So often a job interviewer is faced with a number of candidates who according to their resume have similar experience. Not until you reach the interview stage will they be able to judge the candidate's personality. But this too may result in a number of very similar candidates with little to distinguish between them.
So how do you stand out from the crowd? If you are able to offer something unique then you have a much better chance of success. You just cannot be ignored.
What could be unique about your application? It doesn't have to be the fact that you are the best at something, although this would help. It just means you need to offer something that the other candidates cannot offer or forget to highlight, it's the same thing.
So in what areas can you stand up and say 'I have a unique selling point?'
For all job interviews the interviewer has the recurring question in their heads..... What is the problem I need the candidate to solve? This is a good starting place. Most candidates will never truly find this out. They just do not ask or understand its importance. You must try to find this out. You can then tailor your skills and experience to demonstrate how you can address this issue. Here is an example:
Job: 'We are looking to employ a salesman so that we can increase turnover.
Actual problem: 'We need to increase turnover because we struggle to make any profits. Actually every time we make a sale we hardly make any profit because our sales channel is very inefficient'.
Candidate: 'I see. Actually we had the same problem at my last company. What we did was introduce several new methods of selling. We set up an e-commerce website, grew our joint venture sales partnerships and brought our inflated advertising budget in house. All 3 initiatives meant that sales increased by 35% but the cost base actually stayed neutral. The gross profit figure therefore rose by 74%. I was instrumental in driving through these changes. It sounds like you have a similar situation to ours 15 months ago which I am sure I can assist you with. Do you want to hear more about how I did this?'
... YES of course he does!
You have a unique selling point. You have faced this situation before and can directly relate your experience to the task at hand. The job interviewer must be impressed with such a reply. They are already imagining the success you can bring to the job role. How on earth could anybody fail to be impressed?
Actually the unique selling point does not have to be hidden. You may be the unique candidate because you are the only candidate who actually convinces the interviewer that you meet the job description.
This is where preparation is so important. List the details of the job description and make sure you have prepared answers with relevant examples which demonstrate you can meet all these criteria. By default this may make you unique.
How else can you make yourself unique?
If you have a particular skill which you know is in short supply eg. ''I have used software x for 18 months. I am quite proud of my achievements in mastering it because I was reading recently that very few people have this skill and there is a long learning curve.'
It plants the seed of doubt in the interviewers mind that the other candidates without this skills might take a long time to learn this, where as I have a candidate in front of me who has already learnt this and can start being productive almost immediately.
Be careful though not to directly criticize other candidates either directly or indirectly.
Look through your resume and find examples of what may be rare or unique.....
'Do you have experience of selling a particular product range?'
'Have you led large teams of staff?'
'Do you have a particular qualification that other candidates might not have?'
'Have you experience of public speaking'
Your unique selling point may not necessarily need to be a tangible skill, qualification or experience. It could be that you are the most determined candidate, the most enthusiastic candidate or the most likely to fit into a team environment.
Note down the things that you excel at use these to form a list of strengths. You may then need to whittle this list down again to identify those traits that you believe to be unique. Of course you cannot know for sure but by concentrating on these your chances of success will undoubtedly be enhanced.
Get the interviewer to say 'yes' in their mind. Control the flow of positive information
An interviewer needs to see you in a positive light. One of the ways to do this is to get them to say 'yes' in their own mind.
The most effective way of doing this is to control the level of positive information they are receiving.
An interviewer will review your resume and begin with the premise that you are 'on paper' suitably qualified to fulfill the role.
They will start the interview with
'....let us review your last few roles and tell me what you did (and achieved)?'
This gives you the opportunity to detail all the positive elements of your career. List the benefits you have brought to the role. This is fine, but the other candidates will get the same treatment!
However to separate the candidates the interviewer will undoubtedly delve into the negative aspects of what you have done.
'.....Tell me a time when you fell short or didn't achieve your goals'
'....What aspects of your last job did you not like?'
'....Why have you got gaps in your resume?'
The list of negative questions that an interviewer can ask are almost endless and are always the toughest questions to handle.
An interviewer will often discount the positive aspects of your answers and look much more closely at the potential negatives in your career.
You should not be afraid to discuss the negative aspects of your career. A successful series of answers will put you in a strong position. It clears a lot of uncertainty in the interviewers mind.
The key point is to keep any negative answers or information to a minimum and accentuate the positives.
Here are examples of what not to say
Q. '... Have you ever disagreed or argued with your current immediate supervisor?'
A. '......Sometimes when we disagree on certain aspects of my work'
Q. '....Presumably you want this job because you are disillusioned with your current employer?'
A. '....Yes and the pay isn't great either'.
Q. '....You seem to lack experience in area 'x'
A. '.....Yes, I never got the opportunity to train in it'
If you answered like this then you are just re-enforcing the negative aspects of the question. You must never answer negative questions in this manner. If you do then you can say goodbye to any job offers.
Look at the following examples and see how a negative question is snuffed out and turned into a positive.
Q. '... Have you ever disagreed or argued with your current immediate supervisor?'
A. '......Fortunately, we have always had a good working relationship. Recently he has been giving me greater powers of authority and also I have been trusted to delegate for him and weekly performance meetings.'
Nip the negative in the bud and then accentuate the positive by detailing the fact that your supervisor is comfortable with giving you more powers of trust.
Q. '....Presumably you want this job because you are disillusioned with your current employer?'
A. '....Actually. I have really enjoyed working for my current employer and they have given me plenty of valuable experience. However I now fell it is time to further my career by moving on and learning new skills.'
Notice how you start the sentence with the word 'actually' or fortunately this is better than saying an outright 'NO'.
It may appear only a minor point but don't start the sentence with 'No, on the contrary......' or words to that effect. It is effectively disagreeing with the interviewer and this is bad diction.
Q. '....You seem to lack experience in using this type of software'
A. '.....This may be true, but I have used very similar software at my current organisation which I learnt to use very quickly and became proficient at using in a short period of time.
You need to accept there is a shortcoming. But the approach is to close off the objection by showing how it shouldn't be a problem for the employer and try not to discuss it any further.
Q. '....Describe a situation where your work was criticised'
This is a tricky question because it has got 'expand on some negative aspects of your work' written all over it. Firstly do not say that your work has never been criticised, it just sounds too unlikely.
Change the question round so that it is not your work that was criticised but an idea you had. Ideas are often considered, criticised then dropped with little or no impact on the organisation. Bad work will result in pain for the organisation.
A good answer is to refer to a team meeting where you were all asked to contribute ideas and not necessarily in an area with which you were familiar. Say you suggested something but upon discussion it was felt there were some flaws in the idea and a better idea was adopted.
Add a humbling statement such as '......in our workplace all team members are often encouraged to contribute ideas and provide honest criticism on each others ideas. No one in the group takes criticism personally as the objective of the exercise is to explore all possibilities, eliminate the poor suggestions and find the best solution.'
Such an answer accepts that you are not perfect but implies the criticism of your idea ended in a positive outcome.
Do not criticise other people or ex-employers
Continuing with the theme of removing all negative thoughts from the interview do not criticise your past employer or employees.
This is not a forum for letting off steam and ranting on about an ex-employer or employee.
Interviewers are prospective employees and do not want to hear anything negative from you. Criticising ex-employers or ex-employees could lose you the job there and then.
People do not like whiners, however much it may be justified
Mentioning this and raises the question in their mind that you may have been partly to blame for any antipathy.
It immediately raises the question - are you the trouble maker? Is it you that cannot get on with people?
Ask yourself a very simple question......
In what way can bad-mouthing an ex-employee help in furthering your interview and get you the job?
.......the answer is absolutely nothing.
If you really didn't get on with someone, which after all is fairly common, avoid mentioning it. If in the unlikely event you are asked about any difficulties with ex-employees or your working relationship just deny any friction existed. Keep it general and do not talk about any person or position specifically.
''I always endeavour to maintain a positive and professional working relationship with all colleagues. I am a great believer in the team ethic and getting along with colleagues as I believe this is the most effective and productive approach.''
Just to remind you if you are talking about anything apart from you then you are losing valuable 'bragging time' to shine.
Do not argue or disagree with the interviewer
It is simple. If you argue or disagree with the interviewer you will undoubtedly fall in their estimations. What is more if by arguing or disagreeing with them they do not like you your chances of success are reduced to between very low and zero.
To summarise keep all negatives aspects of the interview to a minimum. The aim is to get the interviewer to subconsciously nod their head and say 'YES'.
Don't be overbearing or overpowering, show the interviewer up or threaten their job.
When it comes to showing you are confident and self-assured there is level at which you need to pitch this. On the one extreme there is the nervous, unconfident and desperate sounding individual. At the other extreme there is the overbearing, arrogant, boastful individual.
It is not uncommon to hear of interviewers citing examples of individuals who come for an interview professing to be able to rewrite the company rule book and 'sort things out' for the good of the company.
Maybe they can and maybe they do have the best interests of their prospective employers at heart.
However if the poor interviewer thinks this person is going to show them up as being weak or even threaten their own job then they will not get the job. It is as simple as that. You would never employ someone who could potentially ruin your career. They are looking for someone who is ideally going to enhance the work they do and make them look good.
Every one is conscious that they have failings. A manager does not want to take on anyone who may expose their weaknesses or make apparent the current failings they may have in their role.
Don't be modest,
Throughout this book we have emphasised the need to show the prospective employer that you have the necessary attributes to do the job and bring additional benefits to the role. This takes a certain degree of boasting.
We are brought up to believe that we need to be modest in order to fit in with the crowd. Well modesty is fine in an interview as long as it doesn't get in the way of expressing your attributes and skills to the full.
You need to express your career and work achievements in specific terms with relevant examples. Additionally you need to express your soft skills and attributes again with relevant examples.
It is important to write these down and practice them. Make them sound real.
'.....company x set the following sales target for the last 12 months. I was able to exceed these by 50%. I did this by improving my success rate for each lead, making more cold calls than the other sales executives and working weekends to close a number of those deals.
Contrast this with the following statement which says the same thing....
'.....company x set the following sales target for the last 12 months. I was able to exceed these by 50%. I did this because I was better than all the other sales executives. Ask my ex-boss!
It is fairly non-specific and also smacks of boasting. No one likes to hear someone needlessly boasting. Anyway you mentioned your ex-boss, does this mean you have already left the company and you are now unemployed or are you so sure of getting this job?
It is important to get the wording right and so write down each statement and practice it.
Have at least 3 achievements you can quite for each stage of your career. Practice them so that they sound natural and are not boastful.
You need to avoid meaningless phrases like 'I work hard' and 'I am very efficient at my job', 'I am a good salesman'.
A prospective employer is looking for a sharp individual who can communicate precisely and effectively. The above phrases are woolly non-descript and convey little specific meaning. The interviewer then has to probe deeper.
'What makes you a good salesman, what were your sales figures for the last 6 months?'
Your first question gave you the opportunity to list your main strengths. If ever there was a question with which you needed to practice a full and detailed answer, which lists your strengths and abilities, then this is it.
So having asked the question once, if you do not provide the benefits, the interviewer effectively needs to ask the same question again.
So be full and specific in your answers. Avoid meaningless phrases. The interview is the one opportunity for you to shine!
Always tell the truth (be careful about exaggerating)
When asked a direct question always tell the truth. If you are caught contradicting yourself then you can wave goodbye to the job.
Of course if there is something you don't want to discuss then don't bring it up. Do not offer negative information. It is up to the interviewer to get the 'dirty facts'. It is up to you to paint the rosiest picture possible.
Exaggeration is a grey area in interview techniques. Most people will try to embellish their skills, ability and importance to the organisation. I strongly suggest not exaggerating anything where the facts can be checked.
Studies have shown that it is more important how you say something that what you say. Also the English language allows so much scope for delivering the same facts in a number of different ways.
That is why preparation is the key to success not only in what you say but how you present those words and how you present yourself. The actual facts of what you say become less important in interviews.
So the bottom line is there is no need to exaggerate. Although it may be tempting to do so it is easier to be successful by delivering your skills and ability in an effective manner.
Just keep smiling
There are certain interviewers who know little or nothing about interviewing. Maybe they are nervous or just not properly trained. We have all seen interviewers who just seem to trot out question after question without seemingly listening to your answer. They may not even look up at you or acknowledge your answer with a smile or a nod of the head.
It can be so frustrating in these situations. You are trying to build rapport but you seem to face a brick wall.
Don't worry! Just keep persevering. All the candidates are likely to face the same response. Do not take this personally. You need to view this as an opportunity. Other candidates may well look at this 'hostility' as a sign they are performing badly and give up.
This book prepares you for any interview with a view to projecting yourself in the best light. The fact that you are struggling to build any rapport with the interviewer, while in it self, is disconcerting, does not mean you are necessarily saying the wrong things or projecting the wrong image.
An interview will typically last one hour so make sure you stay the distance and do not get disheartened. Keep smiling!
The one drawback with an interviewer like this is that it does give you a bad impression of the company. After all you are probably going to have to work with this individual. Once you are offered the job you can always turn it down if there is something you didn't like.