December 3, 2009

Making yourself stand out from the pack

Let's face it – with an economy that's still in recovery mode and an unemployment rate that continues to rise, especially amongst young people, find a job isn't easy. Quite simply, there are more people competing for fewer spots.

As such, most job seekers look for ways to distinguish themselves from other prospective employees. Some have tried very outlandish things, including penning a song on why they are the best candidate and bringing in a self-made picture book describing their achievements.

And while these techniques could work if you were looking for a job in certain industries (e.g. music- or art-related retail, graphic design, etc.), for most jobs, you don't want to be that over-the-top.

Instead, you want to present a professional, polished, put-together image – but one that's distinct from other job seekers.

So how do you make yourself stand out from the pack?

Well, today I came across a great article on Yahoo! about subtle ways that job seekers can stand out. Written by Clea Badion of Robert Half International, one of the world's largest staffing firms, the article gives three tips that any job seeker, regardless of age, can employ.
1) Ask questions during interviews

It's a cardinal rule that when going for an interview, you should research the organization. But as Badion notes, "most job seekers research a firm before being interviewed there, but many stop digging once they show up for the meeting."

Instead, come prepared with a few questions about the company itself. For example, if you had applied for a job at a local clothing store, you could ask: "Does the company have plans to expand into other malls?", "I read that last year, the company held a fundraiser for the local hospital – will that be happening again this year?"

And depending on your own career path, you could ask the interviewer questions about their own involvement with the company. So for example, continuing with the same example, you could ask "How did you yourself get started with the company?" or "As the store's manager, could you talk about the career progression schemes available with this company?".

2) Dress up for an interview

As Badion says, "what you wear to the job interview can significantly influence an employer's impression of you. If you show up to the interview dressed sloppily, even if the firm is known for its laid-back atmosphere, the hiring manager may question your professionalism or interest in the opportunity."

I agree with her assessment, particularly for those looking for jobs in an office or a more formal setting – you always want to dress up and look professional and business attire is best.

However, in the retail sector, things are a little trickier. For example, wearing a suit to a store that caters to the tween and teen market might not project the right image. After all, hiring managers in retail stores often look for staff that "look" the part.

As such, I recommend visiting the organization a few days before your interview. Look to see what the culture is and what other employees are wearing. Then make your decision – either dress a level-up (e.g. for an office job) or try to dress similar to the store standard (e.g. for a retail clothing store).

3) Follow up and send a thank-you note after an interview

This is the one tip that I cannot stress enough – and I'm glad Badion included it.

Following up with a simple phone call or e-mail is a great way to distinguish yourself as most applicants forget to do it, despite how easy and quick it is.

As I've said in a previous post, use a thank you e-mail or phone call to not only thank the interviewer, but to reiterate your interest in the job.

And Badion makes a great point about tailoring your thank you note – try to customize it by referring to something said during the interview (e.g. your mutual love of Thai food, a new product line about to be launched, etc.). This will surely resonate with the hiring manager.

In sum, because the job market is incredibly fierce right now as unemployment, particularly for young people, continues to rise, it is imperative that job seekers look for ways to distinguish themselves from the pack.

And by doing so, you can leave the hiring manager with "a lasting, positive impression" that drastically improves your chances of securing the position.

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