How to avoid standing out for the wrong reasons

Standing out is key when you’re going for a job – you want to show the employer how your unique skills or experience set you apart.

But it’s important to make sure you don’t stand out in the wrong ways, by avoiding slip-ups that could stop you from making a great impression.

Here’s how to avoid standing out for the wrong reasons.

  1. Leave any job on the best terms you can
    If you’ve left a job on bad terms, that could be a red flag to other employers. Simon Bennet, Principal Consultant at Glide Outplacement gives the example of someone he interviewed for an accountant role. “It sounded like his relationship with his former employer ended badly, so I asked him what they would say about him. Without going into specifics, he said he’d made it clear it would be in their best interest to give him a good reference.”

    The takeout: You don’t want to stand out as someone who has a negative relationship with past employers. When you move on from a job, for whatever reason, try to leave on the best terms you can. At the least, you want to part ways with a positive reference. If that’s not possible, you may need to contact other past employers for references when you’re applying for a new role.

    If you’re worried your feelings may get the better of you when you’re asked why you left a role, practice your responses. Avoid negativity by focusing on the positives of why you left – for example that you’re seeking a new challenge or different work environment.

  2. Stick to the facts and be consistent
    Always assume facts and figures you provide when you apply will be cross-checked. Kerri O’Connor, founder of Saunders Lynn & Co, gives the example of a candidate whose profiles and resumes didn’t match up, and who quoted their current salary at $100K.

    “The role they were applying for was up to $25K less in salary,” O’Connor says. “I knew the type of role he was in doesn’t pay six figures, and never has. In addition, his online profile only mentioned a TAFE qualification, when he spoke of completing several degrees. Then I checked the resumes he had sent two years apart to our business and there were discrepancies in his work experience.”

    The takeout: Giving wrong or inconsistent information is a sure way to stand out for the wrong reason. Most employers and recruiters will know the market rates for the role you work in. What you can do is be prepared and informed so you’re ready to discuss money– this salary guide can help. Also, it’s okay to say you got halfway through a qualification, things changed, and you didn’t complete it.

    Likewise, don’t feel you have to hide gaps in your resume or if you’ve taken a career break. Focus on what skills and experience you do have, and your ability to adapt and take on new challenges. Finally, inconsistencies could be alarm bells for employers, even if you’re not aware of them. Make sure your resume, SEEK Profile, and any other accounts or application documents all match up and tell the same story.

  3. Make sure your referee is ready to back you up
    If your referee doesn’t know you’ve put their name forward, they probably won’t be ready to vouch for you – and worse, they could hinder your chances. Eva Grabner, Managing Director at Elite Executive said she’d narrowed down a role to two great candidates who both seemed a great fit.

    “It came down to their referees. One candidate had excellent references, however, the other had not advised an ex-employer that they were on their resume as a referee, despite us checking they had done so and letting them know we would be calling them,” Grabner says.

    “I called a very disgruntled ex-employer and was nearly hung up on! This particular candidate missed out on the opportunity to join a great organisation because they didn’t take the time to speak with their referees and ask them if they were happy to speak with future employers.”

    The takeout: Standing out as someone whose referee isn’t ready to vouch for them will only hold you back. Always ensure you have at least two professional referees. It’s best to include people you’ve reported to – not just a colleague. Speak with them before you start applying, even if they agreed to be your referee years before, to make sure they’re happy to do so. Then consider getting in touch again once you’re in the running for a particular role.

How to stand out for the right reasons

By avoiding these pitfalls, you can focus on standing out in the right way. Start with getting the basics just right: a clear, well-structured resume, a great cover letter, and an up-to-date SEEK Profile. And especially when you need to stand out in a crowded job market, it can help to find a unique selling point that sums up why you’re the best person for the job, plus examples of how you’ve used your skills in previous jobs.

That way, you’ll be ready to make a great impression to a potential employer, and one step closer to landing the job.

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