Competing for Jobs with the Best of the Best

If your career goals include a fat paycheck, being employed by a fortune 500 company or working in a high-profile position such as controller, senior-level manager, or executive, then you're going to be competing with some of the smartest and well-qualified applicants in the world. In this case, the standard run-of-the-mill type advice just won't cut it. For those competing with the best of the best, we offer the following:

Provide a stellar work sample.
A resume simply tells potential employers what you think about yourself – and most hiring managers know that applicants have a tendency of embellishing their accomplishments on a resume. Provide them with something more substantial. Provide them with an actual sample of your work – show them what you're capable of. If for example you're a computer programmer, share with the interviewer or hiring agent a computer program that you've developed or some impressive code you've written. If you're a nurse, you might consider sharing some of the outcomes you've achieved through direct patient care or demonstrate how you contributed to the success of a team of medical professionals. Whatever your forte, come up with an example that demonstrates to potential employers that you're one of the best in your field.

Ask smart questions.
Ask questions that are relevant to the company you're interviewing with as well as the position you're interviewing for. Asking smart questions shows the interviewer that you're engaged, you're paying attention, and more importantly, you understand what's important to the company and your potential position. Some of the best questions you can asked should come in response to an interviewer's questions. An example of a smart interview question might be, “You mentioned upper management at ABC Company is struggling to find incentive plans that bring out the best in its employees. What type of incentive plans have you implemented to date?”

Show the interviewer you're a problem solver.
If given the opportunity, show the interviewer that you're able to tackle difficult problems. Sometimes interviewers will identify needs their company has or problems they're facing. Take this as a cue to show the interviewer what you bring to the table. First ask the interviewer, “Would it be okay with you if I took just a moment to show you how I might address that problem?” After getting the green light to proceed, take a moment to explore the problem with the interviewer in just a little more depth. You can do this by asking for a more in depth explanation of the issue or by asking some “smart” questions. You may also ask the interviewer what the company has already done to address the problem. If available, list on a white board (or piece) of paper what has already been done to address the problem and then add your insight, analysis, and ideas. Showing an interviewer you have the ability to jump right in and start addressing the problems the company is facing will go a long way to landing you the job.

Give smart answers.
Interviewers ask questions for a myriad of reasons. Ultimately, they want to discover whether or not you're the best candidate for the job. However, your response to each individual question is what helps an interviewer make this determination. Some questions are aimed and finding out if you are familiar with the company and the industry. For example, an interviewer might ask, “What do you think are the biggest challenges facing ABC Company and how should we handle them?” Any qualified candidate should be prepared to effectively articulate a response to this type of question. While this isn't exactly a boiler plate question, it's a question that should be expected. Make sure you've done your research and can answer any question relating to the company or industry.

Sometimes interviewers will ask questions that, on the surface, may appear to be completely unrelated to the position you're interviewing for – and in some instances nearly impossible to answer. For example, an interviewer once asked an interviewee, “How many electric cars are there in the world?”. These types of “impossible to answer” questions are designed to test an applicant's creative problem-solving skills and quantitative abilities. While these types of questions are becoming less popular in interviews, they do show their face from time to time. While stock questions may seem easier to answer, don't resent harder more nebulous “impossible to answer” questions. They provide you the opportunity to really shine.

Get good recommendations.
A good recommendation can make all the difference in the world. All things being equal, the job applicant who can provide top notch references will usually beat out applicants lacking good professional references. But don't just ask people to be a reference for you – prime them. Make sure when a potential employer or hiring agent contacts your reference, he or she knows what position you're applying for and is ready and willing to communicate why you're the best candidate for the position. You should even consider emailing your reference some additional information regarding your qualifications for the position, if you feel comfortable doing so. We can't reiterate how helpful it can be to have strong professional references when applying for competitive positions.

Say thank you the right way.
It's always professional and polite to follow up the interview with a thank-you note. But instead of the traditional (and sometimes cheesy) thank-you note we recommend taking the opportunity to offer the interviewer a response to something of value that came from the interview. For example, if the interviewer asked you about what type of strategy you'd implement to solve a concern ABC Company is facing, you may include as part of your thank-you note a short one-page document outlining your strategy in more detail. However, you don't want to come off presumptuous, overly zealous or arrogant, so you may want to frame your suggestion simply as another sample of the way you would analyze the situation – not being privy to all the information the company has.

In reality, most applicants aren't able to pull off the strategies suggested above – but those who can will be able to complete with the best of the best.

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