In a competitive job market, every detail matters, from your cover letter to your post-interview thank you note. When you’re a single job seeker in a big crowd of applicants, any advantage you can take to stand out will help you land the job.

job market

When competition is steep, it’s harder to find a new employer — but that doesn’t mean landing your next job is impossible. Use the following tips as your guide for job search success in a competitive job market.

What is a competitive job market?

A competitive job market is a reference to the number of people applying for an open position. When lots of people are unemployed and all searching for a job at once and there are more job seekers than available positions to fill—that is a competitive job market.

8 ways to stand out in a competitive job market

The key to success in a competitive job market? You need to stand out from the competition. Here are a few things to keep in mind as you embark on your job search during this time.

1. Patience

When it comes to searching for a job, being patient is difficult — especially if you’re unemployed. But patience is especially important right now.

Chances are, it’s going to take longer than normal to get hired, so set your expectations accordingly and do what you can to not burn yourself out while searching for a job.

2. Polish your personal presentation

Now, perhaps more than ever, presenting yourself in a positive manner to potential employers is essential. No, that doesn’t only mean dressing appropriately for a video interview (though that is important). You also need to make sure your resume is in tip-top shape.

One of the most common resume mistakes is spelling and grammatical errors, which can be an immediate deal-breaker no matter how qualified you are for a job. Remember to give your resume a close edit, and have someone else review it. You can even take it to the next level and get a professional resume writer to take the reins.

Additionally, don’t let your communication skills slip when connecting with companies. For instance, your emails should be professional and free of typos. What may seem like a small error could turn a company away during this time of high competition.

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3. Impress in an interview

These days many companies are holding video job interviews. In these interviews, it can be difficult to show off your personality, enthusiasm, and potential. Here are a few tips to help you sell yourself:

  • Scout out the perfect location: Find a quiet and bright place you can set up, turn off all distractions, and use your video preview to test the lighting.
  • Dress for success: While you don’t have to wear a full-on pantsuit for a video interview, it is important to look polished. Dress like yourself, but opt for attire that’s clean, simple, and distraction-free.
  • Show your energy — but be authentic: Don’t go overboard with your eagerness; instead, be yourself and find opportunities to show your enthusiasm. For instance, give a warm welcome and show your gratitude at the beginning of the call.
  • Consider your nonverbal responses: Yes, the way you answer the interview questions is important, but when you’re interviewing virtually, eye contact is key. Smile and project your voice confidently.

Once your interview is over, don’t forget to send a follow-up thank you; a simple email could help you secure the job.

4. Touch up your online presence and personal brand

Since an employer may not be able to meet you in real life, they may be more prone to turn to Google to fill in any blanks. That’s why it’s so important to always keep an eye on your online self.

Start by doing a self-audit, which includes a quick Google search of your name to see what comes up.

LinkedIn will likely be one of the first Google results, so start there. Ensure your LinkedIn profile stands out with a professional photo, a catchy headline, and a powerful profile summary. You can also beef up your profile by asking connections to leave you a recommendation. Reach out to those you’ve worked closely with and offer to leave them a recommendation in exchange.

After you’ve tackled LinkedIn, take a look at your social media accounts, your personal blog, and any other profiles or websites that may pop up with your name.

5. Boost your network

Your personal brand, experience, and education all matter—but who you know could be the key to unlocking your next job opportunity.

One way to network without even leaving your home is virtual networking.

You can search for virtual networking events occurring within your industry and find online forums, free digital meetups (“Blockchain & Booze,” anyone?), and even virtual job fairs. Just search “virtual networking” and your industry and/or location, and see what’s going on.

You can also make new connections through LinkedIn, Twitter, and other forms of social media. Or, if you want to meet up with an existing connection, get creative and propose a virtual coffee date. Schedule a Zoom call, pour yourself a cup of your favorite coffee, and catch up!

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6. Voluntary work and internships

Our career expert Amanda Augustine says, “You don’t have to be paid for work to put it on your resume”. You can use freelance work, voluntary work, volunteer experience or internships to round out your resume to stand out, and occupy your time if you’re unemployed.

7. Learn

Learning a new skill, language or earning a certification can help boost your resume to the top of the pile. There are seemingly endless options and opportunities for online learning—you don’t need to go back to school to sharpen your skills. Some of our favorite resources for online learning are below.

  • Resources for In-Demand Job Skills You Can Learn Online (2021)
  • Free Online Courses That’ll Help You Earn More
  • 7 Free Certification Courses to Enhance Your Resume

8. Be flexible

Many professionals spend years mapping out their careers, but during times like these, it’s imperative to be flexible. That doesn’t mean you have to change your entire career path, but take some time to assess your skills and think about other plans — even if just temporarily.

“Inventory your top skills, and then search for opportunities to leverage these in a different capacity,” writes Jeff Berger, founder of TopResume’s parent company, Talent Inc. “Leverage what you have been doing and pivot to where the current job openings are.”

You may not find your dream job right now, but it’s important to exercise patience, be flexible, and do what you can to stand out amid the competition during these times. As they say, “This too shall pass.”