Stand Out from all the Other Job Applicants!

A graphical representation of a table surrounded with identical figures.Have a job interview coming up?  Great!  Now, put yourself in the interviewer’s shoes for a moment.  When looking out into a waiting room full of candidates, what does the interviewer see?  If the job posting worked, it is quite likely he or she may be looking at a room full of clones.  After all, these are people who probably all have the same degree, who all have similar work experience, who all have the same license, certification, or other required credential, who all are professionally dressed, who all have neatly prepared resumes, and who all are polite and well-spoken.  Everyone in the room – including you – meets the same basic requirements for the job or else they wouldn’t be there, right?

So, what makes you think you’re anything special?

This is a problem marketing professionals have struggled with for years! When you purchase facial tissue, do you research all the products available and then stress out over the decision of which brand to get?  Probably not.  For many people, a tissue is a tissue is a tissue.  You likely either just buy what you always do or grab whichever one happens to be on sale this week.  For the makers of facial tissue, this situation is a nightmare!  Their challenge is to convince you that out of all the tissue choices available, their brand is the one you want.

To this end, they spend millions of dollars on advertising, product design, and physical appearance.  They try to convince you their tissue is softer and thus gentler on the nose.  It is more absorbent, stronger, and comes in attractive colors.  Maybe it also contains aloe, packaged in a prettier box, is a convenient size, etc., and therefore the one you should purchase.  They look for and tout anything which favorably separates their product from that of the competition.


In the field of marketing, convincing the customer a product or service is different from that offered by the competition is known as differentiation. Just as when selling products and services, differentiation is a real and important factor for you when it comes to job interviews.  How does this impact you?

Without some way to differentiate the candidates, an interviewer might as well save some time and just simply draw a name out of a hat.  OK, I’m kidding; that’s a stretch.  But, by design, the job posting is supposed to bring in applicants who are all equally qualified, right? So, just like the tissue makers, you need to favorably set yourself apart from the competition.  How can you adapt and use this marketing concept?

Differentiate Yourself!

How do you stand out from the competition?  As every line of work will be different, you must look closely for what is valued in your own career field.  Identify these valued things, and if you have them, promote them.  Here are a few general ideas to get you started:

  • Is your education or training beyond the bare minimum required?
  • Do you have “better” experience than the typical candidate?
  • What specific and valuable skill sets or knowledge do you possess which other candidates might not have?
  • Have you attended professional conferences or seminars which other candidates have not?
  • Are you a member of one or more professional organizations recognized in your field?
  • How’s your GPA? If it’s impressive, this may be helpful, especially for recent graduates who may not have a lot of experience.
  • On your present job, have you volunteered for special projects or served on committees?  If so, be sure to tell about it.  Unlike you, many employees avoid volunteering like the plague!

What if you realize there is actually nothing which differentiates you from the other typical candidate? Make sure to practice and sharply hone your interviewing skills.  In the end, even if you are identical in most ways to the other candidates, at least you may make the best impression. Also, start looking for and working toward ways to set yourself apart from the crowd!  Help the interviewer to see that from among all the others, you are the clear and obvious best choice.

Put marketing differentiation to work for you!


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Behavioral or STAR Job Interview Questions: Are You Ready?

Woman talking to a young person at a career fair.Are you ready to answer “behavioral” type questions on your next job interview? Also known as targeted selection, situational, or STAR questions (STAR will be explained later), these types of questions are now very common.  They may be popular, but they are also quite different from the typical questions you might expect to hear.  First, the interviewer asks you to recall a real, past situation involving certain conduct or behaviors.  You then share the details of that experience.  The idea here is that your past behavior will serve as a predictor of your future behavior.

Examples of such questions might include:

  • Describe a time which you had to handle an angry customer; what happened and what was the outcome?
  • Describe a time when you worked with someone who came from very different cultural background than yourself.

It is natural to be nervous during an interview, making it difficult to quickly recall such situations. This is especially true when trying to think of experiences which you would be willing to share!  Therefore, giving some forethought to these types of questions will help greatly.  No, you don’t want your responses to sound overly rehearsed.  However, thinking about such questions and situations in advance can give you some ideas upon which to draw.

I have seen many people stumble badly through such questions, unable to recall any situation at all.  Some have even shared stories revealing horrible past behaviors or conduct!  However, the number one problem I have seen is not being specific enough in the answer.  Remember, the interviewer is looking for the actions you actually took in the situation, NOT a generic “here’s what I would do” type of response.

Let’s say the interviewer asks you to describe a time you provided good customer service above and beyond the norm. You do not want to say, “Oh, I always provide good customer service.”  Why? Such a general response in no way answers the question!

Also, such an answer might lead the interviewer to think that you:

  • Lack experience, if such a situation has never arisen.
  • Cannot think well under pressure.
  • Cannot listen or follow directions.
  • Are trying to hide or conceal a past bad behavior.

What if you really have no work-related experience upon which to draw for a particular question?  Good news! Many interviewers will accept a non-work example from a similar situation.  This might be a past experience from a setting in a college, club, church, etc.  Their interest is usually more about your behavior in the situation rather than where it took place.

The STAR Format

When responding to a behavioral question, consider using the “STAR” format:

First, describe the specific situation involved, and indicate the task. The task is a problem you encountered or an assignment. Next, describe the actions which you took to complete the task.  Finally, discuss the result or outcome due to your actions.

If you phrase your answer to a behavioral question in the STAR format, odds are you will hit all the key points the interviewer was hoping to hear.  Be sure to end on a high note, emphasizing the good outcome.

For more information and a list of sample behavioral questions, click here.  Also, a quick search of the internet will yield literally thousands more! However, at their core, most questions relate to only a handful of specific behaviors.  Select a few questions for each different behavior and think about your own experiences. Of course, you will likely not pick the exact questions you will be asked during the interview.  That’s alright! Practice will enable you to arm yourself with a number of examples from which you can draw a quick response.


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Featured image courtesy of Jeremy Wilburn-flickr