Career Doctor: Making Your Job Application Stand Out

Employers are more focused than ever on the bottom line. That’s why all of your application tactics should be informed by a concrete sense of how you can help the company.

By Dave Wilmer


Career Doctor"I’ve been sending out resumes right and left, but have gotten very little response. I think I’m well-qualified for the positions I’ve applied for, but interviews have been very hard to come by. I realize this is a highly competitive hiring market, and that employers are getting lots of applications for every opening. Is there something I can do to make my application stand out?"

Dave Willmer responds:

First of all, you’re not alone. Faced with a tight hiring market, many IT job candidates are considering unconventional ways to get a foot in the door. A recent Robert Half Technology poll asked CIOs to describe the most creative or unusual method an IT candidate had used to successfully land a job interview. Respondents cited a broad assortment of tactics, from the whimsical to the rigorous, including one candidate who offered a six-month money-back guarantee if he didn’t perform as expected.

Most hiring managers appreciate the value of IT professionals who demonstrate creativity, initiative and the ability to exceed expectations. After all, these kinds of people are essential for maintaining productive teams under tight budgetary conditions. At the same time, employers are more focused than ever on the bottom line. That’s why all of your application tactics should be informed by a concrete sense of how you can help the company in the role at hand.

Fresh Approaches, Traditional Values

Many of the successful approaches described in the survey are rooted in conventional job-seeking touchstones such as networking and persistence. "The job seeker developed a friendship with people in my IT department before coming in for the interview," said one CIO. Indeed, a genuine referral from a current employee can often tip the scales in your favor.But be sure to ask the person’s permission before mentioning his or her name in your application materials.Persistence was another common thread in the survey responses. "One person called our human resources office every day for three weeks," a respondent said. "That got him the job interview with our company." Another executive recalled a job seeker who "took me to lunch during the interview process, didn’t get hired, and then took me to lunch two more times to stay in touch. I finally found something for him."

Following up after you send an application should be standard operating procedure. If your resume doesn’t yield a response within a couple of weeks, follow up by e-mail or phone call and ask if you can arrange an interview. Doing so reinforces your interest in the position. Knowing how long to persist can be tricky, but if your interest in the employer – and your belief in your ability to contribute – are genuine, you’ll have a much easier time knowing when to move on to your next target.

Know Your Audience

Before you try any unorthodox tactic, consider the culture of the organization you’re trying to join. For example, bringing doughnuts for the entire IT department might be perceived as charming at one company but unprofessional at another. Use your network to find a link to someone who works at the firm; such a contact may be able to help you decide whether to play it straight or get creative.

Whichever course you choose, learning more about the potential employer is essential. Your cover letter, resume and interview should all convey an awareness of the firm’s specific needs. Direct your application to the actual hiring manager whenever possible, and always target your cover letter and resume to the opening at hand.

Throughout the application process, be sure to describe how you’ve saved previous employers time and money. For example, did your efforts shorten a quarterly process by two weeks? Reduce the cost of network upgrades by $50,000? Previous colleagues and supervisors may be able to help you come up with reasonable time and dollar estimates for your accomplishments. 

Closing the Deal

A creative application gambit, such as a link to a web video presenting your career accomplishments, may well be an effective way to gain a potential employer’s attention. The more difficult job is to make sure that attention is warranted. Ultimately, receiving a job offer will depend on your track record and your ability to tie it to an employer’s needs. If you fall short in those areas, the hiring manager may nevertheless remember you and your unconventional approach a year from now. But he or she will likely be doing so from afar – not from the office down the hall.

Dave Willmer is executive director of Robert Half Technology, a leading provider of IT professionals on a project and full-time basis.Robert Half Technology has more than 100 locations worldwide and offers online job search services at

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