Q&A: To Get a Job, You MUST Stand Out

With an average of 100+ applications submitted to each job opening, it has probably never been more crucial to stand out during your job search. In today’s expert Q&A, Kevin Hungate teaches you how to do just that.

How to stand out in your job searchWhat is the typical approach to a job search? How did we all end up with the same, cookie-cutter approach?

Here’s how the large majority of people approach the interviewing process:

Step 1: They submit their resume online and wait…hoping for a response.

Step 2: If they get an interview, they show-up ONLY with their resume and then wait passively for interview questions to be asked of them.

Step 3: For follow-up after the interview, only an email will be sent.

Job seekers interview in this manner because this is the way it’s always been done. It’s how our parents and grandparents interviewed (minus the email, of course). Also, this approach allows for the candidate to put forth the least amount of effort. Unfortunately, most job candidates choose the “easy interview path” not realizing that it differs greatly from the “successful & effective” one.

What is the problem with taking this approach? Is the problem bigger now given the current economy?

The problem with this approach is twofold.

First, companies want to hire candidates who display effort during the job interview process because it is indicative of the type effort they will put forth once they are hired. The traditional approach to interviewing requires minimum effort and this no longer flies in today’s competitive environment.

Second, with the large majority of job seekers utilizing the same interview approach, few stand out or separate from the crowd. It’s the job candidate who understands the power of differentiation who gets hired today.

This problem is compounded due to the state of our economy. It’s all about supply and demand. There’s a huge demand for jobs but fewer jobs available. Therefore, companies can choose the cream of the crop and it’s typically not the candidate who interviews as I described above.

Generally speaking, what can a candidate do to differentiate herself in a job interview?

It’s important to differentiate from the moment you submit your resume all the way through your follow-up.

Step 1: When you submit your resume, don’t simply rely on the online tool. Do some detective work and uncover the name of the hiring manager and/or an HR contact. Of course, I realize this is not always easy to do. LinkedIn is great for this. Once you have a name, express mail your cover letter and resume to the contact and include a business appropriate and relevant “accompaniment.” An accompaniment is generally a one-page insert that creatively and uniquely positions you for the job and allows you/your resume to standout from the crowd. (See example under next question).

Step 2: Create a presentation for your interview. This demonstrates great preparation/effort and allows the job candidate to drive the discussion and she becomes the one asking questions instead of sitting back passively waiting for questions to be asked of her. Typically 1-2 out of 10 job candidates will do a presentation. Therefore, if you are one of those two candidates, you immediately differentiate from 80-90% of our competition.

Step 3: Most candidates follow-up with an email. Therefore, you should follow-up with a handwritten letter which nowadays is extremely uncommon—thus the effectiveness. If the interview process stretches over a period of months, utilize what I call “next level follow-up.” This is not only the next step within your follow-up process but a method of follow-up that is incredibly memorable and impactful. (See example under next question.)

What about more specifically? Can we have a couple of examples?

How to stand out in a job interviewStep 1 Example (Resume Accompaniment):

A job seeker interviewing for a job at the Time Warner Foundation created a Time Magazine cover with a business appropriate candidate photo on the front along with a caption reading “Time Warner Foundation’s Next Great Addition: Time hires Jane Doe.”

This approach resulted in the candidate receiving a call from the hiring manager stating out of hundreds of resumes, she was the ONLY ONE to do something creative and thus earned the interview.

Step 3 Example (Next Level Follow-up):

A candidate had an interview at which the hiring manager stated he wanted to hire someone who was a leader and could orchestrate—“like a quarterback.” He actually stated “like a quarterback.” As follow-up, the candidate first sent a handwritten note. His “next level follow-up” was an autographed football that arrived weeks after the initial follow-up and included a note stating “In our meeting you said you wanted to hire a leader and orchestrator—like a quarterback. I look forward to being your standout QB.”

Sometimes standing out can be a bad thing. What are some things that job seekers should avoid during the interview?

In a job interview, standing out is only negative if it’s for negative reasons. If you don’t stand out—if you’re not memorable—you will have great difficulty getting a job ( « Tweet This ). Of course, the wrong follow-up idea, etc., can have a negative impact on your ability to get a job. If you stand out for all the wrong reasons, that’s far worse than not standing out at all. In everything you do, make sure it’s appropriate for the company culture and the job function as well as in-line with the hiring manager’s personality. It’s not always easy to assess appropriateness. Trust your instincts but don’t be afraid to be bold.

Is there anything else you would like to say about this topic?

Job competition is fierce and the interview process has evolved. Focus on two key principles:

    1. The power of differentiation
    2. Displaying above & beyond effort during the entire job interview process

As stated earlier, most candidates take the same approach to interviewing—which sends them down the “easy interview path.” Step off the “easy path” and onto the “effective” one. You’ll be amazed at the end result.

About the Expert:

Kevin Hungate is the author of “I Can Start Monday: Powerful Interviewing Tips to Take You Above and Beyond the Short List” and creator of one of the most comprehensive interviewing video series available. He is also an interview coach, public speaker and creator of a mobile app that provides job seekers with inventive ideas for follow-up after the job interview.

Prior to helping people get their ideal job, Kevin was a 16-year veteran of media sales where he most recently served as Vice President of Sales for a subsidiary of one of the largest media companies in the world. Having interviewed and hired many people for jobs ranging from entry-level to six-figure salaried positions, Kevin helps today’s job candidates blast through the job applicant clutter with the unique knowledge gained from his personal experience as a hiring manager as well as from his own corporate climb. Connect with Kevin at http://kevinhungate.com/ and @kevinhungate.

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  • Linel Sluvis

    Please send me only job for medical assistant in brooklyn or manhattan. Thank you

    • Rachel Dotson

      Hi Linel,

      I couldn’t find your name or email address in our system. When you have a moment, please contact our customer service team at support@ziprecruiter.com or (877) 252-1062. They’ll be able to help you out.


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    • Rick

      That time magazine cover seems a bit corny, doesn’t it?

      • Rachel Dotson

        I agree that it might seem a bit corny from an outsider’s perspective, but I feel like someone inside of Time Warner would appreciate the gesture. Also, while the fear of being corny is understandable, such a technique might be your only hope when applying to a coveted position at a company of that size.

        • Jay R

          I am changing my work industry from Hospitality (Hotel) to IT. ‘Standing-out’ – will it be a pro or con for me?

          • http://Kevinhungate.com Kevin Hungate

            Thank you for your question, Jay. To clarify, are you asking if standing out would be a pro or con–or are you asking if changing industries is a pro or con?

          • Jay R

            Hello Kevin,

            I am more concerned about standing out due to changing of industry. HR usually would look for candidates from the same or similar background. I my case, I will be coming from a totally different area of work. So highlighting myself by doing something and proving that I can work in the new industry would be good or following the old method of going through the interview process without a lot of buzz would be recommended.

            Thank you.

          • http://kevinhungate.com Kevin Hungate

            You are moving into a field that is all about “know-how” and less about presentation. However, you should still look for opportunities to separate from the competition. A presentation for your interview would still be appropriate because it will allow you to tell YOUR story–and why you would be a fit for the job. I strongly advocate presentations because you then are able to drive the discussion. However, an IT interview may be more hands-on than other interviews. I would suggest having a presentation but be prepared NOT to present it. The process of creating the presentation will still be beneficial in the interview itself. Remember to give the hiring manager a bound copy/printout of your presentation.

            Regarding follow-up, a handwritten or typed letter should be your first method–unless you want to send an email–followed by a letter that arrives days later. However, if you want to take it a step further, think of how you can follow-up in a unique way that also allows you to demonstrate a trait valued in the job itself.

            Overall–the question you posed was, should you highlight yourself and prove you can do the job or move through the process without a lot of buzz. Definitely your first option is the route to go. Think of how you can best highlight yourself in a manner that is appropriate for the job function. When you walk out of the interview, the goal is to leave a positive/lasting impression with the hiring manager. Blending in or flying under the radar will not work–find a way to be memorable and determine how you can convey that your background/traits make you uniquely qualified for the job.

            Good luck and let me know if you have other questions.


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  • http://amctampaexecutivecareers.wordpress.com amctampaexecutivecareers

    Reblogged this on AMC Tampa Executive Careers.

    • Rachel Dotson


  • Brian

    This is advice from a sales guy. In that context it makes sense. Much of sales is a hustle, and depends on intangible qualities of energy, optimism and aggressiveness. So if you are going out for a sales position this kind of asshattery will help.

  • http://twitter.com/dpkn Deepak (@dpkn)

    This has given me a new boost to my job searching mission. Even though I am graduation from my M.B.A in April 2014. I have started early to make connections. I really have clipped this article in Evernote and made sure I use it as a reference on how to stand out during interview process.

    • http://twitter.com/DanaLeavy Dana Leavy-Detrick (@DanaLeavy)

      Great insight around how the resume & cover letter, and traditional job search tactics aren’t quite enough anymore to make you stand out. Though I would advise caution with some of the more “creative” approaches here. You really have to keep in mind who you’re trying to appeal to – the person, the company, the culture. I’ve seen some of these visual tactics used to try to appeal to startups and creative companies, and they’re actually regarded as pretty cheesy attempts to garner the wrong kind of attention. It’s not just about doing something attention grabbing – it has to fit their definition of what they might consider impressive, and that requires really having a good sense of the type of company you’re applying to and what they value. But I like where Kevin was going with this in general.

      • http://kevinhungate.com Kevin Hungate

        Thank you for your comments, Dana–and I appreciate all the comments made here related to this blog. Dana, you are 100% correct–it’s wise to caution against being cheesy and it is very true that you must keep in mind your audience. Something I stated in the blog was the following:

        “In everything you do, make sure it’s appropriate for the company culture and the job function as well as in-line with the hiring manager’s personality. It’s not always easy to assess appropriateness. Trust your instincts but don’t be afraid to be bold.”

        I know there have been a few comments about the Time Magazine example. Again, I appreciate and value all comments made in this forum–whether supportive or critical. This example was successful in cutting through the clutter of hundreds of resumes for a position based in New York at one of the largest media companies in the world. In this instance, it was appropriate and successful. Of course, this approach may not work for other job functions/industries.

        Overall, my goal was for people to understand the need to differentiate and go “above-and-beyond” in their efforts. Emails as follow-up do neither. Simply sending a resume can risk getting lost in the clutter. Today, it’s important to do more than “the norm” in order to gain employment. It’s incredibly competitive and doing the same as everyone else likely will not produce positive results.

        Yes, always be mindful of being cheesy–but realize that what is cheesy to one person may be highly creative to another. That’s always the challenge. You can certainly make a mistake by sending the wrong follow-up or resume accompaniment but you can also hit a home run–and very often, the line between one and the other are quite thin.

        Getting a job is tough and it’s a “buyers market”–meaning that companies benefit from the immense amount of prospects available to them. Are these companies going to hire the candidate who simply does enough during the interview process or the one who goes above-and-beyond. I have been a hiring manager for years and I speak with hiring managers from across the country on a weekly basis. What they are looking for is someone capable of doing the job–but someone unique, likable, dynamic and who can aide in moving the company/department forward–instead of offering “more-of-the-same.”

        I wanted people to put thoughts towards these questions:
        1. How can you cut through the clutter?
        2. How can you demonstrate your uniqueness?
        3. How can you show that you want the job–and are willing to work hard to get it?
        4. How can you be memorable?
        5. Ultimately, how can you appeal to the hiring manager and get the job?

        The answers are different for each person and for each job function. It is up to you to determine what is most appropriate. However, don’t cease answering these questions because they will absolutely serve you well in your job search efforts.

        Thank you, Dana–and thank you all for your input. Keep ‘em coming.


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