I want you to imagine for a moment that you’re in an interview room with five other people who have very similar education skills, experience, and background. Now I want you to ask yourself, how would you stand out as a top candidate during your job search? That’s the question I’m answering. I want to break down 8 characteristics I see top candidates adopting that set themselves apart from the pack. You can watch this YouTube video or read the transcript below. Let’s get into it!
How To Stand Out As a Top Candidate During Your Job Search
Over the years, I have coached hundreds of people. I have also recruited thousands of people through my time as a Fortune 500 recruiter, Silicon Valley startup recruiter, and Top 100 Am law firm recruiter. Over these years I have seen and become obsessed with understanding what allows some people to coast in their careers, and others to thrive in their careers. So I wanted to share with you the eight characteristics that I really see successful professionals adopt in the workplace and/or in their job search, in the hopes that you can implement these too. Give yourself an honest assessment by asking yourself, “How many of these do I check off on my list and what do I need to improve upon?”.
#1: Be Focused & Specialized
So the first characteristic is that successful job seekers are very much specialized rather than generalized. They’re so laser-focused on the impact they want to make. They know what they’re looking for, and they know what they want to do. They’re not wishy-washy. They’re not super broad or general, like, “I could do anything” or fit into anything they’re focused on. They know the value they bring, and they know exactly what they want to do. When people can pick up on that, they can then start to help connect and propel you in so many ways. They can open up doors of opportunities and lead you towards new connections that might provide the perfect next step.
Ask yourself, “How can I get so good at this craft?”, and then put in the effort to do whatever it takes. Read books, take on extra courses online, and devour any podcasts that talk about this topic. Go on Quora or LinkedIn and write your own answers to establish yourself as an expert in your field.
Let me give you an example. So I could say, “I am a career coach that loves helping people navigate their careers”. But that might be a little bit too general and broad for people to actually understand. But if I said, “I’m a career coach and I specialize in helping ambitious corporate professionals figure out how to navigate their next job search, typically looking for some type of career transition.”
By specifying what I focus on, I help potential clients figure out if I provide what they need simply by honing in my area expertise. What I described above is what successful job seekers are doing in their search process. They’re really getting lasered-in and focused on what they can bring to the table. This helps them stand out as a top candidate, as many job searchers are afraid of narrowing themselves down to a specific focus. But successful candidates know exactly how they can help a company and can articulate the ways in which they would immediately contribute to an organization.
#2: Know What Problem You Solve
Now let’s talk about tip number two, which is knowing what problem you solve. This is so important to understand because a lot of people feel that they’re just getting paid to do a job. In reality, you’re getting paid to solve a problem.
Every job is created because of a problem, whether it’s that a company needs to retain happier customers, boost its revenue, or eliminate accounting errors and headaches. Whatever position you’re filling, just know that you’re solving a very specific problem. So it’s really important to understand what that problem is, and how you fit into that piece of the puzzle. Successful job seekers speak to the results that they deliver, not necessarily the skills they possess. This is so key because a lot of the time job seekers are overly focused on how they do what they do, but don’t actually talk about what is it that they do.
So going back to my personal example of being a career coach, I could share that I can write you an amazing resume or teach you how to network. But if I leave out the key piece of, “so what?”, which is the result of you landing a dream job or negotiating 30,000 more dollars in your salary, you might still be unsure. You might be left thinking, “that’s great, you know, she could do a great job, but I still don’t know like how she can ultimately help me.” You really want to connect those dots for your employer. That’s what top 1% job seekers are doing.
#3: Don’t Be A Know It All
Characteristic number three of successful job seekers is that they don’t act like they know everything. I have some job seekers come to me after they’ve been unemployed for six months and tell me they don’t need help because they know what they’re supposed to be doing.
My response is always, “Well, if you know what you’re supposed to be doing, then why would your job search be dragging on this long?”
On the contrary, job seekers who can ask for help come from a much different space. I’ve had people come from amazing companies like Google or Amazon and say, “Hey Emily, I really want to take out all of the guesswork. I’m not an expert in job-seeking since I’ve never been a full-time job searcher or recruiter. Would it be possible to give me some objective feedback on what I’m doing wrong?” When people ask for help, it shows they’re willing to let go of their pride to get professional guidance. Sometimes standing out as a top candidate can be as simple as showing that you’re teachable.
#4: Always Learn New Skills
Successful job seekers are always learning new skills, and that goes for employees as a whole. Top employees and candidates should always be looking to perfect their craft and continuously adopt new skills. We have to believe that even if we’re an expert at what we do, there’s always a greater level of mastery to achieve.
Going back to my example, I believe that even as I am an expert in jobs search strategies, there are always new strategies occurring. Our whole recruitment cycle is continuously evolving. So I’m always looking at and researching the latest trends. I’m always testing new strategies and methods with my existing clients so that I can stay on top of the curve.
Another way of staying on top of the curve is to look at things in my periphery, right? I do this by learning about the things that my employer, (which are my clients) are really struggling with, like leadership, time management, or workplace conflict. I’m constantly looking for ways to educate myself and make sure that I understand the latest tools or tips. Looking back at your own job search or your career path, what do you need to continuously educate yourself on? How can you ensure that you’re making yourself the most relevant and marketable candidate in that room?
#5: Give Before You Take
Characteristic number five is all about making sure that you give before you take. That’s the golden principle of successful networking. Many job seekers are unsuccessful because they’re constantly focused on themselves and their needs. I understand that when you reach a point where you really need a job, that’s probably all you’re thinking about. However, if you just take a step back and you start to ask, “how can I lead with value or help another person?” You can call it Karma, you can call it the circle of change. Whatever it is, it always comes back to you, right? So it’s really important to take a step back from that needing energy because people pick up on that and translate that into desperation. It’s more impactful if you can start out by focusing on the needs of the other person in the situation.
The last time somebody did you a favor, you probably immediately thought about how you could repay them. So, any time you can lead with helping another person or considering another person before yourself, you’re always going to fare better than just going in with your own needs at the forefront of your mind.
#6: Have A Polished Personal Brand
Characteristic number six of successful job seekers is that they always have a polished brand in place and understand how to market themselves. They give a really positive first impression because they don’t have any typos or grammatical errors in their written work. Successful job seekers also don’t have any incomplete profiles published. They know that everything they do is a reflection of who they are as a professional, including their online presence.
An individual professional polished profile brand can stem beyond just the Linkedin profile and resume. It can also go to any web portfolios. Again, having a Quora page where you’re really demonstrating your expertise can be hugely beneficial. Creating an online presence for yourself that showcases your expertise and abilities is one of the best ways to stand out as a top candidate during your job search.
#7: Walk The Walk, Don’t Just Talk The Talk
Successful job seekers truly walk the walk rather than just talk the talk. I know a lot of job seekers are being buried in the pile of resumes for every single job opening. However, the top 1% of job seekers are demonstrating their expertise in their niche or industry. They’re sharing publications that they’ve written, updating their statuses with useful information, or publishing LinkedIn articles. They’re actively showing how they’re keeping up to date with relevant industry trends in this fast-evolving job market. You don’t have to necessarily publish a book or be featured in Forbes, but you should have a strategy to showcase your strengths.
#8: Don’t Take Rejection Personally
The final characteristic I want to share with you is that successful job seekers don’t take rejection or silence personally. They actually don’t take anything personally! They move into a state of detachment from any outcomes and results, and, in fact, they expect to get rejected! Successful job seekers and top candidates understand that rejection is just par for the course in their job search. I work with a lot of job seekers who are very attached to the outcomes of their job search. This is where they start to let self-doubt build up because of how personally they take things.
Any time a recruiter doesn’t get back to you, don’t jump to conclusions. There could be so many reasons for their lack of response! They could be on vacation, bombarded by deadlines, or overwhelmed by the number of job seekers they have to get back to. There’s so much that goes on behind closed doors, and their top priority isn’t usually getting back to job seekers. The more you can practice detachment from the job search, the better off you’ll be.
If you found this article helpful, you can learn about how Emily Liou, Career Happiness Coach at CultiVitae guides corporate professionals to wake up happy on Mondays! Emily works with ambitious corporate professionals in her private coaching program called The Corporate Ladder of Purpose™. She also teaches job seekers how to conquer every stage of the job search process through her comprehensive e-course and group coaching program, the Happily Hired Formula™.