Unique Ways to Stand Out When Applying to Startups

As a founder of five startups, I’ve seen thousands of resumes and interviewed hundreds of applicants in search of talented employees. It’s caused me to realize that it’s not always easy for businesses to find the employees they’re looking to hire or for job seekers to stand out in the application process.

Some jobs receive thousands of applications, especially with the economy the way it is. How are job seekers supposed to stand out in a crowded field like that? It’s hard, but it can be done.

And that’s what interests me about unique job applications and resumes. Below is a list of unique ways applicants have used more than a standard resume to stand out and get hired, including some for companies I’ve founded. An important point to keep in mind is that the best creative applications are ones that demonstrate useful skills for the job being advertised. You also don’t want to go overboard and end up looking silly. Keep reading and I think you’ll understand.

#1: Create a Video Resume
At Grasshopper, we’ve had applicants submit video cover letters when everyone else submitted print versions. These videos didn’t guarantee the applicant would get hired, but they did guarantee they stood out.

Even if you don’t go crazy creative with the video, your cover letter will be more memorable than a standard print version. Just make sure you don’t go overboard with creativity (or a lack of good judgement) and stand out for the wrong reasons.

Here’s an example of an excellent digital resume where the applicant demonstrates his qualifications for a PR position through a catchy but professional video resume:

Just remember to make sure your video doesn’t end up coming off like this:

#2: Do Something Unique with the Company’s Product or Service
One way to stand out is to do something unique that integrates with the hiring company’s product or service.

When applying to Shopify, a guy named Mike Freeman decided to open up a Shopify store about himself to demonstrate his skills and experience. The hiring managers liked it so much that he ended up getting the job. Here’s what the marketing manager had to say about the application:

“He built an online store using Shopify where you can read about his background, experience, etc. and the ecommerce part is you can ‘buy’ an interview with him for ‘$0.00,’ ” said Mark Hayes, Shopify’s manager of marketing and media. “We get an infinite amount of resumes here. Yes, he got the job.”

#3: Demonstrate Your Skills
Another way to stand out is to demonstrate skills for the job being applied for.

At Grasshopper, we’ve had a developer who created a website with the company name and why he was perfect for our company. He made the site dynamic to show off his coding skills. The site also demonstrated how interested he was in the position which is always important to us and other hiring managers.

Another way is to create a plugin or integration with a product from the company or contribute to an open source project. Both of these demonstrate skills and get your name in front of the company’s managers.

#4: Suggest an Improvement
Another way is to suggest an improvement for a product or service.

Instead of just showing up for an interview with the same information everyone else has, you could come armed with a suggestion about how you would improve something the company is currently doing. For a marketing position, this could be an SEO tweak to increase search engine traffic. An applicant could also write a blog post that would demonstrate writing skills that will generate traffic and social sharing.

Providing a suggestion shows you’re ready to contribute to the company from day one and not an inexperienced candidate that will need a lot of training.

#5: Conduct a Reverse Job Application
This may sound crazy, but it’s something that worked for a guy named Andrew Horner.

Two years after being out of college, he was still jobless and searching for employment. Frustrated with his lack of success even though he sent out hundreds of resumes and personalized cover letters, he decided to turn the tables. Instead of applying for jobs, he would have companies apply for his skills, and he set up this site: www.reversejobapplication.com.

Some people thought he was crazy, others thought he was arrogant, but in the end, he received and accepted a job offer from a startup after two weeks of interviews. That’s two years compared to two weeks. It’s bold, but it worked.

Not that this would work for everyone, but the site demonstrated Andrew’s creativity and also encouraged companies to reach out to him. In addition, it showed his personality, his writing skills, and his resourcefulness which ultimately led to a company that thought he was a good fit for their organization.

Here’s a snapshot of his site:

#6: Design an Infographic Resume
Last but not least, you can design a personal infographic resume that shows off your qualifications and stands out more than a common bullet-pointed resume.

A designer named Hagan Blount has generated publicity for her infographic-style resume as well as the ones she’s designed for other people. They’re bold, attention-grabbing, and eye-pleasing. One thing’s for sure: it’s guaranteed that resumes like this won’t be lost in the shuffle of homogeneous black and white resumes that look exactly the same.

As you can see, a little creativity and ingenuity can go a long way in standing out in the job market and landing a position at the startup of your dreams.


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