How can I as a job applicant separate myself from the competition?

The first step is to recognize that if it’s a job worth getting, there will be lots of competition – probably a lot more than you can predict. Now imagine the hours the hiring manager has to spend sifting through thousands of resumes to find that one perfect person. It’s enough to make anyone’s eyes glaze over!

With this backdrop, consider how to make yourself stand out. I like to ask myself how to be Unus which comes from the Latin word one and only. How can you make yourself appear uniquely suited for the job? Obviously, if you have the exact qualifications that the hiring manager is seeking and know you are the best, your path to getting hired is clear. But if you are unsure, do your due diligence first.

Make sure you look on LinkedIn and study the backgrounds of others they have hired for similar roles. Patterns should emerge and you should be able to discern what made them worthy. Perhaps they all used to work at Google? Or they went to a top school? Maybe they all love to play tennis? Whatever it is, that’s what you need to highlight in big bold letters on your job application.

If you don’t have the core qualifications, or know that you may lack in some of the prerequisite areas, fear not. All is not lost. I’ve known many people who are objectively under qualified but still get hired over others because they continue to think Unus and emphasize those attributes that only they can offer the hirer.

They highlight their history of going above and beyond to get a job done, conquering tremendous adversity to achieve a goal, or just demonstrating that they want the job more than anyone else. The dirty little secret in most jobs is that unless an employer is hiring for a rocket scientist, the candidates who can do the job are actually quite numerous but the people who really want to go above and beyond are small. Focus on those things that make you different and then over emphasize your desire and willingness for the job.

Another tip is to leverage affinity bias. We tend to prefer the choices that our friends suggest. It’s why we ask our friends for their favorite vendor to narrow our selections. So think about who you might know in common with the hiring manager. Make sure they know of your mutual affinity and let your mutual acquaintance know you want the job. Leverage any advantage you have so ask them to put in a good word for you.

What should I do prior to applying for jobs to make sure my reputation is pristine on social media?

Be aware that in this day and age, whether you are applying for a job, going on a first date, or simply hiring a service provider, you will be Googled, Facebooked, TikToked or LinkedIned. With this in mind, put yourself in the shoes of the hiring manager and ask yourself if there is anything one might see that would discourage them from hiring you? If so, you have two options.

The first is to delete. Unfortunately, it’s almost impossible to permanently delete anything digitally. But unless the hiring manager wants to spend the time going through Internet archives, you will at least bury incriminating evidence! 😉 

Your second option is to make sure you have a strong narrative when asked about it. We’ve all done silly things we regret online so you certainly won’t be alone, but be sure to have your explanation ready. Of course if you’ve done something truly offensive (e.g., made racist or sexist remarks) then I can’t help you. Shame on you! Those are land mines, particularly in today’s environment. You better just pray the hiring manager doesn’t unearth them.

If you’re lucky enough to have not posted anything controversial so far, just remember to post only those things you don’t mind seeing on the cover of a major website. I call it the TMZ Test.

Even though we tend to dwell on the negative, consider the use of social media as an asset. The best example is online recommendations. Try to get as many of these as you can – particularly from those people you know are mutually acquainted with the hiring manager. LinkedIn is the current repository for most of these so be sure to reach out to your network and ask them to post something on your profile that highlights the work you did together and your great role in making it happen. 

What is the biggest mistake a job application can make?

Wow! In my 30-year career I have seen so many mistakes. Most were easily preventable if only the applicant had taken the time to be careful.

From mistyping the hiring manager’s name, to not providing exactly the details requested by the job listing, to even having basic typos and errors in cover letters and resumes. I’ve seen it all.

But if I had to pinpoint one of the biggest mistakes I’ve seen is applying for a job without really knowing what it entails. This is almost immediately identifiable by the hiring manager because it’s obvious the applicant didn’t really do their homework.

Perhaps they cite qualifications that have no correlation with the job. Or they give examples from their career that aren’t actually the job’s tasks and fail to explain to the hiring manager how their experience is relevant. It can also be quite obvious to the hiring manager if you are trying to fake your understanding of the job and simply learned about it from a friend or read about it online. The best analogy I can give is it can be as obvious as someone who has watched golf on TV but never played golf. 

So if you are applying for a job that is something new to you because you’re making a career change or simply entering the workforce, please do your homework. Research as much as you can about the job and then be upfront in the interview process. Make it clear you may not have done the job before but you have other unique (Unus!) attributes that will outweigh your inexperience. 


On a side note, I am publishing a humorous, irreverent career book called The Way of the Wall Street Warrior: Conquer the Corporate Game Using Tips, Tricks, and Smartcuts. It will share some of my key lessons from rising to the top of a hyper competitive industry and will be published in November 2021. If you are interested in learning more, feel free to register on my website, www.liucrative.com.

About the Author: Dave is a seasoned executive and entrepreneur.  Prior to founding several companies in entertainment, investments, and technology, he worked on Wall Street for almost 25 years. He started his career by joining a fledgling investment bank, Jefferies when it had less than 200 employees.  Today, Jefferies is a multi-billion dollar diversified public company (NYSE:JEF).  It was there that he rose from the entry level position of Analyst to Group Head of Internet and Digital Media and was one of the youngest Managing Directors in firm history.  As one of the only managing directors of color in the firm, he successfully broke through the bamboo ceiling by not only working hard but also understanding how to play the corporate game.  He has had hundreds of bankers work for him during his career and served as a mentor to many who have gone on to some of the best business schools and companies in America.  He is eager to share his knowledge with Asian Americans seeking to realize their full potential and achieve their career goals.

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