How Candidates Stand Out

Yesterday I interviewed a candidate who blew me away. On paper, he wasn’t the ideal candidate as he didn’t have the specific experience we were looking for. In fact, on many occasions his application would have been cast to one side, lost amongst the pile of candidates who met the selection criteria more closely. But this application stood out. His clear, concise CV was accompanied by a really interesting cover letter. Together, these two well-written documents encouraged me to give him a call to find out more. And the informal discussion didn’t disappoint. Here was a very talented individual who could easily adapt to a different environment and learn new skills. I had no hesitation putting him through to the next round of the selection process.

As a candidate you may be confused as to why sometimes your application, even though well suited to the position, does not get past the first round. I know of people who fulfill the search criteria but don’t get a chance to convince the hiring manager of their ability. Maybe their CV doesn’t highlight the skills as well as they think. Perhaps they are considered too experienced or too junior.  Or is it just down to the number of equally qualified candidates who have applied? It does seem that getting your application noticed is sometimes down to pure luck. So, what did my candidate do to stand out?

Cover letter

The candidate sent a succinct cover letter explaining what he could offer and why he was interested in the position. Four short paragraphs, highlighting his skills and how these would transfer to the new environment. Easy to read, convincing and to the point. Furthermore, it was addressed personally to me.

With LinkedIn’s quick apply option, the number of cover letters has decreased significantly. For every 100 applicants I receive, I probably only receive five letters. Some of these are so long and so unclear that it is tough to take it all in, especially when the text goes onto a second page. Others are just generic texts sent out with each application. Sending a well-written cover letter, in one PDF document with your CV, will make you stand out.


CV formats vary per country, with many Swiss employers even expecting a photo and date of birth on applications. Modern CVs seem to have become more colourful, more focused on design with icons, arrows and, on one CV I recently received, a candidate holding a duck.

Research shows that a recruiter’s eyes are drawn to the upper part of the first page and the left-hand side of the paper. Therefore, a short text indicating your skill set at the top, and your accomplishments listed by bullet point under each work experience, are advisable. And don’t expect the recruiter to understand your company jargon. You may be underselling yourself if it isn’t clear at first sight what you mean.

This candidate’s CV was two pages long, with his work history, skills and achievements clearly explained. No colours, no icons and no ducks! His experience spoke for itself.

Be informed

Although the discussion was an informal chat to gain a better understanding of his expectations, the candidate had clearly done his research on my client’s company and was well-informed on the product. In the course of a very short discussion, he demonstrated enthusiasm, flexibility and willingness to learn: qualities that matched my client’s values. Contrast this with some interviews I have conducted in the past where candidates have clearly not taken the time to acquaint themselves with the company or products, with the exception of a cursory look at the company website.

In today’s challenging times the job market is becoming more competitive and candidates need to do everything to maximize their chance of success. As for yesterday’s candidate, I can’t yet say whether he will get the job. But, as a candidate who didn’t match the brief completely, he has done everything he can to ensure that he progresses to the next round. I wish him luck!

This article first appeared on LinkedIn Pulse.


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