Job Recruiters Reveal The Things That Make An Applicant Stand Out
Tim Gouw / Pexels

The job market can be a total minefield - but don't worry. We're about to give you some tips on navigation that might just help you land your dream job.

Reddit user JakeBroughton asked:

Job recruiters of reddit, what makes applicants stand out to you?

Does a cover letter really matter? Are jokes okay? Is anyone really reading the resume you spent 3 hours working on? How do you make a good impression when you finally land an interview?

We know you've got questions. So we've got (sometimes conflicting) answers. Grab your notebooks, folks. We're about to give you some really useful tips.

Actual Interest

  1. The person knows about our company or has taken the time to look us up online.
  2. The person has questions at the end of the interview. I had a candidate a few months ago pull out a notebook with his questions and take notes as I answered them. He got the job.

Ask The Right Question

The professor I worked for in a lab was on a hiring committee for another company and always ended the interviews with, "What questions do you have for us?" Most candidates would awkwardly say something along the lines of "I don't have any right now," some would ask a stupid question for the sake of it, and very few would ask an actual thoughtful question about the position or about the company itself.

Stupid questions include:

  • Anything that could be found on the website of the company
  • Anything that is listed in the job description or the position listing
  • Anything that was already answered in the interview

The questions she taught me when I was applying for a job last summer were:

  • (if you're talking to someone already in that position) What were you most proud of that you accomplished in this role? OR What is something you wish you could have addressed in your time here, or something you've always wanted to implement?
  • (workplace) How would you describe your office's culture? How connected is the team?
  • How you measure success for this position? If selected for this job/internship/space-mission, who would be my best supervisor that I can expect feedback and seek advice from?

Clean It Up

Resume layout. Messy resumes are a huge pet peeve of mine. Please have a neat resume. Don't just type up something in word that has uneven spacing that's hard to read and an unprofessional font. Word has a ton of resume templates you can use. I just feel like, you are trying to make a good impression on me, take the time. And please send me a PDF so the layout comes over.

I say this makes people stand out because you wouldn't believe the ratio of neat/messy resumes I get. It's at least 1/3.

- SrslyYouToo

Just Show Up

Showing up on time for an interview, showing up for their first day on assignment...really just showing up.

I do mostly what I would call mass recruiting. Client asks for 30 people, I recruit 45 because I know a good chunk won't show up. As long as they show up, are decently nice and can pass a drug screen and background check I'm pretty happy.

- HarryBrotter

Cover It

The ones that stood out to me were people who attempted to tailor their resume and cover letter to the application posting. I would get a lot of people just dumping their pre written stuff on me and it is pretty obvious. A cover letter that says why they'd fit the job posting that shows they read it is something I'd pay more attention to.

Also, bothering with a cover letter at all. Our online apps had them as optional and as most applicants were 18-25, many people just ignored that field. I understand they are a pain (I hate writing them myself), but they are literally there to explain why I should care about you.

- sexrockandroll

Be Qualified And Willing To Learn

A well written resume free of errors. Being able to say "I don't know" (huge). But more than anything, being qualified. It's really hard to find people who know what they are doing AND are willing to learn new things.

- ioclaudio

Tailor It

Easy: a tailored resume.

  • Use bullet points to bring up past experiences that highlight why you would be a good fit for the particular job.
  • I work in tech recruitment so a lot of it will be dependent upon what technologies you have. Presume that the first person reading your resume is an HR person with no technical understanding. Don't presume they'll understand that you obviously have a specific skill, spell it out and use the keywords mentioned in the advertisement. The first thing most recruiters will do is a keyword search.
  • Basically just don't use a generic resume. Use a template and then modify it for every job you apply for. It works. Trust me.

Humor - A Risky Move With Mixed Results

When I was job searching I had found that if I could make an employer laugh through a joke 9/10 I would get the job. The set up and joke.

Employer: What is your worst quality?

Me: Well in all honesty I can't reach the top self without some short person parkour and very seldom the back of the second self. ( with a straight face)

- lilmrynn

In 2018 I had an applicant accidentally send me his 2017 NCAA bracket instead of his resume'.

I told him his mistake and asked him to resend his resume. He did, along with his 2018 NCAA bracket.

I never even bothered to call him back. Don't have time for bullsh*t. He made a mistake yes, but his mistake showed a lack of attention to detail. He was given a chance to correct it but he also showed himself to be slightly unprofessional in this regard. No, we're not hiring NASA engineers, but we also have many other applicants who were able to figure sh*t out correctly the first time.

When you are a hiring manager long enough you notice patterns/traits and other indicators that can foreshadow what it would be like to work with one person vs. another. Bullsh*t on day one can pretty much guarantee that there will be bullsh*t all the time.

- shavemejesus

If you wanted to deselect him for the original mistake I totally understand, but in giving him another chance to send the correct CV you were implicitly stating the mistake wasn't a deal breaker. He fixed his mistake the second time, and he made a personable joke by including an acknowledgement of the goof. That isn't bullsh*t, that's an apology with a self deprecating joke. Bullsh*t was on the first mistake, which you forgave. This one is entirely on you, muchacho.

- Southernmayd

Show And Tell

Show, don't tell. I understand it's a resume so that may seem confusing but the idea is to support that you are a team player by mentioning projects or initiatives you've worked on. If you have a soft skill the difficulty is that anyone can claim to have it so show how you have it through previous experience on education.

- Medianmodeactivate

Comic Sans

When me and my friend finished school 15 years ago and were looking for jobs we both made CV's (resume). Mine was just a generic standard one but he wrote his in comic sans and put clip art pictures all over it. I tried telling him it's a bad idea. He was convinced that it would make his CV stand out from the rest and guarantee him a job. Spoiler......he didn't get any job.

- TheKungFuPanda

A Few Things

A few things stand out. There are some glaring red flags in personality. Sometimes you can't explain but something just doesn't sit well.

Sometimes it's obvious that the resume is horsesh*t.

The good thing that stands out always and is very humbling is when the candidate can admit to not knowing and is willing to learn.

A nice friendly personality will always win. It isn't just about your qualification. It's also about how well you'll get along with others and your supervisors. Do you belong?

My personal pet peeve, admittedly unfair perhaps, is filler words. Too many of them really irk me. I know interviews are nerve racking at times so I try and set it aside.

Well dressed people always stand out. You don't necessarily have to wear a suit but clean and ironed clothes are important. People wear anything they want when they're hired. But on the interview day I like to see some level of class.

- Barrbill


I've been on a couple interview panels at my engineering job. One question I always ask is "Do you have any hobbies?" If they answered something related to the job, for instance one said he loved playing with circuit boards, I would always count that against them. My opinion was they're either lying to look good, or aren't well-rounded if their only hobby is also their job. A candidate being well-rounded was a must for me to give a recommendation.

- FallenAngel113