Conventional Thinking Kills: 7 Ways to Stand Out in Your Job Search

Conventional ThinkingA friend of mine recently lost her job. During her job search she became increasingly frustrated with job boards and asked me for suggestions on how to differentiate herself from the competition.

“Being different and grabbing peoples’ attention is relatively easy”, I replied. “However, being different in a way that makes you incredibly appealing to prospective hiring managers isn’t as simple.”

With differentiation in mind, here are 7 (well, 7½) unconventional approaches to job search that will help you stand out from the job seeking masses:

1. Don’t Rely on Job Boards

I’m not saying this to be different, but the truth of the matter is that job boards are the most used (read: overused) job search resource there is. On job boards, you are one of thousands of applicants applying for each job. 10-years ago, you would have been one of a thousand resumes on a hiring manager’s desk, but today your resume is screened by an applicant tracking system and your identity as an applicant is reduced to binary digits on a hard-drive or server somewhere in cyberspace. If you want to stand out you really need to do it in person.

2. Your Network Will Never Be Big Enough

If you’re tired of hearing people talk about networking, then you’re probably not doing enough of it. There are few things more important to your success than your network, and a network comprised of many high-quality contacts and strong relationships makes it more likely that someone in it will know of someone who’s hiring, may be hiring soon, or may be looking for someone just like you.

3. Recruiters Won’t Find You a Job – That’s Your Job

All too often I hear someone who’s starting to look for work say “do you know of any recruiters?” to which I respond, “I certainly do, are you looking to hire someone?” While contacting recruiters is a good idea, waiting by the phone for a call from one isn’t – and there are two reasons why: 1) The odds that the specific recruiter you call is working for an employer who is looking for someone with your specific skill set right now are rather low, and 2) it’s as simple as this – recruiters work for employers, they don’t work for you.

4. Have an Elevator Pitch That Doesn’t Focus Entirely on You

You’ve probably heard that you need to practice your elevator pitch so that if the opportunity arises you can quickly describe the value you’d bring to an employer. This is very important, no doubt, but if you’re aiming to differentiate yourself you really need to one-up the traditional elevator pitch.

When you’ve got 30-seconds in an elevator and it’s your time to shine, rather than being general and saying “I have 15-years of experience as a consultant re-engineering processes that result in reduced manufacturing costs and improved product quality”, you’ll be far more persuasive if you articulate why it’s YOU who’s needed because you can solve the company’s problem: “I have worked for your competitors so I know how you can reduce your manufacturing costs and improve the quality of your product.”

5. Until You Find Your Next Job, You’re a Salesperson

While earlier I suggested that you shouldn’t use job boards, here’s permission to use one just this once: Go look at a job description for a salesperson and you’ll quickly see that many of the required skills are skills that you’ll need in order to find your next job. Salespeople work towards targets because it keeps them on track and motivated to achieve their objectives.

Set realistic targets for your daily job search activities such as networking, cold calling, and for job applications as well (if you must) and you’ll be surprised by just how much you accomplish by the end of each week.

6. Look for Jobs That Don’t Exist Yet

Rarely will you be the first one to find out about a job opening right when it becomes available, and in most cases once it’s available the hiring manager already knows exactly who they’re looking for. By actively networking you’ll find out about upcoming availabilities, maternity-leaves, and projects that are in the planning phases, all of which may present you with employment opportunities that have not yet been advertised – and when jobs haven’t been advertised you have far less competition.  For more on this, take a look at Job search like a salesperson to get a job that doesn’t exist yet.

7. Your Network Isn’t a Thing – It’s People Just Like You

Networking isn’t a one-shot deal; it’s an ongoing activity that requires you to re-engage the people in your network in a way that’s meaningful to you – and meaningful to them as well. It’s not about group emails, chain letters, social media invites or status updates, rather, it’s about developing real human relationships and taking a genuine interest in the people in your network, just as you’d like them to take an interest in you.

7.5 Never Get Too Comfortable in Your Job Search

If you’re getting comfortable in your job search, it’s definitely time to do change your approach. A sense of urgency should motivate you at all times, and if it isn’t you’ve set the bar too low.

Now it’s your turn: Share your tips on how job seekers can differentiate and stand out!





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JKtwitterAbout the Author: Jonathan is a co-founder of WhoToKnow, a former strategy consultant turned entrepreneur whose career management and networking expertise has appeared in CNN, Fortune-Money and Forbes. He’s an avid mountain-biker, a husband, and father of three. Follow him on Twitter!



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