The best way to learn to stand out in the interview process is through experience. When I think back to my earliest interview experiences, I can easily notice the difference between those experiences and my most recent ones. It never fails to surprise me how practice is oftentimes the greatest method of learning. Every interview experience that a person has is an invaluable experience, regardless the outcome. It is an opportunity to expand your professional network, to learn how to improve your resume, and to learn how to interview effectively. That being said I would like to take a moment to talk about some of the most important ways to stand out in an interview process. We all know that for a single position their can be hundreds if not thousands of applicants and in that way knowing how to differentiate yourself from a sea of applicants is important. In logical order, these are some of my golden tips that will help you to navigate this crucial process.
This is probably one of the most underutilized tools at the disposal to an applicant. A very easy way to stand out is to simply introduce yourself the hiring manager, recruiter, or job poster. You can do this by e-mailing the person, if you know their address, or by sending that person an inmail here on Linkedin. There are some boundaries to be aware of when doing this. Only send an e-mail if a person’s e-mail address is available publicly or if it was given to you by a mutual contact. You simply want to be careful of being overly eager and possibly turning someone away. Tread carefully. If you are being introduced to someone through a third party, make that person aware of that fact. It personalizes your message.
As far as inmails go, I would say that job posters on Linkedin understand that that is a feature and it is to be expected that any subscribing Linkedin user will use it to their advantage. The bottom-line is that your introduction does not have to be the actual application. You can make yourself stand out by taking a moment to simply introduce yourself. It is your opportunity to make your interest know and to personalize your application. This is all towards that effort of putting yourself on that immediate short list of potential candidates.
Craft a Resume That Uniquely Identifies You
You can find hundreds of articles and posts online about how to create an effective resume, but you will rarely find one that focuses on personalizing your resume. The importance of having a direct, cogent, and cohesive resume cannot be overstated, but the fact remains that there will still be a large pool of applicants that have the background and credentials that warrants further consideration. The idea behind making your resume unique is leaving upon the reader at least 3 ideas or themes that identifies you as a unique candidate. You want a hiring manager or recruiter to be able to remember who you are past what your background is.
You want to highlight in your resume those accomplishments or identifiers that makes your resume different from that of anyone else. Including a section on your resume for qualifications is one way of accomplishing this. Let’s say that someone is pursuing a position on Capital Hill. It is one thing to be someone with the relevant educational background and internship experience, but it something different be a person with unique accomplishments and interests. For example, Derek has won many public speaking awards, has a profound interest in legislation related to alternative energy, and is an avid member of the NRA. The point is that the educational and professional backgrounds of candidates on the short list are bound to be similar. If a hiring manager can identify who you are on a more personal level, then you will stand out in their mind.
Approach the Interview as a Conversation
The final tip is the most crucial advice that I have to offer. It is something that I wish I knew years ago and something that has proven extremely effective. I do not know why more people do not approach interviews in this way, but if you are looking to gain an edge during your next interview, then implement this strategy. Approach the interview as conversation rather than a standard Q&A session.
Forbes has this great presentation, entitled There Are Only 3 True Job Interview Questions, that you can find on Slideshare. The three questions that Forbes states are as follows:
1. Can you do the job?
2. Will you love the job?
3. Can we tolerate working with you?
If you are offered the opportunity to interview, then the hiring manager has already come to a fairly solid answer for question number one. That is what your application and resume are for. Further, they have likely answered question number two as well. Your cover letter is not only your personal pitch, but really your opportunity to say how excited you are about your career field, the subject matter, and the position. That really only leaves question three. Conversation is the key to standing out. It is the key to being the candidate that is remembered when a hiring manager goes to make a decision. Approaching the interview as a conversation demonstrates your aptitude (your ability to do the job), your excitement (why you will love to come into work everyday), and your charisma (why people will like to work with you). If you can have a great, relevant and professional conversation with a hiring manager, then that will speak volumes more about your abilities, then leaving a hiring manager in a position to have to ask you back to back questions, most of which will have already been answered by your resume.
As a candidate, this will not only allow you to stand out, but will lessen the anxiety associated with entering an interview. On a psychological level, we perform better when we operate moderately. Rather then feeling the pressure to answer questions adequately, you can put yourself in the mindset and position to answer questions organically as they come up over the course of conversation. You also have the ability to steer the conversation. I cannot say enough about this final point. It has really helped me and I know it can help others.