The job market is more competitive than ever before. I know, because almost every job I apply for is flagged with over 100 applications on Indeed. And with that many applications, there are bound to be multiple applicants that meet the threshold of required credentials for the job. To stand out, having an impressive resume isn’t enough, nor is having your job interview go perfectly. You need something that will set you apart from the other top 5% of applicants who look the same as you on paper.
As a 22-year old who graduated from University in 2020, navigating the job market has been anything but smooth. I’ve applied to hundreds of jobs, experienced my fair share of interviews and rejections, all to no avail.
I’m not one to blow my own trumpet. But I consider my skill set, portfolio, and experience to be well above the average in my desired field. For a while, I struggled to understand why I couldn’t land my dream job. I had the credentials and proof, I was well-rehearsed, and was answering interview questions by the book.
Was there something I was missing?
I realize now that I was falling into all the generic traps. Research the company, clarify your selling points, prepare common interview questions. Everyone will be following these basic steps.
To land your ideal job, you need to be more than an ideal candidate.
To put you over the finish line, you need to set yourself apart. Here are unconventional tips I’ll be following the next time I land a job interview to ensure I stand out from the other candidates.
1. Go Undercover and Learn About Their Internal Culture
A lot of applicants will hit up a business’s website before an interview. In doing so, they collate information on the organization’s values, principles, and aims. They take those to directly reflect the culture of the business they are applying for.
And while that is a great indicator of their public image, it only reveals what they want you to see. Their professional profile is out there for the whole world, including clients.
But it doesn’t tell you much about the internal culture of the business. What is it like working there? What sort of management style does the business adopt? Is their team environment one you’d like to work within?
Answering these questions might not be an easy task. It’s not public knowledge, so requires you to do some investigation work. But if you can answer them, and relay any of this info during your job interview, it’s a great way to stand out. Here are a few ways that I do so prior to an interview:
- I take a look at their team size & output to get a better feel for their management style. For example, if they’re a small team with a large number of customers — then the management style will likely be authoritative to keep up with the workload.
- Follow their team members on Linkedin/Twitter. To get a better feel for the team relationship/dynamic, pay attention to how they interact with one another.
- If you can, reach out to a current employee and see if they’re open to discussing their experiences. The gold standard would be arranging a call.
You can even flip the script and ask the interviewer some questions, including these 5 picks from Career Coach Michael Thompson.
Make Sure You’re a Fit
With this information, you can make a better-informed decision as to whether the organization and its culture is right for you. Does their management style play to your strengths? Are you well suited to the team environment?
If you wouldn’t fit in, don’t bother attending the interview. If you would, then use that as a selling point. Explain your understanding of their work-culture, and why you would fit right at home there.
What Are You Wearing?
When you go for a job interview, you need to look like you belong in that organization if you want to stand out. This is something I consistently fail to do.
I want to work in a marketing agency. With such a creative purpose, the work-culture of agencies is typically relaxed and laissez-faire. People walk around in jeans and a t-shirt, not a suit and ties.
Despite knowing this, I repeatedly showed up to interviews in the same suit I have worn to weddings and funerals. “It’s a sign of professionalism” I was advised.
And while that might be the case, it didn’t tell my interviewer that I was well suited for the role, or that I shared a similar ethos to their employees. It distanced me from the job. I looked like a graduate on a job hunt, rather than a future member of their team.
I’m not telling you to show up to an interview in jeans and a t-shirt. But you can appear professional, while also showing off your personality.
Consider going smart-casual and jazzing things up, where appropriate.
Aim Your Questions at the Right People
Even if you’re offered the job, you don’t have to take it. If you don’t think you’d enjoy it there, you definitely shouldn’t. With that in mind, you should take every opportunity to learn about the establishment.
Sure, interviewers give you the chance to answer questions. But their answers are from the management; the people trying to sell you the job.
If you want to know what it’s like on the ground, working and taking orders every day, just take five minutes after your interview to walk around the office. Find someone who’s not busy, and have an off the record chat about their experiences working there.
If your interviewer works at a management level, they’re not really equipped to answer your questions about what your position is like.
2. Appeal to the Person, Not the Organization
Your interviewer is the gatekeeper. They’re the one person in the way of you and your dream job. That’s why it’s so vital to stand out when you go for your job interview.
Having asked for advice from industry specialists at a local marketing event,they told me to appeal to the person, not the organization. Because if that one person likes you, they’ll give you a boost up the ladder.
Of course, you should play by all the usual interview rules. Be well-rehearsed and do your research about the organization. But also try and find a common interest to make yourself more likable. It could be pre-planned after doing some research, or it could be something you that comes up on the spot.
The specialist I spoke to said they read that their now-manager loved chocolate. A passion that she happened to share, too. So she decided to take her favorite chocolate bar to her interview. It sparked a conversation about their favorite sweets, and that made her memorable, stand-out candidate.
These types of discussions are beneficial for two reasons:
- They help you share your interests and experiences in a way that resonates with the interviewer and makes you memorable.
- It bridges the gap between the two of you, highlighting that, with your matching personalities, you’ll likely fit in at the place of work.
Of course, I’m not saying you should lie or fabricate common ground. But if you do have similar interests or values, use them to your advantage.
3. Be the Same Person Your Mates Go to the Pub With
Sure, interviewers want someone who’s reliable, good at their job, and easy to work with. But on a social level:
They just want somebody they can trust, have a laugh and go to the pub with.
Most marketing agencies have frequent social outings. As cliche as it sounds, most people who work there have formed friendships in one capacity or another. They learn and rely on each other.
With that in mind, one important question will be running through their mind: will this person fit in here?
Sure, dotting your T’s, I’s, and being courteous are all important steps to take. But if you’re so hung up on getting hired, you’ll probably start acting like a robot. And if you act boring, it’ll probably be misinterpreted as a lack of personality.
Just be authentic. Make jokes, laugh, enjoy yourself and be genuine. If it doesn’t come out now, it’s bound to when you go down the pub as a team. Not only will it make you stand out, it’ll also help the interviewer assess whether you’re right for the job.
You don’t want to work in an organization that you hate, any more than they want to hire the wrong person. So help them along by showing them who you are — and if you don’t get the job, assume it’s probably for the best.
The job market is more competitive than ever before. With hundreds of thousands of people left unemployed, here in 2021, having the credentials and being good at your job isn’t enough to help you stand out in a job interview.
To stand out from the crowd, you need to do something drastic:
- Don’t take the employer’s website as gospel. Do your own research and reach out to current employees to get a better feel for the business’s internal culture. Try and appeal to this in your interview.
- Appeal to the gatekeeper. Try and build a rapport by finding common ground with the person holding the keys to your dream job.
- Be the same person your mates go to the pub with. Prove that you’re not just some robotic workaholic, you’re someone who can have a laugh with the team, but can be depended on when times are tough.
In following these steps, you’re pushing yourself over the finish line. Boosting yourself above and beyond the top 5% who look the same as you on paper. Just hang in there. It won’t be long until someone notices your potential.