How do you stand out from the crowd when you're applying for a job? Gimmicks don't work, Green says. A solid resume and compelling cover letter do.
How do you stand out from the crowd when you're applying for a job? Gimmicks don't work, Green says. A solid resume and compelling cover letter do. - 
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Like it or not, many of us spend a lot of time at our jobs, and work is its own weird universe. Every workplace has its own set of rules, both written and unwritten. For this reason, every month we bring in Alison Green from Ask a Manager. She helps us make sense of the ups and downs of work life.

This time, Green answered questions about job search techniques. Here's a summary of her answers. 

So what's changed when it comes to looking for a job?

A big one that candidates need to brace themselves for is that hiring often takes a lot longer than it used to. More companies are taking months to hire. People will sometimes hear back from companies months after they initially applied, or weeks will go by before they hear anything back after interviewing. And part of that is that there are often a lot more steps than there used to be. Phone interviews before you meet in person. There are requests for presentations or take-home assignments. If you know that you're going to need to be in a new job six months from now, start now. Another one I think is how the internet has changed things. Nearly all job applications have to be submitted online these days. We're a long way from the days when you would mail in your resume. 

When you apply online, do humans actually review applications?

It's true that a lot of employers do some automated screening at the start of the process. They might have a system that will automatically reject you if you don't meet certain requirements. So good hiring managers and good recruiters, they're not relying on computers to do the bulk of the screening. It's more of an aid in the process, but it's not the main
thing driving the process, which is what I think people worry it could be. 

But what can I do to get noticed?

I hear people talk about gimmicks all the time that they use to try to get their applications noticed and to try to stand out. The real way to do it is pretty boring. You stand out by having a resume that shows a strong track record of results in the area that they're hiring for and writing a compelling cover letter that explains why you'd excel at the job and being responsive and friendly when you're contacted. That's really it. It's such a boring answer, but that is what good employers still do respond to. 

My dad says I should research places I want to work and the hand in my resume in person. Good idea?

I always hear from readers whose parents haven't job searched in a long time and tell them that they need to go out and pound the pavement and hand out their resume in person because it'll show gumption. It doesn't really work anymore. It comes across as annoying and naive because it's just not done. 

A future employer is asking me about my salary expectations. How can I get around sharing this information?

The best way to do it, if you can pull it off, is to answer the question that they should have asked you instead, which is what salary you are looking for now. So they ask what
you've been earning. You can say something like, "I'm looking for a salary in the range of X." A lot of interviewers will accept that and not keep pushing. Some people will keep pushing. And if you run into that, you can say, "You know, I've always kept that confidential, but I'm seeking X." Or, in a lot of cases, if you look at your old employee handbook, you're going to see that your company's salary structure is actually considered proprietary information, and so you can honestly say, "You know, my employer considers their salary
structure confidential." Which can be hard to argue with. But it's a bad question, and it puts candidates at an unfair disadvantage, and I'm hoping we'll continue to see the tide turning against it. 

If I make it to interview, is it still necessary to wear a suit?

Maybe. So it depends on your field, and to some extent, it can depend on your geographic area. More often than not, yes, you still need the interview suit. But there are fields where it's really relaxed: parts of tech, parts of design. But even then, it can vary from region to region. So, it's one where you really need to know your field and your area. But if you're not sure, and you can't ask someone in your field, default to wearing the suit.

What if you've been out of work for a while. How should you explain the gaps?

I think it's important to remember that sometimes people feel like there's going to be a stigma around that, that they were laid off or that they're unemployed or underemployed for a while. Your hiring manager, your interviewer, is human and probably has loved ones who have gone through that or has gone through it themselves. I think there's not the kind of stigma around that that there used to be and that people feel or fear that there might still be. So I think if you can be matter of fact about it, both in your own head as you're thinking about it, but also as you're talking about it. People will take their cues from you. 

If you have work-related questions for Alison Green, email

Listen to the full interview by clicking the media player above. 

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Follow Lizzie O'Leary at @lizzieohreally