“Every battle is won or lost before it is fought.” -Sun Tzu
Wise words, and never are they MORE relevant than during the hiring process. Please don’t, under any circumstances, make the mistake of thinking that coming into the first interview as a “good employee,” ready to answer every random question under the sun and ask for seconds, will give you the fast track to an offer. It won’t. High performers, those who are adept at generating new career opportunities on demand, play a different game. They set themselves up on the strongest possible footing BEFORE a face-to-face to ensure that they have a leg up on the competition for that new role.
Here’s what they’re doing differently:
3 Tips to Help You Edge Out the Competition Pre-Interview:
1) Maintain a Tight Focus within Your Career Platform (esp. Resume and LinkedIn)
Jack of all trades, master of none. When you execute a job search from the perspective of wanting to keep all your options open, you’ll end up with a generic, nondescript career platform that creates this impression. This will sabotage your efforts during the first interview, because employers will 1) assume you have no clear idea what you’re looking for (a bad thing) and 2) assume you don’t have the DEPTH OF KNOWLEDGE to keep pace with the competition (also bad).
Take another approach here. Hop over to LinkedIn and scrutinize job postings to drill down your target to something along the lines of 5-7 closely related jobs, and 1-2 major industries to focus on. Actually pull up the profiles of competitors and study their career histories — is it credible for you to follow a similar path? How are they branding and positioning themselves? And most importantly: how can you USE some of their strategies to bolster your career platform? Strive for an 80/20 mix within the Resume and LinkedIn profile between UNIQUE VALUE and COMPETITIVE INTELLIGENCE-based ideas. This will ensure that the final result will both give you a powerful edge…without going so far as to strain credibility.
One more thing: when in doubt, always aim higher in terms of job title. Not only do we tend to devalue our true worth in the marketplace, but it’s much easier to negotiate down once you’re in the room with an employer than to go upwards in the face of being “overqualified.”
Also read: The New Rules of the Job Search
2) Initiate Dialogue BEFORE the Interview
High performers don’t consider an interview the Holy Grail of the job search. It’s just one part of many, and ideally, should serve as a CONTINUATION of a dialogue between you and the main point person in charge of filling the role. One of the best ways to achieve this is to ask pre-qualifying questions prior.
Here’s an example: let’s say the hiring manager at COMPANY X approaches you on LinkedIn with a potential opportunity. Rather than immediately agreeing to an interview, ask a question or two about what made him/her reach out to you. What was it in your profile which struck a chord? What, beyond the job posting (if available) would be essential for you to know about the role and company? Use the answers given as the pretext for an ongoing dialogue that is designed to CONTINUE into the interview room. When you go this route, you’ll both “warm up” the room in advance, show major confidence, and start the process of intelligently vetting this opportunity for quality (something very few candidates do).
And yes: a company that is unwilling to answer basic questions like this or enter into an ongoing dialogue with you is probably going to treat the hiring process like a one-sided master-slave relationship, and you should consider walking away. Respect is a two-way street.
3) The Preemptive Reference
This is the nuclear option, and it works like gangbusters when used correctly. Most candidates know to have some references on-hand for later on in the hiring process. However, in most cases it’s just lying there inert until requested.
If you have an amazing reference who is willing to go to bat for you, actively engage him or her in securing this role. Here’s how:
Prior to your first interview, ask your #1 reference if they’d be open to “putting in a good word for you” to the hiring manager. If it’s a yes, forward the hiring manager’s contact information and (if appropriate) a quick breakdown of good points for him or her to mention. The message your reference sends to the hiring manager should contain the following details:
-How this person knows you (professional references only please).
-2 or 3 major aspects of what you’re bringing to the table (if what’s highlighted here jibes with your career platform and/or the job posting so much the better).
-Their enthusiastic support and belief that you’d be an excellent fit at the company.
And that’s it! A preemptive reference doesn’t have to be terribly in-depth. But what makes it work, and why it’ll give you an AMAZING way to edge out the competition is the impact it has during the early stages. In the eyes of an employer, you are no longer just another candidate vying for a role. You are someone who inspires real passion in others, and whose skills have been vouched for before you’ve said a word in the face-to-face. Try it and reap the rewards!