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How to Stand Out When Applying for a Job


Hiring managers and recruiters see a lot of bad applications. Which means that when they see a red flag, they run for the hills. They’re over bad job applicants, so don’t be one of them. 

You don’t need to spend hours learning how to make your job application stand out, you just have to follow these best practices. 

Here’s how to stand out when applying for a job

When you’re competing with dozens (if not hundreds) of qualified applicants for your next dream job, you need to bring your a-game. That means hitting the job applicant trifecta of having a strong resume, cover letter, and killer references. How do you accomplish this? We’re sharing some of our top tips for how to stand out when applying for a job. 

Resume best practices 

A resume is a document that highlights your education, skills, and work experience. Your resume is the first impression you’ll give a potential employer. Typically, they’ll look over your resume before committing to reading your cover letter. Because of this, it’s super important that your resume is clean, easy to read, and error free. 

These are some helpful resume tips to keep in mind:

  • Keep it to one page (unless you’re in the later stages of your career)
  • Customize your resume for each job you’re applying for and highlight the skills they are looking for
  • Proofread, proofread, proofread
  • Design inconsistencies can make just as bad of a first impression as typos
  • As your resume grows, you can cut out less relevant jobs (think: part time college positions or internships) 
  • Include key data about achievements and workplace contributions, don’t just list your job responsibilities
  • Skip including basic skills, we all know how to use Microsoft Word 
  • Don’t lie — ever

Cover letter best practices 

While not all employers require cover letters as a part of their application process anymore, many still do. A cover letter is a document that accompanies a resume and is used to introduce oneself and express interest in a specific job or internship. A cover letter typically includes a brief introduction, a summary of the individual’s qualifications and relevant experience, and a closing statement. Cover letters are an opportunity to make a strong first impression and to communicate how an individual’s qualifications and experience align with the position they are applying for.

Before diving into writing your next cover letter, keep these tips in mind. 

  • Customize your cover letter for each role you’re applying for
  • Address how you possess the specific skills and experience they are looking for
  • Do your research on the company and make that clear in your cover letter
  • Don’t overdo the length just to fill the page, only include key details
  • Explain how you will help their team, not how the job will help you
  • Triple check for spelling and grammar
  • Consider asking a friend to read through your cover letter to highlight any mistakes or where it can be stronger
  • Again, don’t lie

Reference best practices 

Employers will often ask for professional references as part of the hiring process to gain a better understanding of the candidate’s qualifications, work experience, and professional reputation. A professional reference is a person who can provide a recommendation or speak to an individual’s qualifications, skills, and work ethic. These references are typically people who have worked with the individual in a professional capacity, such as a supervisor, coworker, or mentor. 

Professional references should be people who can speak positively about your work and are credible, such as a supervisor, manager, coworker, or someone who has supervised you in a volunteer or extracurricular activity. It is important to ask for permission before listing someone as a reference and provide them with a copy of your resume and the job description of the position you are applying for, so they can understand the context in which they will be providing the reference.

You want to choose a reference who can speak specifically about your qualifications, work ethic, and accomplishments, and should be able to provide specific examples of your skills, abilities and how you performed in the past. It’s also important to keep in touch with your references, let them know when you apply for a job and follow up to see if they have been contacted by the employer.

If an employer requires you to provide them with references in order to move forward in their hiring process, you’ll need to manage the process of requesting references from your professional network with graciousness and gratitude. 

Here’s how to appropriately request a professional reference.

  • Ask first! Always ask someone if they are willing to give you a reference before you tell a hiring manager they can contact them
  • Even if you’ve gained permission in the past, give them a head’s up if they’re likely to receive a call or email about a reference soon
  • If a written reference is required, offer to write the letter yourself (to save them time and hassle) and then give it to them to review and sign
  • After your reference writes a letter or speaks to a potential employer, make sure that you send them a handwritten thank you note to express your gratitude for their support. 

Want to get your hands on super polished resume templates that will make your job so much easier? Enroll in Leveling Up Your Career and we’ll share some professionally designed resume templates with you!

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