It’s simple. In a tough job market, you must differentiate yourself. Do the small things. Go the extra mile. Do your homework before screening calls and face-to-face interviews. Prepare materials that go beyond the resume. Find out as much as you can about the company, the organization, the team, the leader, the hiring manager – before you have the first significant interaction. Follow-up and write thank you notes. 95% will not do these things – you need to be the 5%.
Let’s get specific.
RESEARCH. Do your homework. First, spend a few minutes researching the company you are targeting on Yahoo Finance or Google before your first phone interview or in-person session. Find 3-4 key challenges or situations the business is facing and make notes on your perspectives of these topics. Most likely, the hiring manager, HR rep and other interviewers will be well aware of these and many other challenges. It’s nice to have knowledge of a few of these challenges and have spent time thinking about them before the interview – the people interviewing you are potentially dealing with these challenges daily.
Second, go to Linked-In and look-up each and every person that has been defined as an interviewer or hiring manager in the recruitment process (including the HR contact). Check out their work history, where they went to school, activities and interests, groups that they are a part of on Linked-In – get to know them – and yes, know their picture so you recognize them when you go to the office! Identify similarities in background / interests. Did you go to the same school? Do you both engage in community activities? There is nothing more flattering than when someone has done their homework “on you” before a meeting and this is a good way to make a solid first impression. I recently met with a small technology consulting firm and in our first meeting, the CEO knew “everything” about me…and asked me about it! I was truly blown away. Nobody takes time to do the homework. And he did. It made an incredible first impression and we have now become good friends and I look forward to doing community work and potentially billable work with them in the future.
Third, talk to your friends, colleagues or other associates that know the business or even the people with whom you are interviewing to better understand the culture. The environment. The leadership. The trends in the business. Your network is important as it can lay the framework for an effective interview.
PREPARE. Resume first. It is truly amazing to me that with so many resources available on the Internet and friends / colleagues that could provide feedback on a resume, that so many individuals create resumes that are not effective. There should be no mis-spellings or grammar issues in the resume. It doesnot have to be one page and does not need to be five pages. My suggested format = Contact Info (Name/Address/Phone/Email/Blog) – Summary of Qualifications (3-4 sentences) – Work Experience (Company/Duration/Role/Project-Work Situation-Actions-Results) – Skills (Technical or Business Skills) – Education (Undergrad, Grad Schools and Degrees, no GPA or test scores) – Activities / Interests (Answer the question “are you well-rounded?”)
Interview prep second. First impressions make or break – whether in a phone screen or in the actual interview. For phone screens, be prepared with the 2-3 minute “tell me a little about yourself” first question and do not overload the interviewer with details. Next, have your business experience examples outlined, written down and reviewed before the call. Consider outlining examples using this format: What was the situation / problem you were looking to solve – what actions did you take / team you managed / resources you utilized – results of the project / initiative.
For in-person interviews, wear the right attire for the business environment (55% of first impressions are visual). Next, prepare materials that go beyond the resume. Outline your skills, abilities, industry expertise. Define your personal brand. Develop a draft 30-60-90 day plan for the position. Most candidates come to the interview with a copy of their resume printed on heavy stock paper…and that’s it. Most hiring managers don’t care what paper your resume is on – if you are at the interview, your resume completed its task. Prepare materials that more clearly outline who you are. Your personality. Your method of working on a team. Your leadership style. Leave the content behind when you depart the interview. Also, have a clear line on what you are passionate about. What you LOVE to do. What gets you excited to come to work…and likewise, the things you do not enjoy.
FOLLOW-UP. Send a quick email thanking the interviewers immediately following the interview and reference a conversation point from the interview that you felt was positive. Then, write thank you notes to each and every person involved in the interview process...whether you are selected for the role or not. Hand-written thank you notes are rare and yet, very meaningful.
Small stuff? No. The reality is that many people are lazy and expect things to be handed to them vs. having to work hard to get results. Don’t sit around waiting for the phone to ring or the next email to arrive. Own your career. Most people talk a lot about goals and objectives yet never take steps to pursue those goals and objectives. Most people are also not organized or detail-oriented. Some are un-willing to “test the waters” of social media, social networking and the new age of connecting electronically. To get the job everybody else is pursuing, you MUST do things nobody else is doing.