How to Win the Job Search Competition

Why Mary Got the Job

Two women and a man in a job interview
Selected Candidates Are Professional in Appearance and Behavior. Michael DeLeon/E+/Getty Images

When you talk about hiring an employee, sometimes it seems that a job applicant prevails because of a favorable convergence of the sun, moon, and stars.

Or, maybe hiring an employee is just like a crap shoot. Or, hiring an employee is like throwing a bunch of darts and hoping that one of them sticks in the target. I have heard all of these references to the process of hiring an employee.

But the fundamental question remains.

What makes one applicant the winner in the job search competition? Employees who were hired did a lot of things right. Better, they did almost nothing wrong. How did Mary get the job?

When comparing candidates, an employer has to differentiate between well-qualified applicants. Applicants who appear to have the qualities, skills, education, experience, and knowledge the employer seeks are invited to interview. One is selected. How do you get to be the one?

Your Personal Presentation Must Make You Stand Out

An effective, targeted, customized resume and cover letter got you in the door. Perhaps a telephone screen allowed you to highlight experience and interest that matched the employer's needs. You're on track, and an interview is scheduled.

From this moment forward, the potential employer is assessing your fit for the job, the culture, and the needs and strengths of the team. At this point, the employer is giving you every opportunity to blow your chance.

  • Your physical appearance matters. It's the first thing the employer sees. Your clothing, hair, makeup, jewelry, and accouterments make an immediate impression. Make the best possible first impression. Your presentation of yourself as a candidate must be flawless. Unpolished shoes do sink job searches.

    Your Interaction During Interviews Either Nails Your Job - or Fails

    • Your preparation for the interview needs to include formulating specific, professional answers to potential questions. You want to sound knowledgeable, competent, and experienced. You need to be prepared to cite examples of what you have accomplished, contributed, and believe is important. This is not something most people do well off the cuff. Prepare responses.
    • Pay particular attention to the physical parts of you that will be in evidence throughout an interview across a desk or conference table. Dirty fingernails matter as does that faint stain on your shirt. They send loud messages about your attention to detail and personal care habits.
    • Relaxed communication is critical. Talk about workplace issues and goals that are important to you. Ask questions to assess whether the culture is a good fit for you. You don't want to join every organization you encounter in a job search. Trust me; sometimes it's better to keep looking.

    Your Past Will Come Back to Haunt You

    • Before making an offer, smart employers send out a wide networking inquiry to find people who have known you in your past jobs, professional associations, and community involvement activities. Smart employers also do extensive background checking. What people say about you matters.
    • You may find it difficult to believe that how you live your life and comport yourself in the workplace matters. But, your values and their manifestation in your work life do matter. Living with integrityplaying well with coworkers, leaving friends - not enemies - in your prior jobs will support you in your job search.

      And, when the employer who has the job you really want casts his net to solicit feedback, ensure what people say about you will win you your dream job.
    • Prepare your references and former supervisors to quickly and professionally return the call of your prospective employer. Smart employers call them and ask many questions. References who are unreachable can torpedo your job offer.
    • Employers customarily "google" their candidate's names and do online searches to do a  background check of the candidate. If you have odd Internet references to your work, your life, or your background, beware.

      If you blog or write a website, your comments will impact hiring decisions. You may never know why you were not hired for the job. The interested employer will ask about their concern, however.

    Behave as if Every Interaction Matters - Because They Do

    From the initial phone screen or the phone call during which an employer sets up an interview, every interaction matters.

    • The receptionist has a vote. She or he makes statements like, "I really liked that candidate. He was so nice." "Did you see how late he was and he never even apologized?" "I didn't like him at all."
    • Additionally, if you are a favored candidate for hiring, the HR staff or the hiring manager will stay closely in touch to give you feedback. They will let you know how the hiring process is progressing because they think you may be the one. When these calls start coming, you still have competition from other job searchers, but you are definitely on the short list.
    • These interactions and the relationship building are critical to the employer hiring an employee. When the eventual offer comes, you already have a relationship with the new employer. Building the relationship matters.

    These tips for winning the job search competition are based on recent hiring. I asked myself the question, "why Mary, not Jim?" These are my answers. May they help you win your job search competition.

    Find Your Next Job

    Job Search by