Be remarkable: How to stand out at interview

Team Clare Mitchell - Ivy House London

Standing out from a crowd has never been more important when applying for jobs and interviewing for roles.

If you don’t believe me have a look at some of these stats:

  • Most graduates looking for a graduate scheme make over 25 applications
  • 16% of graduates applied for 100 jobs or more
  • The average ratio of job applications made to receiving one invitation to interview or assessment centre = 21:1
  • Top employers report receiving over 100 applications per graduate position
  • It is estimated that 1% – 2% of graduates applying for Grad Schemes are hired
  • Employers featured in The Times Top 100 Graduate Employers cut their graduate recruitment by 15% in 2020
  • The countries leading employers report receiving 41% more graduate job applications than last year

(Sources: High Fliers Research, The Times, Personnel Today, GraduateJobs.com)

But it’s not all doom and gloom. Most people don’t know how to stand out from the crowd, they don’t know how to be remarkable – and it’s actually not that hard once you know how.

When I say remarkable, I mean that literally; to be worthy of remark. For an interviewer to remember you and remark about you, after the interview process, so you stand out from the other applicants.

It takes a bit of prep, a bit of practice and a bit of courage – before, during and after – but honestly, it is not hard!

I say it’s not hard to stand out because most people follow a pretty standard process. Before an interview they Google the company, go on the company website, find out a few facts. During the interview they are polite but passive and have prepared a couple of unremarkable questions to ask at the end. After that they do nothing but wait to see if they have been successful or not, because they think there is nothing more they can do. The likelihood is they will not get the job because they have done nothing remarkable and have not stood out from the crowd.

So, here is what you do:

Before

Do your research. Don’t just Google the company and go on the company website – that is standard, a hygiene factor. These days you can find out so much more.  Find out what the customers are saying about the company and the products. What is their reputation like? How do they compare to their competitors?

LinkedIn is king. Use social media to find out about the people interviewing you. Not to stalk them or use the information in an inappropriate over familiar way (that would be weird). Find out what articles they are sharing or writing. Find out who they are following. You are not doing this so you can lie or be inauthentic, people spot that a mile off. But if you are well informed you can say ‘I see you wrote an article on LinkedIn about equality in the workplace. I enjoyed reading it. I share your passion for …’

Do some digging. Find out about the company values. Do they align with your own? Do you know your own values yet? If not, it’s really useful to get clear about what your values are so you can look for organisations and roles that will support you to honour your own values, rather than ignore or even violate them.

Recap: Do remarkable research, not basic

During

What impact are you making? The thing to remember is: you cannot not make an impact. To put it another way, you are always making an impact – either negatively or positively. It is worth remembering that, from the minute you walk into the building or join the zoom room.

If the interview is taking place remotely consider where you are. What is your background like? What have you chosen to wear? What facial expression are you pulling? Are they all contributing to the positive impact you want to be having?

With face-to-face interviews you are making an impact from the minute you walk into the building. One company I worked with used to ask the receptionist their first impression of the candidates; were they polite and friendly? If the receptionist said no, they did not get the job.

Be early. This is obvious and seems like another hygiene factor, but it actually means you get to sit in reception and absorb the atmosphere, the culture. Someone is likely to collect you to take you to the meeting room.  Be aware, the interview has already started at this point. Don’t walk in awkward silence! Stand up as they walk towards you. Smile, initiate a handshake (assuming no restrictions are in place!) and have some curious questions ready to ask as you walk.

Ask questions. Some people fill an awkward silence by over-talking about themselves. The best way to have a positive impact is to fill silence with a question. If you are nervous it gets you out of your own head and concentrating on the other person. You won’t over talk out of nerves if you just ask a question. And it shows interest and curiosity about the other person. For example: Great offices! How long has your company been based here? How many people work here? What is the local area like? How long have you worked here? So, what is your role? What do you like about it? I am not suggesting you be over familiar, cocky or precocious – that would be memorable for all the wrong reasons. Consider what impact you want to have and do the behaviours associated with that. You are probably best aiming for confident, professional and friendly.

Body language. Once in the interview room, approach everyone, shake hands, get names and remember them! Get water if offered, get comfortable and then don’t fidget.

Be authentic. Take your time. Don’t lie. Interviews will spot that. Be yourself, answer the questions asked and try to weave some of what your research told you into your answers. You could refer to the company values, the customer research, something you read that an interviewer had published on LinkedIn.

Story telling. Tell stories, rather than recite your CV. They can read that and it’s not memorable. Stories are memorable. If you don’t believe me watch this.

Be brave. At the end be brave enough to say ‘I notice you haven’t asked me about ABC / my experience in XXX which I think is relevant to the role, could I share that with you?

Killer questions. Come up with some memorable questions to ask, more personal ones are memorable such as:

  • Why do you like working here?
  • How would you describe the culture?
  • What sort of person fits in here?
  • If I got the job, what would I have achieved for you all to say I was over performing? 
  • In six months’ time what will the successful candidate have achieved that will make you say ‘wow’?
  • What is the biggest challenge I will face in this role?
  • If you offered me the job, why do you think I should accept it?
  • Whether I am successful or not, I would love to get some feedback from you, is that OK? What is the best process to get that?

Thanks. On leaving thank the interviewers for their time, let them know you enjoyed talking to them, be super polite. Proactive politeness is underrated when it comes to standing out from the crowd.

Recap:

Do remarkable curiosity, not small talk
Do remarkable storytelling, not CV reciting
Do remarkable questioning, not bland

After

Be proactive. Most people think there is nothing more to do but wait. There are two remarkable yet simple things you can do:

  1. Email the interviewers to thank them and let them know you enjoyed the interview
  2. Follow up on any questions they asked you that you didn’t know or didn’t fully answer, demonstrating proactivity

I was once interviewed and asked if I knew about a specific personality profiling tool. I answered honestly and said I didn’t. When I got home, I searched it and found out I could take the test free online. I did it and sent my results to the interviewer – I got the job based on that proactive act.

Recap: Do remarkable follow up, not waiting

My neighbour’s son was chatting to me about a graduate apprenticeship interview he had at a large surveyor firm. He was despondent as he knew 100s of people had applied. I talked him through how to be remarkable and stand out before, during and after the assessment centre. He was up for the challenge.  Afterwards he told me he really enjoyed putting all the behaviours into practice. They made him feel more confident. Building a connection with the receptionist relaxed him and chatting to the person who walked him to the interview room put him at ease early on. That feeling of confidence meant he was his best self in the interview. The follow up email letting the interviewer know he had enjoyed the interview was actually genuine… and guess what? He got the job!

This article is part of The Future Leaders Project, supporting 15-18 year olds to understand their options for the future (although the advice here is useful to adults, too!) Register for access to a whole resource portal packed with inspiring lesson plans, expert talks, activities, interviews and advice from leaders from a whole range of fields.

By Clare Mitchell, Ivy House London
22nd July 2021

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