5 tips to standing out in interviews

I was speaking to my sister recently who has started the interview process to find herself a sparkly new role. When I expressed my excitement for her I was met with silence. Tumbleweed silence. I asked her what the hesitation was for and her answer was this:

‘I find it hard to differentiate myself from every other candidate in the market. At the end of the interview I wonder if they have seen anything in me, or whether I just fall in to the category of ‘another candidate we have interviewed’.

It got me thinking about the interviews that I conduct and about the candidates who really stand out for me. For me, it’s not just the experience that they have; we recruit at all levels, from entry level reception to executive level support. And it’s not just the answers they give to my questions about their experience and background. It’s far more than that.The candidates who stand out for me are the ones who can set themselves apart. So, I decided to write this blog, with some tips of how to make you stand out at interview. This isn’t designed to be some massive overhaul that you need to make. It is more about subtle tweaks in your interview process and approach that will make all the difference in creating a lasting impression and securing a new role.

1. Entrance

There are statistics around interviews that say 80% of an impression is built in the first 30 seconds, so make those 30 seconds count! In any walk of life you form an impression of someone just by the way they greet you, so make sure you are projecting yourself in a positive light.

Stand up in reception, greet them with a smile, and give a strong hand shake. Be open, confident and approachable. Look interested and engaged. It’s simple but trust me, not everyone gets it right and there is a fine line between being interested and being overpowering.When I meet a candidate for the first time the best initial greeting makes me excited about the interview ahead.

Make sure you present the best version of you.

2. Do Your Research

Most people think this means looking on the company website for stats about the company: How many staff they have, where they operate, any sister companies etc. I say try a little harder. With open access to LinkedIn it’s much easier nowadays to find out more. Research your interviewer, their background, find out about the person you are meeting and what is likely to make them tick. Research articles the company has posted, what they are working on, new contracts they have secured. Do they have a Facebook page? If so, what is their engagement like with their fans? What kind of culture do they project? If you are interviewing with an agency, do the same, it gives us confidence that you will do the same at interview and that will impress us and our clients.

This way, when you get that classic question ‘so what do you know about us?’ you can surprise them by going above and beyond. Maybe making a comment on an article written or a recent acquisition, not just reeling off a list of stats from their ‘About Us’ section on the company website.

3. Answering Questions – Think outside the box & make it personal

So many candidates answer questions the way they think the interviewer would like them to, and not the way they actually think. This is mostly down to fear about being different and fear of saying something wrong. The candidates who stand out to me the most are the ones who put thought into their answers and who show me a bit of personality.

When I interview a candidate who answers their questions perfectly, who has always been able to resolve every complaint, who writes to do lists, who prioritises, it’s great, but it doesn’t set them apart and often you are left wondering ‘have these answers been reeled off at every interview in the last 5 years?’, and the answer would probably be…yes.
Dare to be different. It may be scary admitting that a complaint or problem wasn’t rectified in your customer service driven role but by telling me the lessons you learned from it, and how it would change your way of working in the future sure does tell me a lot more than all of those (apparently) happy ending stories.

It’s the way you work that we want to know and not how you would work in an ideal world. Make it human. Provide learnings. Be personable and reflective.

4. Questions

Don’t just ask them for the sake of it! The awkward silence as you reveal that your last question is answered and you have nothing more to say. Are you a failure for not needing to know much more? No! There is no point asking questions for questions sake. If a candidate doesn’t have any questions then I generally think I am doing my job right and I have covered everything.

If you do ask questions, the best questions to ask are things you really want to know. But, if you feel you know enough to make an informed decision about whether you want the role, then say that.

The red faced head shake and obvious embarrassment leaves everyone uncomfortable. A simple ‘no, that has been very informative, thank you. I definitely feel I have enough of an overview but if I do think of anything, I will be sure to let you (or my agency know)’. Simple. Done and Dusted.

5. Follow Up

So many candidates let a company close the meeting. Of course, to some extent this is correct, you can’t just get up and see yourself out; but there are a couple of key things that you can do which will impress, and that is taking some control over the impression you have given and what you wanted to achieve.

Firstly: ‘Is there anything else I can provide you with at this stage, or any more questions you may have about my experience?’ This gives you the opportunity to answer any concerns or go through anything that the interviewer wasn’t sure on – it’s gold dust. Sometimes it is easier to leave things muddled, but if you can clear up any discrepancies in your interview and encourage your interviewer to challenge you, they will most likely remember, and like that about you.
Secondly: If you are interested, let them know! It’s a regular occurrence for our clients to say to us ‘we really liked him/her, but don’t know if they are interested’. If you are, say it! It will make the process much easier from that point. A simple ‘I am really interested, so thank you so much for your time and I look forward to hearing from you’ will do.
And lastly, a two line email to thank them for their time, and to reiterate your interest can be enough to beat other candidates to the post.

And then, sit back, and wait for the phone to ring with your dream job offer….