Job Search Tips to Leave a Lasting Impression and to Stand Out

When we look for a new opportunity, we most often focus on what the company does, how successful it is, and how it will add value to our experience. But over time, I've learned that these things don't matter as much as we think. The roles we love and the organizations we stick with are those whose values are aligned with our own. Thus, a company's culture will determine to a large extent the degree of satisfaction we will experience in our new role, as well as the impact we are likely to have.

Be yourself

While it’s only natural to be apprehensive of how people perceive us, don't hide who you are when interviewing for your next position. Too often, we try to “fit” an organization’s expectations of us. But this approach is not sustainable. 

Although it may feel uncomfortable to reveal our authentic selves to total strangers, remember that our differences provide us with perspectives that others may not have. Moreover, our uniqueness adds value to our contributions: It helps us to come up with new ideas, offer fresh perspectives, and may motivate a company to rethink the way it does business.

The right company for us is one that appreciates our differences, builds on our strengths, and gives us room to grow. If an organization can’t see our diversity as an asset, then it may not be the right place to work.

Tell your story candidly 

During a job interview, you'll be asked questions about your past work experiences, as well as your strengths and areas for development. Most of these will be formulated as situational questions. For example: Tell me about a time when you had to overcome a challenge? Describe a time when you handled a high-pressure scenario? 

According to author Kelsey Schurer, telling your personal story candidly is the most effective way to capture your interviewer’s interest and answer those tricky questions. By revealing details about your journey and providing context for your accomplishments, you will establish a connection that is both emotional and impactful, prompting your interviewer to take a closer look at you and ultimately set you apart from the competition.

We all have compelling stories to tell, whether you won an award or completed a difficult task. Share these accomplishments in the form of a story that touches on the following questions: What did you sacrifice? How did it feel? Who supported you? Or did you have to go it alone? 

Sharing specific information about your life and identity will give the interviewer a better understanding of your values, skills, and purpose. It will give them a sense of your approach to problems, your determination, your ability to take risks, and your capacity to self-reflect. This mark of trust is far more likely to be reciprocated with equal trust than a series of pre-prepared answers.

Finally, to stand out and make a lasting impression, you must portray the full picture of your personality – share your successes and failures. Either way, you've learned a lesson and built on that experience to become a better version of yourself [Become a better version of yourself]. By accepting responsibility for your mistakes and letting your weaknesses show, you stand out to your interviewer as an emotionally intelligent and self-aware candidate.

Confirm that your values are compatible with your target company’s culture  

People like organizations have values. To assume new responsibilities within an organization and successfully deliver in your new role, your values must be compatible with those of the organization's culture. They do not necessarily have to be the same, but they must be close enough to coexist. If not, you run the risk of being frustrated and not getting results.

Author Shane Hatton, in his article, “5 Questions to Ask Before Accepting a Job,” writes that a company’s culture will define most of your experience in a new role. The culture of a company is based on a set of values, expectations and beliefs that inspire desired behaviors and guide the actions of all its members. Company culture also reflects how you will be treated as an employee.

To identify a healthy company culture, Hatton suggests asking these five questions during a job interview:

  • How would your team members describe their relationships with one another at work?
  • How do people give each other feedback on this team?
  • How often do you see and hear from the senior leaders of the business?
  • How do you measure success on your team?
  • Could you share an example of a recent project that the team worked on? What went well, and what didn’t? 

Some other points to keep in mind

Bias is deeply embedded in the hiring system, which is why negative group-based stereotypes can emerge from a quick scan of a resume. Ms. DeCelles advises "whitening the resumes of Asians or African Americans to make them look more mainstream." Her research findings support the common belief that the CV screening game is stacked against minorities; they must conceal their race, ethnicity, gender, or age to be on equal footing with other applicants.

Also, ‘humblebragging’ is an ineffective strategy in a job interview. To the classic question, “What is your greatest weakness?”, applicants are often advised to put a positive spin on their answer, for example: “It’s hard for me to work on teams because I am such a perfectionist.” It’s a lousy self-promotion tactic that usually backfires according to Harvard Business School’s Ovul Sezer. Humblebragging is perceived as disingenuousness: “there’s a part where you’re trying to promote yourself, but then you cover it up with a complaint”, Sezer says. “And people don’t like that.” 

Final thoughts

To get hired, you need to tell a story about why you're the right person for the job. Be sure to convincingly highlight the skills that illustrate the qualities sought: your ability to deal with change and adapt, for example. Adaptability consistently tops the list of desirable employee skills, according to a McKinsey survey.

Finding the company that is the best fit for you and where you can make the greatest contribution requires consideration of three things: your strengths, your personal preferences for how you want to work, and your values [be the CEO and champion of your career].

Experience has taught me that it matters just as much to reveal who we are as to pay close attention to the interviewer's reactions to our revelations. If at the end of the interview, we both walk away with a feeling of mutual appreciation, we stand a good chance of discussing a job offer that both parties will be happy to embrace.

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