This Is How You Stand Out When You're Competing Against 3,000 People

You’ve probably heard that the average job posting receives 250 applications, but I’ve seen as many as 3,000 people apply for the same role.

I’m not telling you this to scare you, but rather as encouragement. Because some people do make it through to getting hired—despite that level of competition.

As the Global Head of Recruiting for Johnson & Johnson, I’ve seen what makes the difference in whether people move to the final stages of the application process—or not.

Without a doubt, from interns to C-suite level leaders, the most impressive candidates I’ve seen are the ones who’ve taken the time to define what they want to accomplish in their professional life.

They have a professional purpose.

By that I mean they know why they do what they do, what they want to ultimately achieve, and how they plan to get there. Because they’re so clear on their goals, and so open in sharing them, I can tell almost instantly when I’ve met someone who should be working at our company.

So, if you keep applying and hearing nothing back, the number one piece of advice I can give you is to find your professional purpose and then use that as a foundation point throughout any recruiting process—from your cover letter to final interview.

With that in mind, here are two steps you can take now:

Step 1: Get Clarity

It’s easy to get swept up in the day-to-day of your job. A constant flow of urgent deadlines can make time slip away and, before you know it, two or three years have flown by.

That’s why it’s important to take time out, hit the pause button, and think about what a successful career really means to you. Determine where you get the most fulfillment in your professional life and start thinking about how that could become your professional purpose. Then get something down on paper and iterate on it.

If you’re not sure where to start, Muse Career Expert Lily Zhang recommends asking yourself three questions:

1. What can I do to help other people?

2. What does my ideal day look like?

3. What do I find intolerable?

Here’s an example of how to use your answer(s):

I spoke to a candidate recently who lost one of her parents to Alzheimer’s and had decided to look for ways to contribute to curing this disease. Her plan was to become a recruiter for the next three years so she could identify and attract the best Research & Development talent for a pharmaceuticals company to help them in the search for a cure. Her ultimate goal was to save enough money to apply to medical school, so she could contribute more directly down the line. Needless to say, she really stood out against the other (equally qualified) candidates we were considering for the job.

Your professional purpose doesn’t have to be as profound as that (mine isn’t!), but it should be something bigger than the job’s duties or making money. When you tell a hiring manager something you really connect with, they’ll be more willing to put their neck out, because they know that you have the passion to stick with it.

Step 2: Share It

Which brings me to to this: Once you’ve figured out what’s driving you, don’t be shy about sharing it with others. Yes, it can be a little uncomfortable to put yourself out there, but authenticity’s an HR buzzword for a reason. When you share more of yourself, you’ll find that people gravitate toward you and are eager to help.

Next time you’re asked to introduce yourself, weave in your professional purpose. (If you’re not 100% confident in how it sounds, here are two strategies for creating a one-line elevator pitch.)

I’ll bet people will ask you more about it or offer to connect you to someone who can help you on your journey to achieve it. Sharing a genuine reason why you’re pursuing a certain avenue in your career is much more compelling than listing off your past positions’ titles.

It’s the same in interviews. There are so many boilerplate answers to the question: “Why are you interested in this company (or role)?” And, as recruiters, we’ve pretty much heard them all.

You’ll stand out more when you answer the question by explaining why the job’s values fit with your professional purpose—and why it matters so much to you. “I’d like to work here as a designer because I am passionate about more transparent package design which can help mothers choose better products for their children,” is an answer that’s true—and will get further than, “I want to work here because this company is a leader in the field.” (You don’t lose any points with the second option, but every other person may say the exact same thing.)

So long as it’s something you genuinely identify with, your focus and energy will shine through and make you memorable—and more likeable, too.

You might wonder if I have a professional purpose. I do, and I firmly believe it’s part of the reason I’m in my current job. For years, I’ve been frustrated with the bad recruiting experiences that I and several of my friends have had with many organizations. My professional purpose is all about helping to solve this issue on a large scale. And that’s the opportunity Johnson & Johnson provides me–to reimagine recruiting from the ground up for a large Fortune 100 company.

So, if you keep getting passed over on the job search, revisit that classic advice to “just be yourself.” Tune into what you really want to do and how you’d like to get there. Then, weave that into your materials, networking conversations, and interview answers. I promise it’ll help you stand out.

Did you create a professional purpose? Tell me about it on Twitter.

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About Richard Moy

Richard Moy
Richard Moy is a Content Marketing Writer at Stack Overflow. He has spent the majority of his career in talent management, including a stint as a full-cycle recruiter and hiring manager. In addition to the career advice he contributes to The Muse, he also writes test prep and higher education marketing content for The Economist. Say hi on Twitter @rich_moy.

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