Tips for Standing Out in a Crowded Field of Candidates, with Jackie Dunckley

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Hiring managers are sorting through hundreds of applications for each job opening they post. What can you do to stand out enough to gain an interview or get hired? Find Your Dream Job guest Jackie Dunckley says to begin with purpose. Know what you want and have a plan for how to make it happen. Jackie also stresses the necessity of using your network. One way to do this is by building a robust LinkedIn account. Finally, don’t be afraid to tell the hiring manager how you see your future with the company and what you have to offer long-term.

About Our Guest:

Jackie Dunckley is an HR leader with almost 20 years of experience. 

Resources in This Episode:


Find Your Dream Job, Episode 355:

Tips for Standing Out in a Crowded Field of Candidates, with Jackie Dunckley

Airdate: July 6, 2022

Mac Prichard:

This is Find Your Dream Job, the podcast that helps you get hired, have the career you want, and make a difference in life. 

I’m your host, Mac Prichard. I’m also the founder of Mac’s List. It’s a job board in the Pacific Northwest that helps you find a fulfilling career.

Every Wednesday, I talk to a different expert about the tools you need to get the work you want.

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Unemployment is at a record low. But the best jobs can still attract dozens or even hundreds of applicants. 

How can you get an employer’s attention when this happens? 

Jackie Dunckley joins us to share her tips for standing out in a crowded field of candidates.

Jackie is an HR leader with almost 20 years of experience. She’s also the chief talent officer at OnPoint, Oregon’s largest credit union. 

Jackie joins us from Portland, Oregon. 

Well, here’s where I want to start, Jackie. Why don’t many job applicants stand out? 

Jackie Dunckley:

One of the main reasons that job applicants oftentimes get lost in the fray is that they’re not purposeful in how they go about looking for a job. When you’re looking for a job, whether you are in a job and looking for your next one or you’ve experienced some unemployment, you have to know what you want and what you don’t want, and that’s very important. 

Plus, some job seekers will say, I’ll do anything. That’s actually not true. There are industries that you want to work for, or you don’t want to work for, there’s locations that you want to work at or don’t want to work at, and there are types of roles, you know, say you want to manage people, or maybe you like being an individual contributor. All of those things are important for you to know before you start your job search so that as you look at jobs, you’re very clear with both the recruiter and yourself about what types of roles are going to match what you need. 

Mac Prichard:

Why does being clear about what you want make a difference and help you stand out in a field of applicants? 

Jackie Dunckley:

Great question. It helps you make a plan. So the way that I tell candidates to think about your job search- it’s important for you to think about planning your strategy. I liken it to if you were planning a vacation, whether to go to Disneyland or to Europe. You would map out where you want to go, how long you want to be there, what you want to see. You wouldn’t just suddenly show up in Europe and say, “Gosh, what is there to see?” It’s the same thing in doing a job search. 

You have to make a plan. You have to know what you want and be able to articulate that. If you are specific, then people that you talk to are able to better help you. If you say, “I’m merely looking for a job, I’ll take anything,” they don’t know where to go, and they feel uncomfortable if they can’t offer you a job. But if you tell somebody in your network, “I’m looking for this type of a job, in this type of an industry, with this type of location,” they can then access their own mental database and help you find a connection or that type of job. So it’s important for you to know and make a plan, and that all connects back to being purposeful in your job search. 

Mac Prichard:

Jackie, you’ve worked in HR for a long time, and you’ve seen thousands, maybe even tens of thousands of resumes and applications. When you get an application from someone who hasn’t been purposeful, who’s unclear about what they want, can you tell? 

Jackie Dunckley:

You can. You see a resume that is very bland. You don’t see on a LinkedIn profile; oftentimes, I look at people’s LinkedIn profiles. You’ll see a very bland statement. You know when you’ve got somebody who’s very intentional when you see a very precise, crisp, defined set of words and explanation about what type of role they’re looking for and the skills that they bring to those roles. 

So creating a bland resume allows you to apply to a lot of jobs, but it doesn’t oftentimes get you into the job that you want, and oftentimes, it’s important to have more than one resume. If you’re applying to a large organization, you might use different words than if you’re applying to a nonprofit or a small start-up, and so it’s oftentimes based on what your plan is. You have to customize your resume to the job and to the company that you’re applying to. 

Mac Prichard:

When you see a bland resume, what happens to that? Do you actually consider those people for interviews and invite them in to talk to you, or does the application end up in the circular file? 

Jackie Dunckley:

Great question. You know, with the ease of applicant tracking systems, we get so many applications for roles that if the resume isn’t very purposeful and targeted, oftentimes, they get skipped over. So it’s important for you to have a very crisp, intentional, direct, on-point resume. Oftentimes, it’s important for you to almost customize each resume that you send out, which means that you can’t send out a lot. You have to pick the ones that you want, customize your resume, and intentionally apply, and those are the types of resumes that tend to stand out to recruiters. 

Mac Prichard:

You’ve talked to so many candidates over the years, Jackie. What do you think stops job seekers from being purposeful? 

Jackie Dunckley:

For job seekers, it’s important to take time to develop that plan, and oftentimes, we want to jump in and apply to fifteen jobs because we’re so ready to get out of the job that we’re in or we’re anxious to start our career field. But it’s important for you to stop and take the time and plan, and when you take that time, your job search is gonna be a lot more pointed, and recognize that it’s gonna take time because you’re gonna get opportunities or you’re gonna see jobs that you just want out. But it’s important for you to get the next great career rather than just into another job. So taking that time, being intentional, customizing that resume will help you land the job that is right for you and not just any job. 

Mac Prichard:

Okay, so number one tip, be purposeful. Alright, number two on your list of how to stand out in a crowd of candidates is to use your connections. Why is it important to use your connections, Jackie? 

Jackie Dunckley:

Connections are vital to job search, especially as you’re getting higher in your career. So mid-level, you’re shooting for the next level up in your career, you absolutely want to activate your network, and what that means is that people who you know will know of positions. There’s statistics out in the internet that will say that as much as eighty percent or more of roles go to people who know people who have referred them, and so if you are not activating and using your network to access those jobs and those connections, you’re missing out on as much as eighty percent of the open job market. So it’s important for you to know and network through your connections. 

It’s almost like you’d think about a pebble in a lake. If you drop a pebble, you might not hit the first ring, but that pebble has outer rings, and it’s outside, in the second and third rings, that you’re gonna find your job. So if you’re purposeful, I go back to my first tip, if you’re purposeful in talking about what you’re looking for with your connections, they may not have the job that you want, but they know people because they have connections, and it’s that magic that is important in order to access those jobs and get your name at the top of the pile because any recruiter will tell you, if you get somebody who walks into your office who says, “This person applied, here’s their resume. I worked with them, here’s what I know about them,” you’ve moved from a sea of hundreds to the top of the pile, and that is vital. So those connections are important.

Mac Prichard:

What’s the best way to use your connections? 

Jackie Dunckley:

Again, the best way to use your connections is to be intentional about what you tell your connections. Here’s where I’m going after. Here’s what I want to be. Who do you know who might work in said company or industry? And it’s about networking. It’s not asking for a job; nobody wants to tell you no and put you in an awkward position when they can’t give you something or you’re not interested in what they have. 

But asking the person, do you know somebody who works at X? Do you know somebody who works in this industry? Do you know somebody who has this type of a job? Would you be willing to introduce me to that person just so I can make a connection and learn more about this company, this industry, or this job? 

People love to help you and help you make connections, and it’s using those connections to access those eighty percent of jobs that go. There’s even a statistic that suggests that as the higher you go in your career, upwards of seventy percent of positions aren’t even posted. So you have to access your connections in order to get access to all of those jobs that are getting filled before they’re even posted, or, you know, somebody suddenly needs somebody, and they don’t have time to post that job. So using those connections to get into those networks and industries, so when something pops up, your name comes to mind. That’s invaluable. 

Mac Prichard:

Well, this is terrific, Jackie. We’re gonna take a break, and when we come back, we’ll continue our conversation with Jackie Dunckley about her tips for how you can stand out in a crowded field of candidates. 

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Now, let’s get back to the show.

We’re back in the Mac’s List studio. I’m talking with Jackie Dunckley.

She’s an HR leader with almost 20 years of experience. Jackie is also the chief talent officer at OnPoint, Oregon’s largest credit union. 

Now, Jackie, before the break, we were talking about your tips for standing out in a crowded field of candidates. 

One more question about networking; what would you say to a listener who says, “Well, I’m doomed, Jackie. I don’t have a network, or I don’t know anyone”? 

Jackie Dunckley:

Everyone has a network. I think one of the tools that is underutilized, especially by job seekers, is LinkedIn. LinkedIn is a network. It’s a professional network. It’s not like Facebook or Twitter or any of those things where you would share family stuff. LinkedIn is the professional network that you need to be connected into. 

You need to connect to your current colleagues. You need to connect to your customers. You need to connect to teachers. You need to connect to high school friends. You need to connect to all those people in your social as well as your professional spheres. LinkedIn does magic, and we don’t know exactly how or why, but if you can get to five hundred connections on LinkedIn, that’s really where you see LinkedIn’s power start to take off. 

What happens on LinkedIn is, once you get to the hundreds, when you type in the name of a company that you’re looking for, you’ll find out that people that you know, know people at that company, and that is how you make that connection to get into those eighty percent of jobs that go to people who you know. It’s those second and third rings of the pebble drop, and LinkedIn is the best way from a professional business perspective in order to access those rings on that pebble. 

So getting your LinkedIn profile, just like your resume. Getting it very crisp and sharp, get some recommendations, follow the tutorials on LinkedIn, and then start building your connections. And I used to tell people when I would help them with job search to target ten people a week. Build ten people and do the introductions, customize your introduction to LinkedIn as you send out a connection, and target ten per week. It’s pretty easy, and before you know it, you’ve got a hundred, a hundred and fifty, and then you can really start to activate the beauty that is LinkedIn. 

Mac Prichard:

And in the end, it’s not about who has the largest number of connections. It’s about how the connections support the purpose that you were talking about in the first segment and your goal of getting a certain job at a certain company. Isn’t that right, Jackie? 

Jackie Dunckley:

It is, and how you run your LinkedIn is important. So, for example, you could connect to everybody that ever reaches out to you on LinkedIn. That’s one way of connecting to a lot of people. The way that I run my LinkedIn is that I only connect to people who I would be willing to provide an introduction for. So somebody reaches out; if I know them and I’m comfortable giving them a recommendation or connecting them, they’re invited in, and I would recommend doing the same thing, and that turns on the power of LinkedIn. 

So manage your LinkedIn, grow your LinkedIn. You have to nurture it and then utilize it both for yourself as you’re in job search or as other people are in job search, you can help them, and it’s all about those relationships and connections as you’re looking for your next great career. 

Mac Prichard:

Another tip on your list for standing out in a crowded field of applicants is to pay attention to social media, and you’ve touched on this with your tips about LinkedIn, but tell us more here about what you have in mind and what you recommend, Jackie. 

Jackie Dunckley:

Yeah, we’ve covered quite a bit of it. In summary, you have to be aware of how you show up on social media. Google yourself; see how you show up. Hiring managers will Google you. You need to know what’s out there in social media. 

On your LinkedIn, again, we’ve talked about being very crisp. Your summary at the top of your LinkedIn profile should talk about who you are, where your energy lies, where you’re passionate, and what type of roles are of interest to you. You do not want to just summarize your current role as your summary underneath your name. 

And finally, make connections. Did I mention that? 

Mac Prichard:

When a hiring manager Googles someone, when does that happen, Jackie? And what is the hiring manager looking for? What’s gonna please them? And what’s gonna turn them off about a candidate? 

Jackie Dunckley:

Typically, when a hiring manager Googles you, you’re usually further down in the process. So they’re vetting their final list of three or four people, and they go out to social media to find out if there’s controversial, if there’s harassment, if there is something that would be adverse to the employer’s brand. That’s typically when they’re going out. 

Not all managers Google. There are some who believe that that’s outside of the domain of what a hiring manager or company should be looking at. But just be aware, Google yourself. How are you showing up? And be aware that that’s all public domain and that employers have the right to do that. 

Mac Prichard:

Well, here’s another tip, Jackie, from your list for how to stand out in a crowd of applicants, and it’s this fact. A job interview is a two-way street. What do you mean here, Jackie? And why is it important to remember this? 

Jackie Dunckley:

I think it’s important to remember that as a job seeker, you are not powerless. You have a lot of power and are orchestrating your job search, your career search. So keeping that in mind, so that when a recruiter calls and you’re invited into a phone interview, a Zoom interview, or an in-person interview, you have to remember that you have as much power as they do and that it’s important for you to get your questions answered as much as they want to get their questions answered. 

So it’s important for you to remember you’re not powerless and that you need to come into an interview with questions. If you go back to your intentionality and your purposeful process that we talked about earlier, going into an interview with the questions that are going to give you insight as to whether or not this is the company, the job, the industry, the environment that you want to work for are important. 

I also would tell you to continue or consider asking the same question of multiple interviewers. It’s important for you to, if you’re looking for a certain kind of culture or environment, if you ask three or four people and you get the same answer, you know what kind of culture or environment that you’re going into. If you get differing points of view, that tells you that there are different leadership styles or that the culture or environment may not be universal throughout the organization. Those are all pieces of information that you need as you are vetting this job, this company, this supervisor, this industry. It’s very important for you to recognize that you have a very intentional purpose in this process as well. 

Mac Prichard:

How does making the interview a two-way conversation help you stand out as a candidate? Clearly, it helps you collect information that’s gonna help you make an informed decision. But does it distinguish you from your competitors, Jackie, in the eyes of the employer? 

Jackie Dunckley:

It absolutely distinguishes you. It tells the employer that you have done your homework, that you are in this because it’s important to you, and that asking some really intentional, purposeful statements signals to the employer that you’re taking this very seriously. If you come in, you don’t ask questions; the employer is gonna think, well, this is just one of many for them. This is just another one of multiple job interviews, and there’s no stickiness associated with that. 

If you come in, and you ask really great intentional questions, you’ve done your research on the company, you ask about how they make money or profitability or what your strategy is- that signals to an employer that you’re in it to win it, and that makes you stand out.  

Mac Prichard:

Your last tip for standing out in a crowd is to pay attention to the wrap-up. What do you have in mind here, Jackie? 

Jackie Dunckley:

Everyone wants to be wanted. Right? As a candidate, we want to be the top candidate. But the employer wants to be wanted as well. It’s important for you to seal the deal. You want to tell the employer, this job is really interesting to me. I would love to be considered for the next interview, or even at the end, you want to say, I’d really like this job, and this is why. That signals to the employer that you’re in. If they’re gonna extend an offer, they have a great confidence that you’re gonna accept it and let’s face it, we all want to be wanted, whether we’re the candidate or the employer. Get that out there. Let them know so that they know that you’re important and that you’re gonna stick out in the end when they’re down to making their final decisions. 

Mac Prichard:

Do you recommend asking for the job? 

Jackie Dunckley:

I do. I’ve had a number of candidates who have asked for the job, and I appreciate that. That shows tenacity, it shows eagerness, and it shows intentionality. And as a hiring manager, those are all three things that are important to me because when I hire somebody, I want to know they want to be there. 

Mac Prichard:

Well, Jackie, it’s been a great conversation. Now, tell us, what’s next for you? 

Jackie Dunckley:

Thanks for asking. I’m actually doing a lot of research and reading around enterprise-level leadership and how leaders show up to amplify team performance. Amplifiers can make employees two to three times more effective than just merely adding new team members. 

Some great spaces to read are the Pause Principle and a book called Multipliers. I would encourage listeners to remember that we are each leaders in our own right, and we need to think about how our contributions are important and multiply this posture. That’s what’s fun for me right now.

Mac Prichard:

Well, terrific. Well, I know people can learn more about you and your work, Jackie, by visiting your LinkedIn page. You invite people to connect with you there, and if they do, I hope they include an invitation and acknowledge or mention they heard you on the show. 

Now, Jackie, given all the great advice you’ve shared today, what’s the one thing you want a listener to remember about how to stand out in a crowded field of candidates? 

Jackie Dunckley:

I would tell a candidate to be purposeful. Manage your career search like you would do anything else with intentionality, using your connections, do your homework, and make sure that people know where you’re headed, why you’re headed there, and how they can help.

Mac Prichard:

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Next week, our guest will be Sha Lee Hornsby. 

She’s a staffing and HR expert with more than 20 years of experience. Sha also hosts the award-winning show Cool Careers Podcast.

For the first time in decades, it’s a job-seekers market. 

That means candidates have more choices and can expect to get better salaries and benefits.

But are you making the most of this opportunity? 

Join us next Wednesday when Sha Lee Hornsby and I talk about why candidates are in the driver’s seat and how to make the most of it. 

Until next time, thanks for letting us help you find your dream job.

This show is produced by Mac’s List. 

Susan Thornton-Hough schedules our guests and writes our newsletter. Lisa Kislingbury Anderson manages our social media.

Our sound engineer is Matt Fiorillo.  Ryan Morrison at Podfly Productions edits the show. Dawn Mole creates our transcripts. And our music is by Freddy Trujillo.

This is Mac Prichard. See you next week.