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Blog>Trends>The Ways Job Applicants Can Stand Out in a Crowded Market

The Ways Job Applicants Can Stand Out in a Crowded Market

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Standing out from the pack professionally has never been easy, but it’s especially difficult when the pack is so large and so motivated. With more than 30 million people now facing unemployment due to impacts from the coronavirus pandemic, there’s certainly more competition out there to find new employment. But standing out isn’t impossible.

We spoke to 700 people involved in the hiring decisions of their current employer and asked them to walk us through some of the things that would help an applicant stand out from the crowd — in addition to the ways employees should be handling more modern changes, such as digital interviews. Everything from resumes,interviews, and follow-ups were covered. If you’re looking to land a job in a post-COVID-19 world, keep reading.

Post-Pandemic Probabilities

In spite of the catastrophic impact the pandemic has had on the economy, employers shared a few reasons for optimism. We first looked at how likely employers were to start hiring again soon; how they handle the resumes they receive; and the types of applicants the pandemic may have made them more or less open to considering.


The vast majority of people involved in hiring are planning to seek out new employees before the end of 2020. A majority said they would still respond to applicants who submitted applications during a period when they’re not hiring. And if you do send in a resume before applications open, odds are the employer will hang onto it. 85.1% of hiring personnel said they keep resumes on hand even if they aren’t actively hiring.

We were also encouraged to see that employers are becoming more open to particular subsets of applicants in a post-pandemic world. 38% of employers said the virus made them more open to hiring recent college graduates, a demographic who’ve had a particularly tough time during the pandemic. Many in the class of 2020 had their job offers rescinded after having their graduation ceremonies canceled and were left with what experts refer to as “the most hostile labor market since the Great Depression.” Thankfully these candidates are receiving increased consideration among more than a third of hiring managers. That said, a lack of experience was still a detriment to a person’s application. After COVID-19, 44.1% felt less open to hiring under qualified applicants.

Stand-Out Resumes

It can be difficult to distill your unique value to employers in a traditional one-page resume. The formats become fairly standard, and again, there are an incredibly high number of applicants today to compete against. So the next part of our study focused on how those involved in hiring perceived various resume practices they’re seeing today, as well as some of their top resume deal-breakers.


As many as 85% of people are estimated to lie on their resumes today. Applicants commonly exaggerate their dates of employment or embellish their previous work experience. In this study, lies were the number one way to ruin your chances of success. Hiring personnel considered lies to be the top deal-breaker, followed by spelling and grammatical mistakes, as well as missing or incorrect contact information.

When we asked about particularly noteworthy components of a resume, many hiring managers mentioned remote work. 43% said that remote work experience was important for them to see on a resume now, especially after the COVID-19 pandemic. Now that so many people actually have this remote experience from quarantine, they may want to consider mentioning it on their resumes as well.

As far as negative perceptions went, hiring personnel were frequently averse to things like people using font colors other than black (27.3%). That said, there were ways to add color correctly. One hiring staff manager had a particular memory of someone who had surrounded their name in a blue ink, which made the applicant memorable to her. Just don’t go overboard. Other staff were bothered by adding social media to your application (20.3%) or including a quirky fact about yourself (20.1%).

The video resume was perceived as a negative idea to 26% of hirers. That said, 41% saw a video resume positively. This could indicate that it really depends on the job and company for which you’re applying, so it’s important to make a careful decision on whether to explore the video route with your own resume.

Inside the Interview

If all goes as well, your resume should land you an interview. Since COVID-19, these too have changed drastically. Our study also analyzed the top ways applicants can stand out in a modern interview setting.


It’s somewhat odd to think of an in-person interview taking place in your own home, but that has become the norm. Instead of visiting the office or a coffee shop for interviews, 52.7% said video interviews would be their norm if COVID-19 continues to be a factor. Just a small 15.6% would continue with in-person interviewing.

In a digital interview, you have a few more things to think about. 43% of interviewers said looking directly at the camera toward the person you’re speaking to (even through a screen) is especially important here. Don’t get distracted by your own image, or forget that eye contact is a key form of nonverbal communication. Another place to avoid distraction is your background. Zoom backgrounds may be a new form of self-expression, but 34.6% of hiring personnel said they would view the use of a fake background in an interview negatively. One 34-year-old hiring manager recalled someone who had chosen a beach background for an interview.

Quality audio and video are also essential to lock in before the interview begins. 27% said something as simple as having good audio quality could make an applicant stand out from the rest. Keep in mind that the interviewers are adjusting to this digital process as well, so anything that can help mitigate technical hiccups will likely be appreciated.

The Art of the Follow-Up

So you’ve applied and you’ve interviewed. Now what? Many would argue for a simple follow-up. But in a post-pandemic world, nothing is that simple. The last part of our study looked at how job candidates can stand out even after the interview has finished.


You would be well-advised to think of the post-interview follow-up as more of a requirement than a bonus. 62.9% of employers told us they expect a thank you note of some kind after an interview. Even though 60.3% said the lack of a thank you note wouldn’t directly impact their decision, 28.3% agreed that the gesture is particularly important for digital interviews. Perhaps without an in-person interview experience, the thank you note can provide the missing component of tangibility. Experts also suggest that thank you notes help to humanize your application – a notion that feels particularly crucial when following a purely digital interview experience.

Gifts, however, were not the right form of gratitude. Even though 22.1% said gifts were okay, the vast majority (54.1%) agreed that sending a hiring manager any kind of present was inappropriate. If you are going to send a gift, be aware of the odds of it backfiring.

Keep Your Chin Up and Stay Focused

If you’ve made it this far into the study, you can consider yourself better prepared than many of your contemporaries. You can now envision an appropriate background for a virtual interview and understand how appreciated sample work can be. You also now know that a thank you note is relatively more important in today’s digital landscape than it was previously. And you also know you have reason to be optimistic as many employers are still anticipating making hires this year.

Now comes the time to actually apply – or continue applying. You just need to know where to look. At Joblist, millions of jobs are listed in one place and updated every single day. Joblist also gives you access to personalized results, so you don’t have to waste time sifting through jobs that don’t interest you.


We surveyed 700 people who were currently employed and reported having influence over hiring decisions at their job.

Respondents were 63.1% men and 36.9% women. The average age of respondents was 37.1 with a standard deviation of 10.7.

Respondents were asked to rate how they would perceive different resume practices. They were given the following scale of options:

  • Extremely negative
  • Negative
  • Neutral
  • Positive
  • Extremely positive

In our final visualization of the data, we combined these into three broad groups: negative, neutral, and positive.

When asked about the top ways job candidates can stand out in different types of interviews, respondents were instructed to select up to three choices from the list of options given.

Respondents were asked to report how appropriate they feel it is to send hiring personnel gifts after a job interview. They were given the following answer options:

  • Completely inappropriate
  • Inappropriate
  • Neither inappropriate nor appropriate
  • Appropriate
  • Completely appropriate

In our final visualization of the data, we combined these options into the following groups: inappropriate, neither inappropriate nor appropriate, and appropriate.


The data we are presenting rely on self-report. There are many issues with self-reported data. These issues include, but are not limited to, the following: selective memory, telescoping, attribution, and exaggeration.

Fair Use Statement

Looking for a job can be difficult even in the best of times. If someone you know would benefit from the information in this project, please share for any noncommercial reuse. We only ask that you link back here so the full project and its methodology can be reviewed. This also gives credit to our hardworking contributors who make this work possible.

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