(MoneyWatch) In the age of online job applications, you not only have to differentiate yourself in a job interview, but also virtually. Because if you don't show how you're a better fit than the others from the get-go, you may never get to the face-to-face stage. Here's how to shine throughout the entire job search process, from resume to "thank you" note.
Sell yourself as the solution
The first step is identifying what the company needs, by carefully reading the job description and doing some industry research (which might include an online search and speaking to trusted colleagues). "Then, break away from the competition from the start by focusing both your resume and interviews on selling yourself as the solution," says Heather McNab, author of "What Top Professionals Need to Know About Answering Job Interview Questions." Focusing the entire hiring process on their needs -- not yours -- is key, but at no point is it more important than when you're trying to get a foot in the door.
To stand out, you have to be outstanding as either a candidate or a person -- and hopefully both.
Career coach David Couper, author of the "Outsiders on the Inside: How to Create a Winning Career...Even When You Don't Fit In!" recalls how one retail candidate he worked with made his mark by doing more than his due diligence. "During an interview he said he had been to two of the stores, talked to the managers there and did some research on what was working or not working. Research always pays but this was exceptional." Another candidate showed people who she is by revealing an interesting hobby. "She always talked about sky-diving in her interviews."
Bring props that prompt stories
Showing, not telling, is a great way to stand out from the competition, and is especially helpful for shy candidates. "Bring a presentation booklet that aligns your experiences and strengths to the employer's problems and challenges," says Ford R. Myers, executive career coach and author of "Get The Job You Want, Even When No One's Hiring." "Use this booklet to make a high-impact presentation to the interviewer." Does a presentation feel too contrived? A traditional portfolio can be equally effective.
Act like you've already got the job
You should act more like you're coming in as a consultant instead of a "fingers crossed they hire me" candidate. "Once the interview gets into full swing, the first question you should ask is, 'How may I be of help?'" says Myers. "With this one short sentence, you will change the entire dynamic of the interview and separate yourself from 'the pack.' " Body language is another key component to this tactic. "Don't sit nervously at the interview with your hands folded in your lap,waiting to be peppered with tough questions. Instead, sit forward with your portfolio open, ready to take notes and engage in a dynamic dialogue," suggests Myers.
Follow up with specifics
Putting the pen to paper (as opposed to fingers to a keyboard) and writing a physical "thank you" note is an excellent start, but include specifics to really shine. In that note, try to address how you can help meet any challenges faced by your hiring manager that were mentioned during your interview. If appropriate, follow up by email if you have compelling information they may be able to use. "Consider sending the hiring manager an article, link or other resource that reinforces key points you made during the interview or expands the conversation," says Louise Kusmark, founder of Best Impression Careers Services firm.
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons user Joxemai