How to stand out: Business advice for job seekers

by Staff Writer

As a business owner, manager, and employer, I have a unique perspective on the job market. In harder times, folks in my position definitely take notice. High unemployment means less job openings and more people going after them, which means stacks of resumes for every job opening I put out there. And so it also means, in times like now, it's more important to stand out from the competition than ever before. So here's some of the best ways for you to get my (and other potential employers') attention:

Gain valuable experience

College is important. The first thing employers do with a list of applicants is weed out those who instantly don't qualify. Most positions I need filling it's an absolute must.  And even the ones where it isn't a requirement, I still get enough college graduate applicants that if you don't have a degree, you're already towards the bottom of my list. The problem is: a college degree isn't enough anymore, it's more of a 'minimum requirement'. Especially during rough times.
 

Experience is huge: hands-on real work experience, the more relevant the better. When I have a position to fill, more often than not I need someone who has proven experience doing something similar. College doesn't adequately prepare students for the fast paces and sometimes unforgiving demands of the working world. As an employer, I need to know that my employees can handle it.  More importantly, however, I need to know that they can do exactly what it is I need them to do.  And as an employer, relevant experience is the best way to determine that.
 

That doesn't mean I won't hire a recent graduate, however. Quite the contrary, actually. Part of what I'm looking for in work experience is candidates with focus. A graduate who has interned, participated in work-study programs, and/or works within his or her field of study during summer breaks will almost always get an interview from me.
 

Gaining work experience seems like a catch-22 for many recent grads, I get it. You need experience to get a job, but a job to get experience. I was there once, not so long ago. I had to make some sacrifices to work my way up…it wasn't easy. But once I found my niche, the experience I'd gained paid off. Do everything you can to gain experience. Get your foot in the door, even if it means taking little to no pay. Intern, work part-time, temp., even become an executive assistant for a higher-up in a larger firm in your field. Work extra hours, go the extra mile. Hard work pays off in the long-run.

Make a name for yourself

It's one thing to be a well qualified candidate with more than adequate relevant work experience and good references. It's quite another to be all that and an 'industry guru' or even a 'rising star' in your field. And while that may sound easier said than done, many times it's simply a matter of putting yourself out there.
 

Perhaps the easiest way to get started is by writing. Start a website or blog on your industry or find relevant industry publications and see if you could submit guest articles or even be a regular contributor. Write from the perspective of an expert and make sure your final drafts are well researched and well sourced. I like candidates that keep current on their industry's publications, news and advice; but I love those who contribute to them.
 

Showcase your passion. (writing isn't the only way) It really depends on your industry and niche, but if you create something that none of the other candidates can showcase, you'll become an instant front-runner and it can even make up for a lack of experience.

Network

It's not what you know, it's who you know. Yes, it's a silly cliché, and networking is probably more important than it should be, but to ignore it usually means lost opportunities for any job seeker. It's certainly no time to be shy.
 

Enlist the help of family and friends, former co-workers, bosses, alumni, and just about anyone else you can think of who might no someone who works in or around your field. Be proactive, too: take advantage of networking opportunities like conferences and other industry gatherings. Make personal business cards if you have to, set goals if you must, but meet as many new people in your industry as you can. Everything else is just an excuse.
 

Network online. This day and age, even CEO's tweet and sites like LinkedIn are a tremendous networking resource for professionals. With the ability to connect with industry peers who can help find and refer job openings, there might be no better way to find (and get) your ideal job.
 

Networking is an ongoing process; It's not just for job seekers. It's important to make it a regular part of your work and just as important to not burn bridges as you move on. Not just to maintain positive work references, but because keeping in touch with old bosses and colleagues can be tremendously helpful when you're looking for work.

Make a Job for yourself

Job seekers really need to get past the want-ads and start being more proactive about seeking employment. Show up at the office with your resume, call and make an appointment with a decision maker to discuss a “business opportunity”. These things shows a level of dedication and enthusiasm in a candidate. And even if you don't get hired, it could make you first in line for the next opening.
 

So just because a company doesn't have a job “opening”, doesn't mean they aren't open to hiring talented dedicated people. If I see value in a person, I might even make a position for them. Don't be afraid to “make” a position for yourself. If you can convince a decision maker that the company would be better off with you than without you, they'll have no choice but to hire you.
 

Start a small business. Sure this isn't an option for everyone, but it's a great way to build experience, and showcase your abilities. It also shows employers you have the grit to do it on your own. When I started my first company, I suddenly started getting job offers (that I wasn't looking for) from potential competitors who would rather join forces than compete.

Do your research

9 out of 10 applications I see include a generic resume and cover letter, and just about none of them get call backs. Perhaps the simplest way to stand out as a candidate (beyond impeccable qualifications) is to do some research on the company you are applying for and adjust your applications accordingly.
 

Customizing your resume doesn’t mean lying about your qualifications. It means highlighting strengths that are appealing to the position. I really don't care that you're proficient in 7 programming languages if all I want to know about is your experience with the one the position requires.
 

Perhaps more important than your resume, is customizing your cover letter. It's a chance to make a first impression (yes we do read them). Don't just focus on you. Show that you've taken the time to research the company and explain why it would be a good fit. Don't sell me on you….sell me on us.

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