In many industries and professions, competition for jobs continues to intensify. Sure, you may tick all the right boxes in terms of qualifications, you may have a compelling track record to talk about, and you may have a winning personality too. But chances are, so will several other candidates.
What, then, can you do to stand out from the crowd? How can you show that you are prepared to go the extra mile – that you both want and deserve the job more than your rivals? Here are some ideas, based on true stories, about how to do just that…
Reaching out to your potential employer following an interview, especially if it’s in a thoughtful way, will help you to be the candidate that leaves a lasting impression. A simple way to do this is to compose a handwritten thank you note following the interview.
It’s an old-fashioned courtesy which, done well, is likely to gain approval; better still, it gives you another chance to get your name in front of your potential employer. Referencing parts of the conversation also shows you were fully engaged throughout the process.
Takeaway: What key points can you make in your personal message which will show how you really engaged with your interviewer?
“I always advise the candidate to have a good answer to the question, ‘What do you know about us?’,” says Suzannane Feeney, Country Manager of Robert Walters Ireland. “It’s boring if the candidate just recites the About Us page. Read the annual report instead, that way you get a feel for the type of language the company uses and you’re already tapping into their DNA.”
Suzanne adds that the annual report helps candidates to understand what really matters to the organisation. “What sort of phraseology comes up? Is it ‘We’re all about caring for customers’ or ‘We’re here to drive change’ or ‘Our priority is unlocking value for our stakeholders’? Get a good idea of the keywords that characterise the company’s approach, and then you can play those back at interview.”
One candidate for a travel company, asked to give a presentation on how to market a specific resort, took the idea of research literally – she decided to fly to the resort for the weekend! She bought back a jar of sand as evidence, and put together a promotional microsite full of images that she’d taken herself on her trip.
Takeaway: How can you show you’ve gone the extra mile in the way you research for the role?
“In the most impressive interview I’ve ever led, within the first 20 minutes I was thinking, ‘I need to hire this person – they need to work for me’,” Suzanne says. What so impressed her was a candidate who hadn’t just done her research – she was able to demonstrate exactly how she’d add value to the business.
“This candidate was unbelievably well-prepared and brought a plan with her of what she would do over the first six months of starting the role,” Suzanne recalls. “She laid out a series of really thoughtful, insightful ideas, including what she’d need from the company to support her. It was a very creative approach – several of her ideas were things we hadn’t even thought of. She spoke to me as if she already had the job – and she completely nailed it.
“When you’re hiring you always know there’ll be a bedding-in period, involving induction and training,” says Suzanne. “So it’s really refreshing to talk to someone who’s already done some significant thinking to get their head around the role. As well as being bright and resourceful, she showed me she really wanted the job with all the time and effort that she’d put into her preparation.
“Pretty much every single recommendation she made has ended up getting actioned, including some I didn’t think would be possible. But of course it wouldn’t have mattered if she hadn’t got everything right, because she showed me that she would have the skills and resourcefulness to come up with new ideas as needed anyway.”
Takeaway: What can you do to show that you’re already thinking and acting as if you’re ready to start the role tomorrow?
Candidates can often stand out by harnessing other skills in the way they prepare for an interview.
One candidate with a background in logistics wowed his interviewers for a professional services role by highlighting some ways they could streamline their service delivery processes, for example. This unique perspective made him stand out from other interviewees.
Another candidate, who came from an e-commerce background but was interviewing for an unrelated role, spotted a gap in the market for a clothing brand which went on to become a significant revenue stream.
Takeaway: What skills from other parts of your life can you put to use in your job search and interview?
The creative and promotional industries are full of examples of applicants who have made use of their talents to help their application stand out from the crowd.
Showing creativity in the process demonstrates energy and initiative. It’s another way of showing that you are willing to go above and beyond.
Salespeople have been known to present their expertise in the form of a commercial pitch. And creatives have packaged their credentials in a variety of weird and wacky ways – in the form of specially designed cereal packets, Swiss Army knives, Lego kits, action figurines and more.
One candidate famously hired the advertising hoarding opposite the HQ of the company they wanted to work at to get noticed. Another marketing hopeful decided to launch her own ‘hire a boss’ website. She listed her position, organisation and manager requirements, got media coverage for her efforts – and ended up with a dream job.
“Showing creativity in the process demonstrates energy and initiative,” comments Suzanne. “It’s another way of showing that you are willing to go above and beyond.”
“The aim is to create an impression that resonates with your interviewers and gives them something to think about long after the interview finishes,” adds Louise Tallboy-Wood, who specialises in recruiting part qualified finance professionals in London.
“One candidate interviewing for a finance analyst role at a major fashion brand took the time to conduct in-depth research into the company’s competitors, product range and position in the industry. He used his research to create a visual SWOT analysis and left printed copies for his interviewers to take away. The extra effort did not go unmissed – in addition to securing the role, his interview set a new standard for future candidates.”
Takeaway: Going to such creative lengths is not appropriate or desirable in every industry or sector, of course. But there are always ways to use imaginative presentation to stand out from the crowd, for instance in the look and feel of your slide deck or by putting together a digitally-savvy personal CV site.
“In many senior roles, technical expertise and relevant industry experience are a given,” says Joanne Chua, Robert Walters’ regional client development director for Southeast Asia and Greater China. “But beyond that, what hirers are often looking for today is evidence of softer skills, such as grit and resilience.”
The ability to bounce back from difficulties and learn from adversity is an especially vital skill in today’s workplace, says Joanne. “It shows you can cope and adapt in a fast-moving world with rapid technological changes,” she says. “Businesses today face constant disruption, frequent restructuring and ongoing transformation – employers are looking for anecdotal evidence of your ability to survive and thrive in such a climate.”
Takeaway: What stories can you tell to illustrate your ability to deal with change and adapt?
A related soft skill that Joanne says can help you stand out from the crowd is ‘learning agility’ – a willingness and enthusiasm to move with the times, take on new skills and expand into new areas as business requirements and priorities evolve.
“What we learn at school often doesn’t equip us with the tools for the jobs of tomorrow, so you need to be able to demonstrate evidence of your willingness and ability to learn new skills, and adapt or take on new challenges and working patterns,” says Suzanne.
“Companies invest a lot of money to hire top talent, and so of course they are hiring not just for now but for the future too. So tell stories using real-life examples to demonstrate learning agility and your readiness to stretch yourself. For example, ‘I’m an excellent IT engineer, but to really progress I knew I needed to develop my stakeholder engagement and communication management skills. So here’s how I went about developing my knowledge and skills in this area…’”
Takeaway: What stories can you tell to demonstrate that you are a candidate who is not afraid to learn new things – and you will be an asset to your employer not just today, but in five or ten years’ time?
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