This post originally appeared on Levo League.
“It’s all about who you know.”
If you’re looking for a job, you’ve probably heard that phrase a thousand times. You’ve also probably spent countless hours networking to no avail, but what other option do you have? Conventional wisdom tells us applying to a job online without having a connection is equivalent to dropping your resume down a black hole.
Does your network help? Sure. I even landed my first internship through a friend of my parents. Does it mean you’ll never get a job if you don’t have a personal connection with the company? No. Since that high school summer, all of my internship and full-time job offers have stemmed from applying online with no connections. So I know it’s possible!
Follow these four steps to stand out to employers for something other than who you know:
1. Cover All Your Bases
First you need to find the right job openings. General job sites like Craigslist and Monster.com can be helpful, but also look for more specialized sites tailored to your industry. For example, Idealist is one of the best sites for non-profit jobs; they even offer saved searches and email alerts so you won’t miss new postings. Other useful resources include JournalismJobs for, you guessed it, jobs in journalism, and Mashable’s job board for digital and tech jobs. And don’t forget about Levo League’s job listings! If you are dying to work for specific companies, bookmark the “Careers” section of their websites and check back weekly for new openings. Jobs are often posted on company websites before they are posted around the web.
2. Customize Each Application
Your goal in applying for jobs should be quality not quantity. Applying to 50 jobs in one day may make you feel accomplished, but continually submitting the same cookie-cutter resume and cover letter won’t yield results. Personalize cover letters by including a couple sentences about what drew you to the company. As someone who has spent time on both sides of the hiring process, I can tell you it means a lot to the employer when an applicant shows a genuine interest in and knowledge of the company. Modify your resume for each job, as well. Replace general headers like “Experience” with more specific language that mirrors the job title, like “Digital Marketing Experience” or “Financial Analysis Experience.” Also make sure the bullet points under each position on your resume highlight responsibilities and accomplishments associated with the job to which you are applying. Move the most relevant points to the top, and edit the wording if necessary.
3. Troubleshoot Early
If you are applying to jobs you really want and not hearing back, then your resume is not doing its job. Instead of waiting for more rejections, rethink how you are positioning yourself. That may entail a resume overhaul, taking classes to increase technical skills, or doing freelance consulting or volunteer work in an area where you lack experience. Show your resume to friends, family or colleagues to determine which areas need improvement. You know your own experience so well that you may not realize you’re not conveying your full “awesomeness” in this one-page document.
4. Go the Extra Mile
The benefit of having a connection is the edge it gives you against other applicants. When you don’t have a connection, you can create your own edge by going above and beyond in every step of the process, especially in interviews. Always arrive 10 minutes early, take notes, and ask thoughtful questions that you can’t find the answers to on the company website. Send a thank-you email within a few hours, and mail a handwritten card within a day.
Write separate notes to each person you interview with, and tailor your message to each individual by referencing something you discussed during the interview. These simple gestures will set you apart from most candidates.