Landing a job is no easy task, but if you can present yourself as the most professional and capable candidate and take out the guesswork for a hiring manager, you’re one step (read: one giant step) closer to getting hired.
Working in career services at my university and preparing for a fair share of interviews myself, I’ve learned a lot about what differentiates the great applicant from the hired one (trust me I’ve been both). Below is my advice for how to stand out from the competition before, during and after the interview.
Here’s what the great applicant is already doing (and so should you)
Before the interview
They have polished documents: I cannot tell you how many resumes I have reviewed from graduating college students that have outstanding experience but are filled with errors or sloppy formatting. Get a fresh set of eyes on your resume and portfolio and avoid those silly mistakes.
They have some experience under their belt: I know, I know. How are you supposed to get any marketing experience before you get your first marketing job? The truth is you’re probably not giving yourself enough credit. Consider these tips:
- Look at skills rather than duties. Ask yourself, what did I learn or do in this position that I would take with me to the next one?
- Look beyond “jobs”. Experience can come from an organization, volunteering, freelance work, or even personal projects (ex: a blog you started).
They show up on time for the interview, keyword “on time”: I would plan to arrive at the office a half hour early for a job interview. Would I actually walk in at that time? No way. Walk in “fashionably early” (read: 5 to 10 minutes before the scheduled time).
During the interview
They’re intentional about their wardrobe: I wear full professional dress for all my interviews, but not because it’s the default. I like to dress that way because I think it reflects my best self and it’s what makes me comfortable. That might not be the case for you. Think about how your best self would show up to the interview and do your research to understand what is appropriate for the office.
They qualify their experience: Let’s say you’re asked “What’s your greatest strength?” A one-word answer like “communication” is too vague. Instead, follow up with an example that qualifies your answer. Explain the situation and the actions you took to resolve it.
They ask thoughtful questions: Questions are a chance to be more personable in the interview. I like to ask things like “What drew you to this career path?” or “What kind of work is most exciting to you?” These are still professional, but dig a little bit deeper into your interviewer’s background and passions, which helps you get to know the company better.
After the interview
They send a thank you note: A simple “thank you” message is always appreciated and so easy to do. Mention something specific you talked about, let them know you’re expecting to hear from them and hand write it to be extra thoughtful!
They follow up (with everyone): Make sure you thank and follow up with everyone, not just the hiring manager. It’s thoughtful and leaves a positive impression on lots of decision makers in the office.
Here’s what will make you stand out
Before your interview
Think outside the job description: Imagine you are applying for a marketing strategy position, but you also have experience building websites. Would you keep that on your resume / in your portfolio? Absolutely! It shows versatility and a willingness to learn (plus, there’s no shame in a light brag). Just make sure it’s still relevant within the company.
Do some deep research on the company: Try to get a feel for the company culture and understand their core values. Read their content, study their social media and look up your interviewer on LinkedIn. There’s no excuse in the digital age – learn everything you can.
Take initiative in email communication: Make it as easy as possible for an employer to hire you. It’s that simple. Respond promptly and be proactive in your email communication leading up to your interview.
During your interview
Be human: You’re going to be nervous. You’re going to get worn out. Guess what: so is everyone else. What makes the hired candidate stand out though is their ability to be forthcoming and honest throughout the process. Here’s what that might look like:
- Taking your time to answer questions. For example, saying “That’s a really great question, do you mind if I take a moment to think about it?”
- Admitting what you don’t know, yet being willing to learn.
Speak passionately about your industry: Talk about your favorite influencers, industry trends or books you’re reading. Show you’re actively engaged in your field and growing your knowledge within it. These interests are just as valid as past work experience.
After your interview
Ask for a test project: After my interview with Gorilla, I was asked to do a small sample project. My performance and response to feedback really helped me stand out, because they could get a feel for my work ethic. If the company you are applying at doesn’t do this, ask for a chance to show off your skills!
There’s a fine line between the great applicant and the one that gets hired. After reading this post, I hope you feel more confident in your ability to cross that line.