• Erin H


At the beginning of 2020, I left my job without another one lined up. Then a surprise pandemic hit and threw my job search into a tailspin. Now I’m curious—Will I ever find another job?!

I know I’m not the only person to find myself unemployed and anxious about what the future holds. The jobless claim rate is the highest it’s been since the Great Depression. With so many candidates competing for the same opportunities, how can you and I stand out to hiring managers?

To answer this question, I reached out to Michael Jontz—Headhunter for Midwest Professional Staffing for over six years (and, yes, my brother).

Thanks so much for sitting down with me. Let’s start with the heart of my concern—with so many candidates now competing for the same (limited) opportunities, how can we stand out to hiring managers?

If you’re a job seeker, find your most marketable avenue to get in front of hiring managers. What I mean is maybe you have a next-door neighbor, friend or relative who works for the company you want to work for—reach out to them and ask for a reference. It might feel awkward, but personal references and recommendations go a long way in a job search.

If you don’t know anyone who works at a company you want to apply to, do your research and find a recruiter or recruiting firm that works with them. Working with a recruiter who has a personal relationship with the hiring manager is a great way to stand out from the crowd.

As a last resort, click the "apply" button on the company’s website. I encourage job seekers to apply for jobs directly through a company website versus a third-party job board (Indeed, Monster, etc) for a few reasons:

  1. Direct to the source. When you submit your resume through a company job posting, you increase the likelihood of getting your resume seen by HR because your application will go directly to an HR team or recruiter’s inbox. I know of a few instances where resumes from third-party job boards get sent to a separate HR or recruiter inbox. Eliminate any chance your resume won’t be seen and apply for the job on the company’s website.

  2. You may find more opportunities. There is often a fee associated with posting jobs on third-party sites, so to maintain budgets, companies may not post every available job on third-party sites. Go directly to company websites to see all available positions and opportunities.

  3. Boost the credibility and credentials of the team at the company you want to work for. HR leaders would rather you apply on their website because it boosts their internal credibility (website data increases and direct application data increases, which leads to a better ability to mine candidate data) and their credentials as a direct recruit.

That makes a lot of sense. Is there anything else we can be doing outside of networking or applying for jobs?

Yes. I tell my candidates that you get out of a job search what you put into it. It’s not enough to be looking and applying for opportunities, there are active things you can be doing on the side to be prepared for when the right opportunity comes along.

  1. Keep your references up-to-date. I recommend my candidates have three personal recommendations from superiors (current or former) ready to submit with their application. References from former managers give prospective hiring managers a sense of who you are and how you work on a team—that’s a great way to stand out from other candidates.

  2. Start working with a recruiter now. If you’re using a recruiter to react to a job loss, you’re late to the game. Think of a recruiter like a consultant. Our job is to understand your career goals and match you with the best opportunity for you and for our clients. Like all good things, this process takes time. Even if you’re happily employed, reach out and form a relationship with a recruiter now to be prepared should the unimaginable happen. Let COVID-19 be an example of how things outside of our control can impact our careers, even if we are happily employed.

  3. Work on your resume. Your resume should quantify your past and current experience. That means finding ways to include data and numbers in your experience. For example, if you are a marketing specialist and you managed social media for a previous employer, include data for follower growth, audience engagement and more while you managed the accounts. That type of information is invaluable to a hiring manager.

  4. Have a template for a cover letter prepared. It takes extra time to update and submit a cover letter, but the extra effort may be worth it. A cover letter is an additional opportunity for you to highlight your skills and qualifications, as well as your personality, to hiring managers.

If all of this sounds like a full-time job, that’s because it is. It takes time to network with friends/family/neighbors/recruiters, research available opportunities, apply to jobs, and write your resume and cover letter. It’s not easy, but it will be worth it if you put in the extra effort.

Let’s talk about the resume. It’s no secret that I have a lot of...experience. What past experiences should I highlight? How many pages should my resume be? Anything else I should keep in mind?

It goes without saying that your resume should be properly and consistently formatted, use the correct tense (past tense for previous opportunities), be easy to read and follow and be void of spelling and grammatical errors. That is true for any resume.

But there is no one-size-fits-all formula that I can give you as to the number of pages it should be or how to best highlight your experience. For answers to those questions, I recommend reaching out to a professional resume writer or recruiter, especially if you have more than 5 years of experience. Or in your case, Erin, 1,000 jobs you need to organize. I kid...but seriously.

The most important thing a resume is intended to do is highlight your relevant skills and experience for the job you are applying for. You want to give hiring managers a reason to contact you based on your past experience.

What about employment gaps on a resume? How do candidates overcome that?

Don’t overthink it. Employment gaps are more common than you think. Everyone has a story, so share yours, but be succinct. We’re all humans—job seekers and hiring managers—so we understand things happen that may be out of our control.

Personal recommendations and references are a great way to overcome employment gaps, which is why I recommend having these up-to-date and readily available. Additionally, a cover letter is another opportunity for you to share your story succinctly. You can start to see how all of these things work together.

We’ve talked a lot about what to do before you land an interview. Is there anything you can do during or after an interview to stand out to hiring managers?

Good question. Yes.

  1. Prepare for the interview. Then prepare some more. Understand a little bit about the company’s background and mission and vision. Read through the job description and prepare answers that speak directly to what the hiring manager is looking for. There is no such thing as being too prepared for an interview.

  2. Have copies of your resume, business cards and a notebook to take notes ready for the interview.

  3. Prepare thoughtful questions for the hiring manager. Go beyond, “What do you like most about working here?” Try to prepare questions that would give you answers to whether or not this opportunity would be a good fit for you, because you're interviewing them, too. One such example might be, “If I got the job, what would you expect me to accomplish in the first 30, 60, or 90 days?

  4. Ask for business cards from interviewers so you can send a thank-you note to everyone after you’re finished.

  5. Send handwritten thank-you notes after the interview is over. A handwritten note is a nice touch to personalize the experience. In the note, be sure to thank the interviewer for his or her time, reference an important part of the conversation and emphasize your enthusiasm for the opportunity. (Sidebar: With many interviews taking place virtually today, you might not be able to send a handwritten thank-you note. An emailed thank-you note will work, but do your best to send a handwritten note.)

Remember that finding, applying, interviewing and landing your next job is truly a process. You get out of it what you put into it. But you aren’t alone. Start networking with friends, family and neighbors. Reach out to a recruiter. You have access to all of the available resources you need, you just need to put in the extra effort to use these resources to your advantage.

Michael Jontz is a Headhunter—Accounting at Midwest Professional Staffing, located in Des Moines, IA. He has been in the business for over six years and has helped place over 700 candidates in his time as a Headhunter.

For more information or to contact him, please visit midwestprofessionalstaffing.com.

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