Standing out from the crowd. Candidates who #NailedIt

We often talk about the importance of standing out from the crowd when it comes to job hunting.


After all, if you are one of 100 or even 1000 applications for a single role, getting noticed, having a memorable application or leaving a good and lasting impression is pretty key to nabbing that dream role.


But what actually transforms an application from “pretty good” to “wow … this person is really interesting”?


So this week I sat down and reflected on applicants we have had over the years, and what made individuals stand out and be get noticed for all the right reasons.


So without any stats, reviews or number crunching, my top 5 memorable acts from applications or interviews (in no particular order):


ONE | The applicants who rock up with doughnuts …


Over the years we have had 3 people rock up to an interview with doughnuts.


The first person who did it took me totally by surprise … actually I was so surprised I was ready to give her the job on the spot. It was unexpected and had not been done before … I loved it. And I blogged about it.


Which meant that the 2nd person who did it for another role 6 months later … was memorable … but the impact was nowhere near as good because it felt like she just did it because we had blogged about it and I’m not sure she knew exactly why she was bringing the doughnuts … except that she had read that it worked for someone else.


And the third person who did it … did it with context. It was someone we knew … we had actually invited her in for more of a coffee and chat about a role … she knew we loved doughnuts and bought them in to have with our coffee.


The takeaway: Same gimmick spun 3 ways. 2 worked … one was a bit ‘meh’. If you are going to go out on a limb with such a gesture … have the story to go with it.


TWO | The applicant with a really long cover letter … that I liked! 


If you ever ask me how long a cover letter should be my answer will always be 1 page. And you don’t have to fill the whole page up.


But over the years I have had two distinct applications that come to mind who completely ignored this rule and wrote very long cover letters. One was a full two pages and I think one may have even spanned onto three.


Technically … they shouldn’t have done it. But both cover letters were completely tailored to our business, the writing was engaging and I read through the full letters without being bored or feeling like it was too long.


Both landed the interview and we actually discussed the length with one person and she specifically said that she knew it was too long, and her husband had reviewed it and told her she was mad, but she felt it was right and chose to submit it anyway.


The takeaway: When it comes to applications, unless you are given specific instructions (in which case … make sure you follow them), there are no hard and fast rules. Everything is a guideline … and sometimes you need to follow your instinct on what you think is right for the role … more than the suggested guidelines.


THREE | The applicant who knew she didn’t quite fit the bill. 


This is a fresh one. We are currently recruiting for an awesome internship which will run from August to November. I have my criteria and we got an ad out there.


One of the first applicants came through did not quite meet my criteria … however … in her cover letter she very clearly and openly explained why she did not meet the criteria, why she still wanted to apply and how it would still be logistically okay.


What stood out though was that not only had she openly addressed the mis-match … but she had done the leg work to explain how it could still work and why we should consider her.


She has an interview with us this week!


The takeaway: It’s okay if you don’t quite fit the bill … but you need to openly address it, and then it is up to you to show why you are still a great match and should be considered. Make it easy for the person on the other end to connect the dots.


FOUR | The applicant with loads of questions.


Again one for the interview stage.


When we run interviews, I like to think it’s a bit of a back and forth discussion throughout and if a candidate has questions … they ask them as they go.


However, regardless of how many questions have been asked along the way, I always make a point of getting to the end and asking “Do you have any more questions?” …


The majority say “No, I think we covered everything along the way”


The minority say “Yes actually … ” and then give me one or two boring or stock standard question … as if they just wanted to ask a question for the sake of it. Eg – so tell me what a typical day at work looks like. Blah.


On only one or two occasions I have heard “Yes actually … ” and then open up a notebook with pre-prepared questions … scan through to see what we have covered … and hit me with some juicy questions that I need to think about.


The takeaway: Prepare your questions … and don’t be shy to write them down and then bring out the written down list at the interview. Not only will you come across as intelligent with the good questions. but you will physically be showing me that you have done your research.


FIVE | The applicant who is awesome on email.


This is a bit of a quirkier one … but the fact is email is a HUGE part of comms at work and when I have staff who have to deal with clients or suppliers … I want to know what their email etiquette is like.


So when it comes to setting up interviews, asking questions, and liaising back and forth – I like to do a lot of that on email with candidates so that I can see what they are like when they just need to fire answers back and forth and don’t have that time to rehearse and polish.


Although they seem logistical … these comms are a test. Candidates who stand out always have three qualities to their emails:


* They are quick to answer. If I send an email with questions … hearing back within a couple of hours shows me you are timely and can manage your emails.


* They are polite. “Lovely to hear from you.” “Thank you for getting back to me.” “I look forward to hearing from you.” They are all pleasantries that belong in email even when you are in a dialogue back and forth.


* They are grammatically correct and free of spelling errors. Emails that make sense and are free of typos are my baseline expectation at work. I expect to see this as we communicate through a job application process.


The take away: ALL communication through the job hunt is part of the interview process and you should assume you are being tested the whole way. Ensure any emails you send to the prospective employer or recruiter are polite, well written and timely.