Job Hunting: How To Wow Prospective Employers… and Yourself

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The job market is improving, according to news reports, though competition for the best jobs remains tough.

So what should early-career job hunters (those looking for their first, second or even third jobs) do to make themselves stand out from the masses of other applicants?

And what qualities should job hunting candidates themselves be considering in a prospective employer?

Ideally, finding a new job should be a two-way courtship. While putting their best foot forward during the hiring process, applicants also should investigate whether the position is right for them.

Sure, that’s easy to say – job-seekers, especially those right out of college, can’t always being picky. But, in general, young professionals should weigh what the job would mean for them in the big picture.

More on that in a minute. First, how do you separate yourself from the competition?

Job Hunting Insights

There are the obvious moves – having a well-crafted and punctuation-perfect resume and LinkedIn profile, doing your research on the company you’re talking to, sending a thank-you note after the interview (at which you hopefully didn’t tell an inappropriate joke).

But here are a few other vital qualities that prospective employers look for:

Experiences that suggest creativity, positive energy and intellectual curiosity.

Qualifications that match the job description are paramount, but what meaningful, unusual stories can you tell that could make you stand out? Like how you traveled abroad for a year after graduating from college, learned two languages and picked up invaluable perspectives. Or the year you expanded your horizons at your old job by leaving the finance department and taking an assignment in marketing. A decision to pursue my MBA at the University of Edinborough, rather than in my native Michigan like so many of my peers, has led to interesting discussions with potential employers. These things matter.

A great rep.

“Reputation is everything” has always been true, but today, hiring managers are likely to scour your LinkedIn profile and initiate conversations about you with common contacts before they check references or even schedule an interview. Your possible new boss knows more about you than you may realize, so be honest about your credentials, successes and any disappointments, as well as why you want a new job.

Cultural fit.

When talking to job candidates, employers always do a cultural-fit smell test: Does the candidate’s work style and attitudes correspond with our company’s personality? There’s little you can do here except be yourself. The match is either right or it isn’t.

No gimmicks.

You may decide to demonstrate your intelligence and proactivity by, say, sending a critique of the company’s website along with your application, but that is just likely to turn off employers, who almost always view such moves as kitschy or desperate. They’re squarely focused on Bullets 1, 2 and 3.

 Now what factors should job hunting candidates be considering whether a position is a good fit for them?

Focus on the people.

During interviews, ponder: Are these people I can learn from? Will they challenge me? Will I enjoy spending 40-plus hours a week with them? They don’t have to be fun to socialize with, mind you. After all, no one ever looked back at their mid-20s and said, “I had a boring job at an unsuccessful company, but we had a great happy hour!” It’s all about working with people who will provide a satisfying career experience.

Does the role feel right?

Understand that the most rewarding roles usually are a give and take: You bring the right skills to be successful and valued while also getting to learn new skills. Does this job offer the second part of that combination? Remember what I said earlier about the importance of assessing the big picture. Every job you take should fit into your overall career story – where you want to be and what you want to be doing in five, 10 or 20 years.

Cultural fit.

Just as the employer is evaluating whether you’d fit in, you should wonder the same. Talking to other people in the organization can help or, better yet, former employees. Do online research (Glassdoor, internet forums, etc.). It’s often difficult to get an in-depth read on a company’s culture without actually working there, but it’s possible to pick up on common themes.

The company’s rep.

Does it have a strong position in its market? Is it doing innovative things? Is it renowned for hiring and nurturing talent? Companies have reputations like people do. Find out what makes your would-be employer tick as a business.

With these tips, young professionals can enjoy success both before and after finding the job.