When applying for a job – or simply trying to keep one – people become risk-averse. They are afraid to stand out. But going unnoticed on the job or not making an impression in an interview can cause a career stall-out.
Here, career experts share advice on how to stand out in a good way.
“Be prepared to answer, ‘Tell me a little bit about yourself.’ Many job candidates sink or swim on this question. Walking someone through your résumé is the fastest way to lose their interest. Instead, answer as if you are describing the blockbuster movie trailer about your work history. You only show the highlights, and it leaves us wanting to know more.” — Gabriel Razo, director of career planning and placement, Harold Washington College, Chicago
“In advance of the interview, ask the hiring manager to identify a challenge the company is facing and then bring your proposed solutions to discuss during the meeting.” — Robert Hosking, executive director, OfficeTeam
“Ask what the biggest challenges are in the industry. Don’t say ‘your company’ because they might think you’re implying that something is ‘wrong’ at the company. — performance expert Noah St. John, author of “The Book of Afformations” (Hay House, 2013)
“People tend to become risk-averse when interviewing, but in a crowded field the most disadvantaged people are the ones who cannot be recalled vividly. Don’t be afraid to be weird. Make a musical or movie reference part of your response to a question. Mention Michael Jackson, if you can make him relevant. Just leave a little seed to make your interview atypical.” — Neil Bearden, associate professor of decision sciences, INSEAD, Singapore.
“Be interested and not interesting. Spend more time learning about what others do, need and appreciate than promoting yourself and your work. Demonstrating interest in others will allow you to support the work of others, which builds allies and provides the best work product for your employer.” — workplace consultant Steve Langerud
“Narcissism is so prevalent that when you bring a different attitude and perspective to the workplace – a sense of selflessness and gratitude – it’s like a breath of fresh air. If it is genuine gratitude and not something syrupy you’re doing for your own benefit, you will stand out in a good way.” – Russ Hovendick, founder, Directional Motivation, Sioux Falls, S.D.
“Common sense tells us that we should focus on singing our praises, highlighting all we achieved in the past. But our research shows that in some cases, people actually prefer to hire people who are high in potential – ‘this guy has a shot at greatness’ – than high in achievement – ‘this guy is great.’ While résumés and recommendation letters are replete with achievements, the smart candidate would do well to sprinkle in a smattering of potential. In our research, the word ‘could’ was persuasive to people despite its uncertainty. So a jobseeker might say, ‘I could accomplish X, Y or Z given the opportunity to work for your company.’” — Michael Norton, Harvard professor
“More than what you have done, hiring managers are interested in who you are. By this I mean they want to understand specific personality attributes, personal strengths, motivation and, above all, what inspires you.” — Michael E. Echols, executive vice president, Bellevue University, Nebraska.
“Ask how you can help your manager achieve the group's goals. Most people focus on achieving the goals their manager set for them. Asking how you can contribute to the larger goals of the group, department or division sets you apart.” — Edith Onderick-Harvey, president, Factor in Talent, Andover, Mass.