Standing out is hard to do, particularly in a job interview. Even in a good job market, competition can be fierce and the interview is the opportunity to make a lasting impression.
While everyone knows to be punctual and dress appropriately, job seekers that want to cinch the interview have to do more than that.
“Whether it’s at the stage where there are 100 applications, or it’s down to you and one other candidate, any candidate who really wants the job should be doing everything they possibly can to set themselves apart from the competition,” says Paul Slezak, co-founder of RecruitLoop.com. “The old cliché will never run dry … you only have one chance to make a lasting first impression.”
According to career experts, one of the most effective ways to make an impression is to research the company before going on the interview. Whether you search the company’s website, use websites like Glassdoor or tap current or former employees, you want to know ahead of time what it’s like to work at the company you are interviewing at both from a cultural and work standpoint. “Candidates should expect to be asked why (if he or she wants to work at) that specific company,” says Christy Palfy, recruiting manager at Progressive, the insurer. “At Progressive we want them to answer a little more in depth than they really like Flo.”
The research shouldn’t stop at the company, however. If you know who will be interviewing you it’s worthwhile to check out their LinkedIn page, other social media profiles or blogs they may have penned. By learning about the person conducting the interview you will be able to connect with them on a more personal level and hopefully be front in mind when they are choosing the candidate to hire.
The interview is a chance for the hiring manager to see if you will fit into the company and how you’ll perform in certain circumstances, which is why career experts say you have to be prepared with examples of things you did well and challenges you faced. “When it comes to the job interview process, it’s no longer about who you know, or even what you know. It’s about what you did,” says Slezak. “Regardless of where you went to school or university, no matter how much experience you have gained in the workforce, and notwithstanding who you know, if you aren’t able to answer questions articulately based on your past work performance, then you will not get the job.”
You want to have stories about your career achievements in your back pocket, but Palfy says job seekers also want to have examples of challenges or times they fell short. Sure the negative questions can be off-putting, but Palfy says companies often ask them to get a sense of how you handle bad situations and what you learned from them. Because of that Palfy says to make sure that you end a negative story with an example of what you gained from the experience and how you applied lessons learned to a later incident.
The little things also matter when it comes to standing out during an interview. According to Slezak, even in this era of dress down Fridays and business casual, job candidates should show up to the interview dressed at least a level above the person they are going to meet and fight their impulse to show off their individual style. “I once interviewed a candidate who arrived wearing a Charlie Chaplin type hat, a bright lime green short-sleeved shirt, and a pink bow tie that flashed fluorescent lights every few seconds,” says Slezak. “Given that I wasn’t recruiting for Cirque du Soleil, how well do you think he went?” Slezak also says a firm handshake whether you are male or female is a must as is making eye contact with the recruiter or hiring manager. If you’re on a phone interview Palfy suggests smiling every so often. It may seem silly but smiling during a phone interview will change your inflection and perk you up.
Also don’t underestimate the power of a thank you. It doesn’t have to be a handwritten note but a quick email after the interview can do the job. “A thank you email can go a long way, especially if you add something that relates back to the interview,” says Palfy.