Not another brick in the wall: how to stand out as a job seeker

One of many

Jan 2015

Over the last year our small remote studio became a little less small by bringing on our first full-time employee. The hiring process was new to us and we stumbled plenty along the way, but one thing that sticks with me—and does to this day as we look to bring on the next fit for the team—is that it’s incredibly easy to appear as just another face in the crowd.

Let me be clear that the wording of interested candidates feels like a luxurious stretch of language. If you’ve ever reviewed introductory emails from potential hires, you probably know what I mean. We’re often saying “Wow…” in amazement, shaking our heads at the applicants that knock on our digital door.

So, why don’t you stand out?

As a quick aside, there’s undoubtedly a risk with online job boards. Anyone has access to them, and therefore the ratio of garbage to gold can and will likely be skewed quite tremendously. There is a very valid argument that the best talent and fit for a company come from personal referrals and I don’t disagree. But I also believe better talent can be found outside of a single metro area. My point in this review is to note what can be adjusted rather simply for logical minds to have more success when job seeking. Everyone needs a little helpful advice along the way, true?


I have a hunch that most successful business owners in the creative and digital spaces have somewhat of a similar backstory. For me, I started a single person freelance shop 8 years ago, solidifying the fight or flight mentality right away.

Where will our next client come from? How can we secure an ongoing partnership with that group? What is our next meaningful strategic move?

Then (and now) all of those things take time, and effort, and research. There isn’t an easy button for the things that just require diligence. And it means going above and beyond the status quo in order to succeed. This is the language of business and we’ve been trained (through our own mishaps and by others) to analyze and dissect what’s next on a daily basis.

The problem is, as a job seeker you might not think about it that way. You may be under the impression that being hired at a small creative shop is much like getting hired at the grocery store: submit your application online, meet the minimum requirements, get a call from the store manager, and hopefully become another happy tater tossing talent. So you do what a typical candidate does in that instance:

To whom it may concern. Attached you will find my resume and work history. I believe after reviewing this information you will see I am a great fit for this job and I am very excited for this opportunity and to hear from you. Signed, candidate.

Essentially this person has said, “I don’t know who you are, and I’m providing the most minimally thought out submission possible. Probably sent to 10-20 companies today. Also, I am a great fit. Trust me, and read my PDF resume, too.”

I’d say in the ballpark of 50% of applicants submit in this manner, give or take a couple forgettable paragraphs.

Why are you a great fit? Why are you excited? Who should we want to talk with you further? We don’t know any of that, and you’ve made your first impression.

A funny thing happens when you review multiple applicants at once. Trends appear and assumptions are quickly made, for better or worse.

These two people are basically like that person, and so on. Maybe three applicants sound the same, each in that typical underachieving every-company-gets-this-same-submission tone, and they all go to the garbage can. A quick once over and the ship has sailed.


There’s another trend I’ve noticed, too: the overachieving tone. Incredibly, this candidate uses words like a fine cheese and wine pairing to entice and entrance his or her readers, ultimately hoping the 10 course meal will call for a five-star Michelin rating! But they don’t. And to place an emphasis on tone, here’s why:

Hello to the brightest star in the galaxy! That being you and your incredible team of course! I am dutifully and cordially submitting my application for your position to be the next co-captain of the best star ship around. My stellar toolkit uses HTML, CSS, HTML5, CSS3, SASS, LESS, Java, Javascript, Node.js, Ruby, Rails, PHP, Vanilla PHP, … so as you can see I know many things. I would love love nothing more than to set foot on your vessel, if even for a few moments, to share in my story, hear yours, and get to the getting of our future partnership. Signing off, odd tone person.

With this approach, we’ll typically see 5-10 paragraphs using various analogies, metaphors, and extreme lists of specialities and/or frameworks. As you might imagine, it’s too much to digest when we’re reviewing multiple applications every few days. We can’t and won’t set aside 10 minutes to take in that kind of content. It’s simply not possible.

To a business owner, a novella comes across desperate and overwhelming, like that certain someone in grade school who has a crush and makes things weird by doing too much too soon. Why not pull back a little here, save some of those zingers for another time, and establish yourself as confident without being overbearing?


In addition to those that submit virtually nothing, and those that submit too much content, we also often see a variety of candidates that simply ignore what is said in the job listing. These submissions will feature off base responses and holes in what we’re looking for, immediately relegating them to the “no thanks” pile.

Authentic Form & Function is a tight knit crew. Not just anyone can join the team, especially those that don’t know what they want and can’t be bothered to read a job posting thoroughly enough to answer completely.

We’ll often explain our ethos and the caliber of person we’re looking for on the team, noting that we want to hear about X, Y, and Z: something about their lives, where they live, and what excites them. We want to know more about you.

Wouldn’t you want to know more about someone you’re hiring? And conversely, wouldn’t you want a better connection to your future team right off the bat?

Surprisingly, few candidates submit a first impression that includes any of those answers, let alone very complete thoughts on the topics we ask about. Is it required that you supply us with a shipment of personal information? Absolutely not. But we want to know something about you, and namely that you don’t choose to ignore legitimate content in a job description for a position that you supposedly greatly desire.


I think it’s most beneficial to first point out what doesn’t work very well in order to set the stage for what does work. We don’t ask a whole lot when setting expectations for applicants, but we certainly do expect a candidate to succinctly and completely articulate why he or she is a qualified, well-rounded, communication-seeking job explorer.

We believe in creating the best team possible, therefore we’re devoid of the mindset that if a candidate has qualifications and can pump out work from 9-5 each day that it’s a lock. No—we want to chat about what’s happening in your neck of the woods. What you’re getting into this weekend. How you choose to move through each day. Team cohesiveness is not only extremely important to us, but it’s also the same special sauce that oozes over into how we interact with our important client relationships.

It’s the candidates that have taken the time to fully understand the job they’re applying for that get second and third looks. Those that choose to take more than a moment to connect; those that decide it’s worth more than a boilerplate introduction:

Hey Authentic! I was really excited to come across the job posting for your team last week. I’m currently situated on the east coast with my wife and young daughter but have been itching for an environment change for the past 6 months; something that challenges and inspires a bit more than my current office gig.

Standouts will continue with a few lines about their experience that relates to their daily tasks more so than an academic roster.

I’ve had the opportunity to transition from UI design and frontend work into frameworks like Laravel and Node at my current position, really opening my eyes to the power of customization that I’d love to explore on a variety of projects, and not just one in-house product. It looks like that’s an opportunity I could see myself seizing with your team and I can’t wait to talk about my ideas.

Finally, a standout doesn’t ramble on for days. He or she makes a point, gets out, and waits patiently for a response with the assurance that an appropriate connection was made.

I’ve attached my resume and a few links for you to review, but I’d much prefer taking the next step with your team to better articulate why I’m so energized to jump on board. Perhaps we could schedule a call in the next week or two? I’m flexible. Thank you for your time and I hope to speak with you soon!

If you caught what happened there, the standout candidate not only described worth and excitement, but also alluded to a strong future without taking up a lot of space or expecting us to start a research project on who they are. It was nimble and perfectly competent.

More often than not, being yourself versus being what you think you need to be (perhaps after reading blogs or talking to the wrong recruitment agencies) works wonders when we compare the alternative approaches.

The next time you look to come on board at a new company, consider the paced and personal approach rather than a stagnant or overwhelming aim. Small businesses want to hear about the past work you’ve done, the work you’re excited about in the future, and how you can align your passion with the company’s.

At the end of the day business owners cannot make these decisions for you. These are the choices you will make, so head our suggestions wisely. And best of luck to you the next time you embark on a career shift!

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