When companies have vacancies to fill, they're likely actively recruiting and receiving applications from a host of candidates with unique qualifications. These job seekers are assessed and evaluated by hiring managers looking for the relevant skills and experience for a particular organization's open positions. However, considering the sheer volume of applicants a hiring manager could potentially face, it can be daunting and discouraging for a candidate trying to stand out from the crowd.
With this in mind, it's critical for job seekers to differentiate themselves and make a lasting impression throughout the process and especially during a job interview. Read on to learn about the top strategies to set yourself apart from other candidates to help you land your dream job.
A closer look at the state of the modern workplace
The labor market — which currently has more job openings than job seekers — has seen major changes in recent years as a result of the Great Resignation, the workplace war for talent and an uncertain economic environment. Today, there are a few key insights for job applicants to keep in mind, including:
- The anticipated continuation of the Great Resignation.
- Increasing wages that aren't keeping pace with growing inflation.
- The persistent expansion of remote work.
- A positive outlook for job seekers in a candidate-driven market.
It's important to note that while generally, we're experiencing a talent shortage, there are critical variances to consider across industries and skill sets. For example, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) JOLTS report noted there were approximately 6.1 million hires made in September of 2022, which represents a 4.14% month-over-month decrease and a 6.94% year-over-year decrease. However, these macro-level numbers do not do a good job of describing how individual job seekers experience these trends.
Taking a closer look at specific industries, month-over-month hiring in industries like real estate and construction were up 3% to 4%, whereas month-over-month manufacturing hiring was down 17%. Year-over-year hiring for mining and logging is up almost 40%, whereas hiring for those in finance and insurance is down by about 33%. With this in mind, it's critical to recognize the state of the specific industry and job market you're in to know what the strength of your negotiating position is as a job seeker — while understanding things tend to change quickly.
The impact of a potential recession
As a result of the Great Resignation and uncertainty across industries, the market today is largely candidate-driven. However, companies in general have been reticent to maintain an accelerated pace of hiring. Why is this? Essentially, organizations are in need of more people, but in fear of a looming recession, and hiring managers and employers do not want to risk becoming over-leveraged. Now, more companies are hiring freelancers and contingent labor. For job seekers, this is quickly highlighting the value of working with a staffing firm - particularly for new professionals. This is because staffing firms are typically experienced in providing contingent labor services to their clients, and therefore represent a trusted source of talent that can be leveraged by job seekers.
Setting yourself apart in the job search
Only a small portion of applicants make it past an employer's hiring software and earn a face-to-face interview. This emphasizes the importance of making the most out of your interview process once you've made it to this stage. As you start speaking with HR professionals and hiring managers, consider these tips to stand out in a saturated job market:
1. Research the company and job requirements
After you've read the job description carefully to get a comprehensive overview of what the role requires, it's integral to do your due diligence and research the company. Even if you know the most common interview questions to expect, a hiring manager will be able to tell whether you've done your research or not, and they're more likely to choose an applicant that has put the most time and effort in to succeed. You can start with common sources such as combing through their corporate website and social media profiles, but it can also be beneficial to take it a step further and look into LinkedIn profiles of current employees, company reviews and more.
2. Make a list of your own qualifications and strengths
You likely have a special set of skills and qualifications that you can bring to a new role, and self-reflection can help you identify your key strengths — helping you chart the course of your future. You can compare these skills to the job description and determine which specific strengths and relevant experience can be highlighted to set you apart from other candidates. This might include technical skills or soft skills or an accomplishment from your previous job that underscores how you can do the job and add value to the team.
3. Relate your previous experience to the position you're applying for
Understanding your background and the specific experiences and skills that you developed with those positions will be integral to recognizing what makes you different from other applicants. This involves more than just your previous job but also your education and personal qualities. Ultimately, bridging your history with a job description and open position will be a key factor in distinguishing yourself as a candidate.
4. Consider what makes you unique and provide examples
No matter how many applicants a hiring manager might consider or meet with, you have unique experiences, skills and qualifications behind you to help you prove the assertion that you're the ideal candidate for the vacant position. It's essential to narrow down and specify these factors that make you stand out, so you can demonstrate what you bring to the table that another qualified candidate might not. Keep in mind, it's not enough to simply tell a potential employer or hiring manager that you have a certain skill set. Instead, you need to paint a detailed picture of your strengths by describing specific examples over the years.
5. Keep your answers professional and stay on topic
While it might seem obvious, it's critical to answer every question professionally and ensure your responses are work-related. When trying to come across as pleasant and personable in an interview setting, it can be easy to go off-topic or on personal tangents in an effort to make a connection. However, this won't do you any favors when competing for a job offer. It can be beneficial to let the interviewer gain a sense of your personality, but remember to keep your answers relevant to the position you're interviewing for.
6. Close with confidence
When it comes to the end of an interview, it's best practice to end with confidence. In fact, a report from Zippia found that 40% of recruiters won't hire candidates that aren't confident in themselves. While there are times within an interview setting to demonstrate that you're self-aware or humble, this is likely not it. At this point, it's a great opportunity to brag about yourself and clearly state why your unique skills and work experience make you the right choice. A great way to ensure you can confidently conclude your interview is by rehearsing beforehand. Preparation can help you feel ready to answer any tricky question that might be thrown your way.
Other considerations and mistakes to avoid in the interview process
The interview process can be time-consuming and daunting for job seekers. When getting ready for your next interview opportunity, here are the most common interview questions to keep in mind, as well as the top mistakes to steer clear of along the way.
The top interview questions to expect
- Can you tell me about yourself and describe your background?
- How would your past coworkers describe you?
- Why did you decide to apply for this position?
- What are your strengths and weaknesses?
- How do you deal with pressure or stressful situations?
- Could you explain this career gap? (if there is a gap in your resume)
- What do you know about this company or organization?
- What industry/professional news media do you follow?
- What is your greatest accomplishment?
- What did you do in the last year to improve your knowledge?
- Why should we hire you?
Common interview pitfalls to avoid
While preparing for these common questions can give you a leg up on the interview process, it's equally as important to recognize regular missteps that applicants tend to make as well. These include:
- Forgetting to do the research: To fully understand what relevant experience and skills you have that set you apart from other candidates, you have to do your research. Researching the company, position, field and more will be critical to building confidence and differentiating yourself in the interview process.
- Citing irrelevant skills: Your skill set, both soft and hard skills, is an incredibly important aspect of connecting you to the open position at hand. However, not all of your qualifications will be relevant to the prospective role. Ensure you highlight the specific skills you have that match the given job description.
- Too much boasting: While it's important to demonstrate the confidence you have in your abilities — taking pride in your history and personal strengths — candidates should avoid being overly pompous. There's a fine line to walk, but incessant bragging will likely leave a negative impression.
- Overly simplified responses: It's common to be overwhelmed or nervous throughout the interview process, but responding to an interview question with a one-word answer will likely hurt your chances. Interviewers need further explanation for valuable insight and a deeper understanding of who you are, which inevitably opens up important conversations that can considerably help your prospects.
- Sarcasm or negativity: For job seekers trying to put into words why their relevant work experience and skill set make them the best candidate, it can quickly lead to them potentially putting down other applicants. However, HR professionals and hiring managers want you to highlight your specialties, not comment on the lesser abilities of other candidates. Being too negative or sarcastic not only does little to drive interview success but also shows hiring professionals what kind of negative characteristics you might bring to the company culture.
- Lying: When faced with a difficult interview question it can be overwhelming for job applicants to come up with genuine skills that set them apart, which can lead to over-flourished answers that misrepresent their true qualifications. However, lying or "bending the truth" will do little for your chances in the long run as a hiring manager can check your references and find out the facts.
Working with a dedicated partner in the next steps of your career growth
At Beacon Hill, our integrated talent and staffing solutions aim to provide valuable support to job seekers like you — to match you and your qualifications with a company and position that aligns with your goals. Our recruiters work with you as a true partner to seek out the best opportunities for your needs and unique career path. With our help and support, you can easily explore your available employment opportunities to find the next great step in your professional journey.
With Beacon Hill:
- You can gain access to knowledgeable recruiters who know what the hiring environment is like at any point in time.
- Our professionals can "go to bat" for you as a candidate, as we have established client relationships.
- Conscientious recruiters will look for opportunities that suit your career trajectory, rather than just present whatever comes across our desks.
- An advocate can keep you informed through the process and let you know what employers like and don't like about your resume.
- We provide a guide who can coach you about common interview questions to anticipate beforehand.
Beacon Hill also offers valuable career paths for entry-level professionals to consider. With limitless opportunities to grow, comprehensive benefits, a supportive community and an unmatched workplace culture, we ensure our team members are set up for success. For more information, explore your path to success with Beacon Hill careers.