How to Set Yourself Apart in a Crowded Interview Field

Water boils at 212 degrees Fahrenheit.  If it is one degree less, you do not have boiling water.  Each degree counts.

Based on recent posts, you know I changed companies and jobs.  This was a big moment for me and not a decision I made lightly.  Getting to this point was not easy either.   I had to first figure out what I wanted to do, which companies I’d like to work for, and really understand if I wanted to leave my old company.  Once I figured those things out, I began applying for jobs and securing interviews.  For those that have not gone through the process, interviewing for a role generally goes through three round:

  1. Phone screen.  This is typically led by the recruiter in HR.  Often this is a brief 20-30 minute discussion where they walk through your resume and explain the role a bit more.  One thing that initially caught me off guard during the phone screen?  They asked for my current salary and what I was looking to make.  Be honest in answering that question or it will come back to bite you in some way in the future
  2. Phone interview.  This is typically done by the hiring manager.  This will also, likely, be a brief 30 minute discussion where the manager will ask more in-depth questions about your experience and how it relates to the role
  3. In-person interview.  This is done by a variety of partners at the company is between 2-6 hours of interviews.  These can be long days, so you need to be “on” all day in order to stand out

You need to perform and demonstrate your brand at each stage of the process.  The competition is heavy throughout the process, so you need to set yourself apart.

For me, I was fortunate enough to let my experiences and resume carry me through the first two rounds of interviews for a company I interviewed for.  The third round, in-person interview, was a little more daunting because I knew this was a really great role and with that there would be strong competition.  I needed to stand out amongst the competition.

The role I was interviewing for was a product manager role owning a specific line of business.  How could I show that I already knew how to be a product manager?  Thinking through that question, I decided to create a report for the line of business I’d be supporting.  In this report I included the following:

  • 2017 projects, why they were important, and what the impact was on the business

  • Usability testing findings and recommendations.  I actually did a usability test to understand the website better and put that into the report

  • Projected P&L statement

The interviewers were beyond impressed when I showed them this report during the interview.  It showed I had put significant time, energy, and preparation into this role and interview.  It showed my desire to join the team and start working on the project.  And it showed my determination to get the role, which I ended up receiving an offer for.

Another thing I noticed about putting together this report is the initiative to do it was the most important thing.  The content did not need to be 100% accurate or spot on - since I was not yet on the team, how could it be?  It just showed that I was a self-starter who willing to share ideas and present them in a clear, concise manner.  

For whatever role you’re applying for, ask about what their business needs or problems are in the first two rounds of interviews.  This will give you a better understanding of the role and the business.  Take those needs or problems and develop a solution, ask friends about the problem, or design a product to assist in the problem.  Regardless of how you attack the problem, do something.

Just like with boiling water, the extra initiative of putting thought and creating a one-pager or a presentation deck to set yourself apart in an interview, makes all the difference.  Don’t discount or underestimate yourself.  Go that extra mile and you’ll be more prepared for the interview and better set up to receive a job offer.

Want to see the report I made for the interview?  Send an email to steve@corporatestateuniversity.com.