Unemployed Interview Tips to Stand Out

Interview Tips to Help You Stand Out 

Bob Larson, CPC

Bob Larson, CPC

In today’s ultracompetitive job market, even getting an interview is a feat. Yet, according to an article in The Wall Street Journal, recruiters and hiring managers say many unemployed candidates blow the opportunity by appearing desperate or bitter about their situations—often without realizing it.

For example, recruiters have seen job candidates arrive up to an hour early for interviews. Other candidates have alluded to financial hardships while in the hot seat, and one person even distributed bound copies of documents describing projects he completed for past employers. All of these tactics, recruiters and hiring managers say, do more harm than good.

“People are becoming a lot more aggressive,” said Julie Loubaton, director of recruiting and talent management for the Atlanta-based Consolidated Container. “They often wind up hurting themselves.”

Here are a number of suggestions from recruiters and hiring managers to help job seekers stand out during interviews:

For starters, the article pointed out, you’ll need to leave your baggage and anxiety at the door. Wait until 10 minutes before your scheduled interview time to announce yourself. Arriving any sooner “shows that you’re not respectful of the time the hiring manager put aside for you,” Loubaton told the newspaper. “Companies really don’t want someone camped out in their lobby.”

Signal confidence by offering a firm handshake, added Wendy Alfus Rothman, president of Wenroth Consulting Inc., an executive coaching firm in New York. Focus your attention on the interviewer. Avoid looking around the room, tapping your fingers, or other nervous movements.

No matter how you’re feeling, keep your personal woes out of the interview process, asserts Alfus Rothman. Instead, always exude an upbeat attitude. For example, if you were laid off, instead of lamenting the situation, you might say the experience prompted you to assess your skills, and that’s what led you to here. “You want to demonstrate resilience in the face of unpredictable obstacles,” she said.

Meanwhile, show you’ve done your homework on the company by explaining how your background and track record relates to its current needs, added Deborah Marjus, founder of Columbus Advisors LLC, an executive-search firm in New York. This is particularly important if the firm is in a different industry than the one you worked in before. To stand out, you’ll need to look up more than just the basics of the company leadership and core businesses.

Also, be sure to show you’re a strong fit for the particular position you’re seeking, added Kathy Marsico, senior vice president of human resources at PDI Inc., a Saddle River, N.J. provider of sales and marketing services for pharmaceutical companies. Offer examples of past accomplishments – not just responsibilities you’ve held – and describe how they’re relevant to the opportunity.

Be careful not to go too far, though, in your quest to stand out. For example, it may be tempting to offer to work temporarily for free or to take a lesser salary than what the job pays. But experts say such bold moves often backfire on candidates. “Employers want value,” said Lee Miller, author of “Get More Money on Your Next Job…In Any Economy.” “They don’t want cheap.”

Your best bet is to wait until you’re extended a job offer before talking pay. “In a recession, employers are going to be very price sensitive,” said Miller. “The salary you ask for may impact their decision to move forward.” Come prepared having researched the average pay range for a position in case you’re pressured to name your price,” he added.

You might say, for example, that money isn’t a primary concern for you and that you’re just looking for something fair, suggested Miller. You can try turning the tables by asking interviewers what the company has budgeted for the position. In some cases, you may be looking just for a job to get you through so you might consider a less-than-perfect fit.

After an interview, take caution with your follow-up. If you’re in the running for multiple jobs at once, make sure to address thank-yous to the right people, career experts advised in the article. Also look closely for spelling and grammatical errors. In a competitive job market, employers have the luxury of choice, and even a minor faux pas can hurt your chances.

If all has gone well, don’t stalk the interviewer. Wait at least a week before checking on your candidacy, added Jose Tamaz, managing partner at Ausrtin-Michael LP, an executive-search firm in Golden, Colo. Call recruiters only at their office, even if their business card lists a home or cell number. And leave a message if you get voice mail. These days, recruiters typically have a caller ID and can tell if you’ve tried reaching them multiple times without leaving a voicemail. “There’s a fine line between enthusiasm and over-enthusiasm,” he said.


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