How can I stand out when applying for jobs?

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I’m a recent graduate with a degree in economics and psychology who has a ton of volunteer experience in charity and working with children. I’ve been applying for tons of similar paid jobs, but I’m not even getting called in for an interview. What can I do to stand out when applying for jobs like these?

I hope you are not getting too discouraged. It can get frustrating to be putting out effort, but not seeing the return. Fortunately, there are things you can try doing to get some different results.

To start figuring out what is going on here, take a look at your application (your resumé and cover letter) and your job search strategies (how you are locating the jobs you are applying for).

Your Application

Are your resumé and cover letter clearly showing why you are a good fit for the jobs you are applying for?

If you are not getting called in for interviews, it is possible that it is at least partly because employers are not seeing how you fit the jobs they are filling.

Take a look at your resumé and cover letters and ask yourself:

  • Have I shown that I meet all of the qualifications that they are asking for?
  • Have I demonstrated the skills and knowledge I developed in my degree, and how they relate to the job?
  • Have I made it clear how my experience in charity and working with children relates to the jobs I’m applying for? If you are looking for work in charity and/or working with children, it might be clear how your experience fits the work you are now applying for. But if the jobs you want are not in these exact same areas, an employer may not understand how your experience relates to the job they have open.
  • Have you shown how you can use the skills you developed through these activities in this new area of work?
  • Are my resumé and cover letter free of errors? It might seem like it goes without saying, but I’m going to say it anyway – try to find every tiny error that might be lurking on your resumé – and get them fixed.

Your Job Search

How many of the jobs in your area of interest are you finding?

How are you discovering jobs that you are applying for? Are they all advertised positions (i.e., jobs that you’ve seen posted somewhere)?

While it is great to make sure to keep up with all the jobs that get posted publicly, these jobs are only a fraction of what is out there and available. Keep applying for those postings (after reviewing your resumé and cover letters), but also think about devoting more time to finding the so-called “hidden” jobs.

These are the jobs you connect with through networking. If you want to do something related to the things you did as a volunteer, a great place to start your networking might be by re-connecting with the people working at the charities you’ve been involved with in the past. And if you aren’t interested in that field and are heading into something new, reach out to people in that new area.

In general, the candidates who “stand out” tend to be those people who are most clear about why they are a great fit with the work they want to do (and can explain that clearly on their applications), and those who are so interested in their field that they are always talking with others in the field, attending events, participating in online discussions and so on (in other words: networking).

Thanks for your question – and best wishes as you re-evaluate your approach and get some new results!

Do you have a question that can only be answered by a career counsellor?

Post your questions for Cathy Keates in the comments below, and they will be answered in upcoming editions of Ask our career counsellor.

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About the author

Cathy Keates is a career counsellor and trainer who has worked with university students and graduates for the past decade, helping them to strategically create careers they will love. She has worked as a career counsellor at Queen's University and was the associate director of the career centre at York University. Convinced that we can all create lives based on authenticity and integrity, she is the author of the new job search book Not for Sale! and shares her thoughts about finding work without losing yourself on her blog, Transform Your Job Search.