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Recruiters Share What Makes a Candidate Stand Out

Job hunting sucks, but knowing how to make a lasting impression can land you a position straight away. Here's what makes a candidate stand out in a stack of résumés.

Photo by Marten Bjork on Unsplash

The job search isn't a pleasant process. If you've recently lost your job, you may suddenly find yourself feeling helplessly adrift in a sea of uncertainty. When faced with this adversity, however, you have little choice but to persevere, change gears, and set off toward your next destination. Take advantage of the opportunity to rewrite your cover letter and create a résumé that will stand out as you search for greener pastures.

When applying for jobs, be aware of your skill set and how it applies to jobs that you're interested in. If you've held a marketing position, consider how that experience qualifies you for any number of other lines of work. Marketing experience lends itself well to a whole slew of career paths including sales, advertising, copywriting, and public relations. Unless you have a more specific set of skills, take advantage of any flexibility in your résumé in order to open as many opportunities for future employment as possible.

Of course, all that effort can only get you so far. According to research on a number of real life job recruiters, here's what makes a candidate stand out among their competition.

Displaying a Genuine Enthusiasm

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

This concept may seem obvious to those who are already know how to give a killer interview. If the thought of sharing your enthusiasm for a position has never really occurred to you, then consider this your wake up call. Job applicants may not be aware of this little-known secret, but recruiters and hiring managers generally want you to perform well. Or, at the very least, they genuinely want to find someone who is a good fit for their company while also being a qualified candidate. In other words, a qualified applicant who is truly enthusiastic stands out in a very good way.

A common argument against this advice is that there is no such thing as genuine enthusiasm for a low-paying entry level job. In response to that, I have to say I beg to differ. The most successful applicants to any position are able to find something to latch on to as a positive trait that you can spin to your advantage. Even if these sorts of entry-level interviews aren't as competitive as later jobs you'll have in your career, they offer a valuable opportunity for you to practice your interviewing abilities.

Just about any recruiter can tell you about a time they interviewed someone who was perfectly qualified for a position, but they didn't get a job offer because they didn't effectively convey that they were particularly excited about a position. So many minute details can make the difference in whether or not you land a position: don't let something trivial like a lack of excitement be the reason you don't get a call back.

Be yourself.

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Being relaxed and cool-headed at a job interview is, of course, easier said than done. But being able to show a hiring manager your genuine self can make the difference between whether or not an interview leads to a job offer. Quite often, the thing that makes a candidate stand out isn't his or her qualifications, but rather the personal impression they make on the interview committee. After a certain point, most candidates invited to an interview are qualified enough to land the job. That means that you don't have to worry as much about proving your qualifications as much as making a personal connection with whoever is interviewing you. 

To put this another way, consider two competing applicants for the same position, both of whom are qualified for the job in terms of training and experience. One applicant has a few more years of relevant work experience on their résumé, but their interview is average at best. The second applicant is less experienced than the first, but they build a rapport with the interviewer, ask questions that could land them the job, and have a brief conversation when the interview is over. Which of these two candidates do you think gets the job offer? Hiring someone who is a good personal fit for the team is almost always preferable to hiring someone who is slightly more qualified.

Being Generic or Fake

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Switching gears a little bit, I'd like to remind you that being memorable isn't automatically a good thing. One major misstep that makes a candidate stand out in a bad way is the use of generic business lingo in your job interviews. Many ill-fated candidates may try to impress their interviewer by peppering in buzzwords like "synergy" and "problem solving" or random initialisms like "ROI" and "KPO." In fact, some career coaches may even encourage their trainees to learn some of this jargon in an effort to make themselves seem more experienced.

The fact of the matter, however, is that the use of such generic and banal language is an immediate red flag to everyone on the review committee. At best, it makes you look uncreative and uninteresting. At worst, unnecessary use of buzzwords may convince your interviewers that you're completely inexperienced, especially if you use the terms inaccurately.

I want to further point out that this applies to all aspects of the job application process: generic language and business jargon in your résumé or cover letter is just as bad as using it in an in-person interview. Take the time to craft a résumé that frames your unique experience and set of skills, compose a cover letter without using generic terminology, and don't be afraid to take a moment to gather your thoughts before responding to a question in an interview. 

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