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Outsmarting your competition is easier than you think (but it does require some effort)

April 22nd, 2010 ::

By Jennifer Nycz-Conner

http://www.flickr.com/photos/pshan427/ / CC BY 2.0

I’ve been out of college for … well, let’s just say longer than I’d like to admit. Plenty has changed since then. Today’s twenty-somethings don’t have to battle the eternal questions surrounding the job application process: how many pages a resume should be, sending it flat versus folded in a regular envelope, to use a staple or paper clip.

But there are still plenty, less tangible, attributes that remain constant. A big one? How to make yourself stand out from the masses. In a good way.

With many years as someone who’s both been hired and done the hiring, I’ll let you in on a secret: It’s not really that hard to do. It will require some effort, however.

Steve Buttry has a fantastic example of this on his blog. As the Director of Community Engagement for Allbritton Communications’ new Washington, D.C. yet-to-be-named Web site, Buttry is on what in this economy could be referred to as a hiring spree, with plenty of qualified candidates from which to choose. But in his latest hiring announcement for a social media producer, candidate Mandy Jenkins popped to the top of the pile:

“Other excellent candidates interviewed before Mandy, though, and I thought of this as a crowded field when she arrived for an interview. I saw good signs even before she reached the office. She checked in from the Metro station nearby about 20 minutes before the interview, then from a nearby coffee shop. When I commented on that as I met her in the lobby of our offices, she told me she was using the beta of check.in, a new service that checks you in on multiple location-based platforms at once. There’s a good interviewing tip for you: If you’re applying for a social media job, start the interview right by telling the prospective boss even before you sit down that you’re using something he’s never heard of.”

That is a classic example of doing your homework, getting into your potential boss’ head and finding a way to use actions, not words to demonstrate why you are the right choice.

Here are some tips to make yourself stand out throughout the entire life cycle of the application process. It sounds like common sense, but many people do not do any of these, let alone all:

  • Spelling. Yes, this is basic, but you’d be amazed how many people don’t check their spelling. Want to show, not just say, you’re detail oriented? Spell your potential boss’ name correctly.
  • Do your homework. There is no excuse not to have done research on a potential employer today. It’s too easy not to. Don’t stop at the first two Google links you see. Go on LinkedIn and see where that hiring manager has worked previously. Check the news sites to find out what the company, and more importantly, its competitors, have been grappling with. Looking through social networking sites to find people you may know in common, or people that have worked at that company in the past. Ask them for guidance on what life is like inside the company. All of this is critical to prepare for the dreaded, “So, do you have any questions for me?” question. Which brings me to the next point…
  • Have a topic — or topics — ready for the dreaded, “So, do you have any questions for me?” question. You know it’s coming. Prepare for it. Better yet, use it as an opportunity to show what you know about the industry, your critical thinking skills, and your ability to add something to the team.
  • Think like your potential boss. If you were him or her, what kinds of questions would you ask? What kinds of answers would you want to hear?
  • Outthink your competition. What are your best competitors likely to do? How can you do it better, faster, different?
  • Follow up. Send the thank you note, and quickly (yes, it matters, says the girl who cringes at the thoughts of the ones I should have sent). Stay in touch, about the job, about the company and particularly with the person.
  • Be passionate. Anyone can have experience, or be shown how to do a job. Enthusiasm and passion cannot be taught. If you have it, show it.

Jennifer Nycz-Conner is a Senior Staff Reporter and Media Strategy Manager for the Washington Business Journal. You can read more great advice from Jennifer on Working the Room, her blog for the Washington Business Journal.

The views expressed here are the author's alone and not those of Network Solutions or its partners.

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Posted in Cover Letters, Interviewing, Jennifer Nycz-Conner, Job Search, Networking, Resumes, WhatsNextGenY | No Comments »