In your job search, do you ever feel that you are taking part, but not really competing? If so, you may have fallen into the easy trap of being a contestant, when your heart’s true desire is to be a contender.

It may seem like I’m splitting hairs, but there is a difference between a contestant and a contender. A contestant simply participates in a competition, whereas a contender holds and attracts the belief that they can win the prize. The ‘fight’ oozes out of them, an unseen yet bright aura that elevates their standing. Contenders are ‘ones to watch’, names that attract notice before the main event, and hold attention long after. In popular culture, contenders range from Tyson Fury and Jamie Vardy through to Grand National favourites, The Last Samurai and Many Clouds, at Aintree. Contenders are those you would bet on to win the race, convert the penalty, score the goal, win the job.

Contestants aren’t so easy to recall. Their identities get lost within the group, and their names fade soon after they are heard. One of the most famous contestants emanates from the silver screen. Terry Malloy, played by Marlon Brando in 1950s crime film, On the Waterfront, laments that “I coulda’ been a contender, I coulda’ been somebody”. A sad and sorry tale, and a conclusion to avoid in your own career story.

In today’s job market, contenders get jobs, and contestants simply add their CV to an ever-larger pile of applications. As a jobseeker, do you want simply to take part in the application process? Or do you want to win the callback, earn the interview, and secure the job?

Here are five traits you should cultivate to add gravitas and presence to your job application, ensuring you are considered as a contender from the get-go.


Contestants can afford to be meek and mild if they so choose, but to be a contender you need real confidence. You must believe in yourself and your ability to achieve your goal, and this conviction needs to carry you through the good times and bad. There’ll be plenty of both during a career transition. Keeping the faith is crucial. A confident inner dialogue about your own abilities and goals will perpetuate positivity, influence how you are perceived and, ultimately, shape your destiny.


Contenders have complete and utter clarity about what it is they want to achieve, and use their goal as a shining beacon to light their path. Contenders do more than just take part. They know what it is they want to win, and go all out to achieve that goal.

By the very nature of their involvement, contestants have an intention to be part of the process, but lack that singular, winning mindset that sets them apart from the rest.


Wikipedia defines charisma as ‘compelling attractiveness or charm that can inspire devotion in others’. Contenders are often charismatic. Look at the pop culture contenders listed above, potentially excluding the nags – it’s harder to get a handle on their personalities. Their confidence empowers them to show their personality, inviting others to know them and like them. By owning and showing their individual traits, they encourage a personal bond, and magnetic appeal.

Contestants on the other hand, lack such charisma. Their ordinariness makes them blend in, rather than stand out. Each contestant is just one of a number, with nothing to differentiate their position or play.


Contenders are pretty ballsy. They identify and work to overcome their limitations, showing courage and tenacity in pursuing their dreams. Knowing the problems you are likely to face means that you can address them before you fall at the first hurdle.

Contestants are often knocked out of the competition because they don’t anticipate and train for the struggle they will face.


Contenders aren’t just looking to win this competition, they have a master plan that includes the next competition and the next after that. Each win is loaded with meaning, bringing them closer to their bigger goal. This competition isn’t and can’t be the end, there’s a whole campaign plan and each success contributes to it.

Contestants think smaller, focusing on the here and now, rather than longer term. Without considering the bigger picture, they limit their horizons and their prospects.


So have you got what it takes to be a real contender for your next role, rather than just an aspiring contestant? If you want to be considered seriously for that coveted position, it’s worth taking stock of your arsenal to see what you already have and what needs work.

Each time you go for a new role, imagine yourself stepping into the boxing ring or out onto the battlefield. Go with the mindset that you’re going to win. Having the confidence and charisma to project your best self forward, and the clarity to see your way through your personal campaign, and the courage to do so, will position you as a contender, every time.

Lis McGuire

Lis McGuire

Lis McGuire is a professional CV writer at Giraffe CVs. She has 15 years of experience gained delivering interview-winning CVs and cover letters for professionals at all levels, helping individuals to stand out from the crowd in a highly competitive job market.
Lis McGuire
Lis McGuire
Lis McGuire

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