Though the economy is beginning to improve, many employers are overloaded with job applicants and extremely choosy about who they’ll hire. So if you want to land a position, you’ve got to find a way to stand out from the pack.
That’s especially true for anyone over 50, who often faces the added burden of being viewed by hiring managers as overpriced, overqualified or out of touch.
(MORE: Unconventional Career Advice You Need to Hear)
How can you set yourself apart from the masses?
To answer that question, I turned to my colleagues in the career advice world — authors, coaches and job-search strategists — and asked for their recommendations. As you’ll soon learn, just making a few small changes in your approach can increase your odds of getting hired.
7 Ways to Get Yourself Noticed
1. Tweak your resumé’s keywords every time you apply for a job. The vast majority of employers use computer-based applicant tracking systems to screen and filter job applications. That’s why it’s essential to include specific keywords and phrases from their job postings on your resumé.
“Smart job seekers stand out by customizing their resumés to reflect the appropriate terms used in the job descriptions — after carefully reading them,” says Susan Joyce of Marlborough, Mass., editor and publisher of Job-Hunt.org and WorkCoachCafe.com, two popular job-advice sites.
(MORE: Create a Winning Midlife Resume to Get Hired)
By customizing your resumé to fit the job profile, your application is more likely to get through the initial screening process and into the hands of the hiring manager.
For example, if you’re a computer programmer, you might cite your expertise with the particular software programs or programming languages named in the employer’s posting.
Yes, continually tailoring your resumé to the jobs you want takes work and a little time. But that’s the point. If it was easy, everyone would do it.
2. Ship your resumé using overnight mail. Nothing screams “This is important!” quite like an overnight delivery envelope. So consider springing for FedEx or one of its competitors rather than just emailing your resumé like everybody else.
You’ll need to be strategic with this tactic because it can get expensive and some employers will only accept resumés electronically.
And it’s best to go this route only if you can send the envelope directly to the hiring manager; a human resources person might be more annoyed than impressed.
3. List your LinkedIn recommendations on your resumé. Advertising executives have long relied on customer testimonials to add punch and credibility to their ad campaigns. So channel your inner Don Draper and make your resumé more compelling by featuring one or two snippets from your testimonials on the business-networking site LinkedIn.
Meg Guiseppi, owner of Executive Career Brand, a New Jersey-based executive branding and job search strategy firm, says this powerful form of brand reinforcement has helped her clients land jobs.
(MORE: 3 Ways LinkedIn Just Made It Easier to Find a Job)
If you don’t have any LinkedIn recommendations, now is the time to ask your current or prior customers, colleagues and clients.
Featuring impressive references on your LinkedIn profile is a smart way to attract attention from recruiters online and these kudos will do double-duty by showing up on your resumé.
4. Add a P.S. to your cover letter. Career experts tell me that a P.S. always gets read by hiring managers sifting through cover letters — it’s brief and attention-getting.
Guiseppi recommends using the P.S. to showcase a quote from someone you’ve worked with or for highlighting your strengths. For example:
P.S. Call me today to learn why Steven Mason, the president of Accord Consulting, said I was “the most effective copywriter on his staff.”
Alternatively, Guiseppi says, you could promote one of your most impressive accomplishments in a P.S. Like this:
P.S. Would you like to learn more about how I tripled sales to $25 million in my first year at XYZ Company, while reducing inventory by 44 percent and accounts receivable by 47 percent?
5. Bring a “brag book” to your job interview. This clever idea comes from New York City-based Lindsey Pollak, a LinkedIn “ambassador” (otherwise known as a spokesperson) and author of Getting From College to Career.
A brag book could be a notebook or a PDF showcasing your accomplishments with, for example, writing samples, media clips and photos of events you organized. It’s a great way to show employers what you’ve done and what you can do for them.
“Many recruiters are telling me they want to see examples of job seekers' work, rather than just hearing about what they've done,” Pollak says. “A brag book accomplishes this, along with showing that you are the kind of dedicated, organized person who would take the time to put a book like this together.”
While the brag book strategy is easiest to pull off for people like writers and designers who already have samples of their work at the ready, it can be used by anyone with access to grabby work-related reports or visuals.
Pollak says she recently received a thank-you note from a newly minted MBA who assembled a brag book after reading Getting From College to Career and landed the “job of his dreams.”
6. Attend a conference in your industry or the field you want to enter. Conferences provide an easy way to meet valuable contacts who might be able to help you get a job. You can buttonhole them during meals, coffee breaks and on the long lines at the women’s rest room (sorry, guys).
Even if you get to engage with these people for only a few minutes, there will be plenty of time to follow up after the conference is over. (As an added bonus, the information you learn at the conference will help you impress at job interviews.)
One of my career-coaching clients, a stay-at-home mom, used this strategy brilliantly when she wanted to re-enter the IT industry. She went to a tech conference near her home and actively networked during the breaks. The day after the meeting ended, she sent follow-up emails for informational interviews. Six weeks later, she landed a full-time job in her former field.
I realize that traveling to conferences can be expensive. To keep costs down, look for one-day events near your home. You can hunt for them by consulting the website for your industry association or going to EventsinAmerica.com, an online trade show and conference directory.
7. Carry something memorable to a networking event. Admittedly, this last tip will strike some of you as a bit wacky. I confess it seemed a little unusual to me. But I decided to include it because, for the right personality, under the right circumstances, it just might help you stand out among job candidates.
I heard the advice from Tim Tyrell-Smith of Mission Viejo, Calif., founder of Tim’s Strategy, a site offering ideas for job search, career and life. He told me about a man who brought a volleyball and a Sharpie to a networking event and asked people to sign the ball.
“The effect was a lot of positive awareness for the job seeker, because everyone wanted to sign the ball,” Tyrell-Smith says. “And while people were signing the ball, they were easy targets for introductory networking questions.”
Tyrell-Smith says he loved this idea because it lowered the barriers between the job hunter and the other networking event guests, sparking fun conversation instead of the usual "So, what do you do?"
I agree, but need to add a note of caution: If you want to bring along an accessory to a network gathering to get attendees to remember you, choose something in keeping with your professional goals.
It’s fine to get creative. But when you’re job hunting, there’s a fine line between being clever and appearing goofy.