Recently I have been interviewing graduates for some roles in my company and whilst I love sitting and talking to a freshly educated mind without any experience bias I do seem to have a small problem….after 2 or 3 candidates everybody sounds the same!

It’s like there is a generic process posted somewhere on how to prepare for an interview with the same tips such as “Make sure you smile” or “make sure you have an answer for why should we hire you”

In the current job market it more important now than ever to be able to stand out at interview stage and really showcase your individual skills and talents to help not only yourself but the interviewer decide if you are right for the role/company.

With that in mind I have reflected on not only my time as a graduate but also what I look for now in people and what really impresses me at interview stage. Now of course you do still need to do the standard interview preparation but try these next 5 points to help you really stand above your competition when it matters.

Research your chosen business differently to your competitors

This is the first area of most interviews where I am looking for something special and a bit of flair but sadly is the first stage that most people sink into normality.

Guess what….I know what my website says, company values are and how many countries we operate in.

Tell me something I don’t know or really show off your ability to research a company by looking at documents most people overlook.

  • A companies CSR (corporate social responsibility) report will tell you EVERYTHING you need to know to really impress your interviewer from yearly financials, work in the community, key members of the business and supplier/sustainability initiatives.

  • Research the behavioural competencies desirable for the role (this will often be evident in the job description) and tailor your research into this area – if you are looking at a manager’s job make sure you research leadership traits and be sure to weave them in and out of your interview as trust me the interviewer is looking for them. Give yourself an advantage by knowing what they are and make them easy to find.

  • Research the interview process itself. There are many different sites that will have people’s descriptions of their experience of the interview process for your chosen company (glassdoor.com or graduate-jobs.com). This will give you a massive advantage because you can reduce your own anxiety by knowing what is coming. This will allow you to be calm and interview better.

Think of big scenarios not 100’s of individual examples

Something that catches most people off guard in interviews is when they get flustered and suddenly experience mind blanks, you often begin to hear errrm and a few more deep breaths as their preparation abandons them. This can come from little things such as being asked a question differently to how you practised it or feeling that you have gotten something wrong and are now franticly rambling your way back to some type of sensibility.

My firm belief is that this happens due to trying to over prepare on interview questions. There is no physical way you can remember a 100 different answers to questions that might not even be asked! It’s an over load of the already anxious mind in that situation which ultimately causes meltdown…..I’ve seen and done it and I can tell you it’s not pretty!

The way I suggest going about this differently is to instead of trying to have a different answer for each question have up to 5 big scenarios that have played out in your life and you can quickly relate to.

This can be personal or professional (I would encourage both). For example times of stress, leading a team, a time you’ve failed, a time you embarrassed yourself and had to recover. One thing you need to do is make sure these scenarios are rich in content so you A) can turn them to any question and B) make them a story that is relatable. This will keep you calm when the pressure is on because you just keep going back in your mind to these 5 scenarios and looking for an answer to the question within them.

If you are really switched on make sure they are relatable to the behavioural competencies I talked about in the research stage.

Know yourself

Ok this point is the game changer! There is nothing I love more than a candidate who knows who they are, what they want and what they stand for. It very quickly helps me find out if they would fit into the role and what development support they will need. It also breeds confidence and makes you say things with conviction which makes you more believable. It’s a psychological trait of humans that we follow people who know where they are going.

This will not be easy or natural as nobody has ever taught us how to do this but if there is one piece of advice you take for this blog it is to understand yourself better than anyone else. It will make you able to handle ANY question the interviewer throws at you with confidence because after all the whole point of this thing is to get to know who you are and if you don’t know…..what chance do I have!?

Some of the things to find out about yourself are as follows:

  • Strengths & weaknesses (both personally and professionally)
  • Where do you want to be/go (both personally and professionally)
  • What motivates you/why do you get out of bed in the morning?
  • What do you like/don’t like
  • How do you stay at your best (resilience)
  • Values & beliefs (these are 2 different things)

Focus on behavioural demonstration over educational knowledge

Businesses know you are a blank slate when it comes to this role/company and will teach you their cultures and ways of working but what they cannot teach you are the behaviours needed to be successful.

These are skills such as resilience, ability to adapt to change and feedback, collaboration with other members of the team, the ability to influence stakeholders at different levels.

As I talked about earlier most businesses will tell you what behaviours they value and will be looking for during the selection process. A classic line to look for is “A successful candidate will have” on the job spec.

One other thing to be aware of is try to be personable. It is easy to be mega professional and not show a lot of you as a person but humans naturally want to connect. To be able to influence someone at interview stage they have to be able to see themselves working with you or their team liking you (you would be surprised how many times I got this wrong and it cost me a promotion to someone who was not as successful on paper but a lot more personable).

Show passion

Have you ever had to give a presentation and been on the graveyard shift? It’s awful, everybody is switching off and mentally exhausted thus taking away from your impact and what you have to say….well the same happens to interviewers after about interview number 4. If you are facing a full day of interviews there are only so many times you can ask the same questions and get the same middle of the road response.

I firmly believe my success is due to being hugely passionate about everything I do and the business I work for. People will forgive a lot if someone is passionate because it’s infectious and people crave to be around passionate people as they are exciting and out of the “norm”.

Being passionate will hold the interviewer’s attention as something different is happening and it will make you memorable in the wash up. As an interviewer the age old adage of “people will not remember what you said, they will remember how you made them feel” could never be more true and as I said at the beginning it is more important now more than ever to Stand out.

So find ways to demonstrate passion whether that be body language (talking with your hands and big smiles) or tone of voice (making sure you are not monotone).

So that’s it, that’s my top 5 tips to make you a stand out graduate. I hope it helps you like it’s helped me and maybe we will cross paths in the future!

Good luck my fellow graduates…..you’ve got this!

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