So you've made it this far: you have been selected for a job interview in a competitive industry, with little room for error. You've done your research about the company, pressed your interview suit, and printed fresh resumes. Yet you can't help wondering if there's one more thing you could do, something to give you a competitive edge.
Enter Kelly Cutrone, New York City's highly successful PR maven and reality TV star. She abandoned the "safe" career her parents had in mind to found her own public relations company, all while in her early twenties. Now adding 'author' to her list of achievements, Cutrone's writes about her wish list for potential employees in her new book, Normal Gets You Nowhere.
An expert at grabbing attention for her clients, Cutrone offers these four key strategies for winning her (and other selective employers) over in a competitive industry and market. Try these 'stand-out' tips for your next big interview:
1. Keep the future of the industry in mind, not just the company
Want to not make an impression? Have a short-term, self-involved attitude.
One of the most memorable remarks Cutrone makes in her book is that people looking to obtain jobs in the fashion world are always asking her for professional and personal-related tips on how to advance themselves, but not those around them: “Over the years, I’ve received thousands of letters from young people who want to get into the fashion business; others ask me for clothing or interview advice […]. But not one has ever asked, Can you tell me how I can help make a difference in my community?”
Look for what you think might be missing from that particular industry at large, whether it is more involvement in the community, more transparency, or tougher legislation. Then bring it up.
For example, those trying to break into the financial consulting world might prepare a strong and well-documented stand on the issue of regulation, perhaps with a Wall Street Journal article on the topic to mention.
Current events are great way to spark discussion, make yourself memorable, and most importantly, prove you care enough to have an informed opinion.
2. Stand for something
Mentioning your extracurriculars paints a convincing picture of why you, and not anyone else, should get this highly-coveted job. Whether your side projects are something you're trying to accomplish at work or outside of the 9-to-5, be sure to bring them up at your interview.
Examples can include a professional blog or publication you are currently contributing to, a LinkedIn Group you have started, or perhaps writing a periodical newsletter, where you assess the state of your industry. But whatever it is, be passionate about it.
Cutrone defines this idea as standing for “truth," saying you should "act when every one of your cells is saying yes. […] Who do I feel called to fight for?” For her, the fight is the advancement of certain minorities and young women; for you, it might be a different social cause, but make sure that if it's related to your professional work, you insert it into the conversation.
While you're at it, it's much easier to be passionate at an interview if the job you've applied for speaks to you beyond the opportunities for advancement, or the 401(k) plan. So as Cutrone would say, listen to your cells when looking for work. With your higher purpose on the table, enthusiasm for the position will be a no brainer.
3. Shock your audience—in a good way
Don't be afraid to take risks with your presentation. In the opening of her book, Cutrone asks her readers in a very direct way, “What do you have to say? What in this world are you called to fight for?” Use that as your guide for presenting yourself, and you'll be memorable.
To balance unusual ideas though, be sure you're good at engaging people. As an expert in the PR world, Cutrone explains that all major networks “have one responsibility to carry out for their owners and their boards: to engage you, the consumer or viewer, and keep you coming back for more.”
If you come out of the gate with an unusual presentation or approach (a video resume, or visual materials), it's easy to catch attention--but you need to be careful to keep it.
Try and think of what your “audience” might respond to. Pick up on verbal and non-verbal cues during the interview to tailor the method of delivery. Also try emphasizing the visual or the verbal in your presentation, depending on what your interviewer responds to and keeps them interested. And whether it is mentioning that new white paper, an upcoming conference, or a controversial book you recently read, throw in a topic your interviewer can relate to.
Finally, don't worry too much if your ideas aren't popular immediately--Cutrone goes on to say that “the people who are most cherished and revered on earth are sometimes the people who are most […] misunderstood.”
4. "Hard working" is boring
If you really want to stand out, show your potential employer why passion plays such an important role in your career. Kelly Cutrone talks extensively about “going against the grain”, and choosing a risky path in New York’s PR world over a comfortable nursing job in upstate New York. She had just her passion to guide her, but it's possible that that's exactly what saved her. Along with her willingness to take risks and stand out, enthusiasm and uniqueness fueled her success.
Thus, she, like many extremely successful hirers, are looking for exactly these qualities in the people she hires. "Hard working" and "detail oriented" on your resume aren't going to cut it.
As she notes in the book, “Ultimately, I would like “normal” to become equated with “boring”. Let’s throw “successful” in there too. Instead let’s use words like “conscious”, “collaborative” and “creative” (and of course, “charming”, “charismatic” and “compassionate”)."
The takeaway: if you can show passion and individuality, whether it's through a project you volunteered on, a suggestion for change to your potential employer, or simply building a case for why this is the absolute right opportunity for you, you are that much closer to an offer letter.
Paula Thorby is the founder of Nonprofit-Concepts, a New York-based HR consulting and outsourcing company, focused on small and mid-sized nonprofit entities. Paula has over five years of experience in the HR field, in both public and private sector, and she holds a Master of Science in HR Management degree. She may be reached at (312) 623 1730 or www.nonprofit-concepts.com.