July 20, 2015

Ask Andrew ... How do I stand out during an interview?

Last week, I received an email message from a reader who wanted to know how she could present her skills and experience and stand out in an upcoming interview.

Q. I have an upcoming interview for a job with a souvenir stand that operates during the CNE. When booking the interview, the hiring manager said it would only be about 5 minutes long. What questions should I expect during this interview and how can I prepare myself? How can I explain my work experience during the interview so they will be impressed? How can I stand out from other people getting interviewed? 

I'm going to assume that the job is a customer-service focused retail role since most of the souvenir stands that operate during the CNE sell various memorabilia and knick knacks to CNE guests.

First, review your resume and note any examples of customer service. This can be work or volunteer experience and can range from working in a retail store to volunteering at a local school's bake sale. Any experience that relates to helping customers with their purchases, offering great customer service, or operating a cash register will be very helpful and is worth highlighting to the hiring manager during your interview.

Also, highlight other relevant skills. So for example, if you're really good at math and calculations, excel at working in a team, enjoy talking to people, or have cash handling/reconciliation experience, you should definitely talk about those skills. Many skills are transferrable and can be applied to a variety of roles, but put an emphasis on any customer service skills.

And to really stand out, also talk about:
  • Your availability, especially if you're free to work every day during the CNE from open to closing (this will definitely stand out to any hiring manager)
  • Your willingness to attend training if needed
  • Your ability to learn quickly and understand new policies and procedures easily
Now, because you've only got a 5 minute slot, don't think that you need to spend all of that time talking and cramming in your experience and skills. Let the hiring manager take the lead as they might have specific questions they need to ask all candidates.

And be careful of open-ended questions that can trick you into talking non-stop. So for example, if the hiring manager asks, "So tell me about yourself?", just mention a few points about yourself (e.g. that you're a student, how you found out about the job, that you have customer service experience, etc.). Then, let the hiring manager take the lead and s/he can decide about follow-up or next questions.

If you haven't interviewed much before, practice a few times. Ask a friend or family member to act as the hiring manager and practice answering their questions. Practice never hurts and will help you feel more confident during your actual interview.

In terms of the interview itself, I'd arrive about 5 minutes before your allocated time. 10 minutes is okay too, but beyond 10 minutes is a little bit much and could make the hiring manager feel rushed. However, if you've been asked to arrive at a certain time, ignore my advice. You might need to fill out forms or they could have multiple interviews going on at once and it's important to respect their request.

And in terms of attire, I would go business casual - you don't need to go too formal (e.g suit and tie) but don't go super casual (e.g. ripped jeans, flip flops, etc.). A nice dress shirt or blouse and chinos, dress pants, or a skirt is ideal.

Good luck with your interview! :-)