How to stand out from the crowd

People always ask me the best strategy for getting a job. My answer: standing out from the other applicants.

April McHugh is a career and educational counselor for the Division of Continuing Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Career counselor April McHugh: Presenting yourself as the perfect job applicant involves determining an employer’s needs.

That might sound obvious, but what many job seekers don’t realize is that talent alone will not make you stand out.

In their book The 6 Reasons You’ll Get the Job, Elisabeth Sanders-Park and Debra Angel MacDougall write, “Usually the candidates on the final short list all have the ability to do the job, so the deciding factor is something more.”

What is the “something more”? It can be found in six qualities that employers scrutinize when deciding which candidate to hire. Here’s how you can be that candidate.

Look the Part: In the interview, make sure your presentation matches the company’s tone and culture. Do your research to learn whether people dress formally or casually, then demonstrate that you’d fit right in. When in doubt, err on the side of being more formal, not more casual.

Adjust Your Attitude: Is the company high-energy or low-key? Find out beforehand so you can strike the right tone in your interview.

Prove Your Dependability: Employers want to know that you will be there when they need you. Don’t just claim you will be—anyone can do that—but illustrate it with brief stories from your work history.

Go the Extra Mile: Companies are looking for motivated employees who’ll do what it takes to accomplish a task. Show that you’ve got the drive and determination to help them reach their goals. Again, prepare one or two anecdotes about how you have done so with previous employers.

Connect the Dots: An employer won’t care about your skills unless you clearly show how they relate to organizational needs. So determine those needs in advance and tailor your resume and your verbal presentation accordingly.

Flaunt Your Connections: Your professional network can be valuable to an employer, so don’t be afraid to mention it in your cover letter and interview. Talk about the contacts you’ve developed and how you can use them for the company’s benefit.

In each case, presenting yourself as the perfect applicant involves determining an employer’s needs. And that involves doing research. Start with a web search, though that will take you only so far. For the most valuable intelligence-gathering, talk to someone on the inside. Try scheduling an informational interview to ask about the company’s culture and its expectations of employees.

By doing this legwork up front, you can avoid a common problem among job applicants: emphasizing qualities that don’t really matter to the employer. For example, it does little good to tout your loyalty when applying to a company that is comfortable with a high turnover, or highlighting your background in administration when applying for a job that emphasizes service, creativity, or other skills.

If you figure out what companies are looking for, Sanders-Park and MacDougall promise, “you can discover and remove all the reasons you’re getting screened out and prove you are the ideal candidate for their job.”

“How to Stand Out from the Crowd” originally appeared in the Wisconsin State Journal.

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