sound like a basic courtesy to some, but for many who are new to the workforce or looking for a job online, it might not be well known. During the interview process, ask the individuals you’re speaking to for their email addresses. Some might offer them, but always be sure to figure out how to reach out to them.
After an interview, it’s not only polite to follow up and thank the interviewers for their time, but it can also help you move on to the next steps of the hiring process. Sending even a quick thank you note and affirming your interest shows employers you’re serious about working with them and can help solidify a positive relationship between you and the company.
I’ve been guilty of forgetting to ask for this information before, and in these cases, I always reach out to my human resources (HR) contact for email addresses so I can send these notes directly.
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13. Prep for job interviews
A decade ago, preparing for a job interview might entail practicing interview questions and ensuring you have your resume memorized. Today, however, this practice is a little more detailed.
Since many job interviews are being conducted online, start by ensuring you can take video interviews in a quiet, professional-looking location, with a good wifi connection. Test your webcam ahead of time to ensure it’s working well. Experiment with lighting and positioning your desk as needed.
In addition, you can do some research on the company culture and their interview process online at Glassdoor. There, you can get a good handle on basic salary expectations, the interview timeline and common interview questions by job role. If you’re often nervous speaking to new people, practice your answers, but leave room for adaptation so you don’t sound completely scripted.
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14. Be prepared for trial assignments
Depending on your line of work, it’s very common for workplaces to assign you paid (or unpaid) work assignments to test your actual job skills. For creative industries, this might be a sample writing task or design request, but for jobs like sales, you might be required to make a sales pitch on the spot.
Take your time on these tasks and treat them as if you’re being graded —
because you are. Landing your dream job could come down to your performance on these assignments, but they’re also a good test to see if the job is the right fit for you. If you receive a trial assignment that you’re not enjoying or that seems out of line with the role you applied to, this can help you move on to other job opportunities rather than wasting time in informational interviews down the line.
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15. Connect with potential employees
If you’re applying to a job remotely, you might find that many companies are conducting longer interviews where you meet several potential colleagues who might not even work in a role relevant to the one you’re seeking. This is often done to ensure you’re a great fit for the company’s culture and to see how you mesh with other employees. It’s also a chance for you to ask questions about the company and find out why others enjoy working there.
If you’re extremely interested in a job, it’s important to leave a positive impression with the employees you connect with. Come prepared with questions for them. A few sample questions might include:
- How is X company different from any other jobs you’ve had in the past?
- What was the most challenging aspect of X company when you first started?
- If you could give any advice to a new hire, what would it be?
Of course, as you have conversations with employees, you may think of more specific and relevant questions to ask, which is always better than reverting to stock questions.
If you’re applying in person and meeting employees, you’ll also want to form small connections when possible. Many employers now weigh employee input when considering a new hire, so if the company’s employees have a high impression of you, that could be all that’s needed to secure a new job over another equally qualified candidate.
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The bottom line
Finding a job this year can seem like an overwhelming challenge thanks to high unemployment rates, remote roles hiring candidates throughout the country and the competitive job market. Be sure to stand out when applying to a new position by highlighting your unique offerings, building an online website or portfolio and taking any extra steps necessary to set yourself apart from the candidate pool.
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