Job interviews can be intimidating, especially if you’re interviewing for a position that has a ton of competition. While there are ways to prepare yourself for a job interview, such as practicing your answers to typical interview questions with a friend and reading everything you can about the company and your interviewer, it’s still not easy to stand out amongst other candidates who may or may not be preparing just the same.
We asked successful women how they’ve managed to stand out in job interviews. Here are 10 of their best secret weapons.
“In my experience, what I have found that makes me stand out on a job interview is my ability to connect with past experience stories,” says Jillian Seijo, a human resources professional with DevelopIntelligence. “Being in the HR field for 10 years has provided many stories which interviewers tend to like as it makes you unique. If you have not gone through many ups and downs, you are not able to learn from them which is what the interviewer wants to see. Interviewers like to see that you have evolved over time.”
2. Be Authentic
“My secret weapon for standing out in a job interview is radical authenticity,” says Lisa Lewis of LisaLewisCareers.com. “Most job candidates will hyper-focus on preparing the ‘right’ answers for interview questions, so they will end up sounding more canned and forced than a Miss America pageant contestant. However, when an employer is growing their team, they don’t care as much about the ‘right’ answers, and are far more focused on finding people they like and trust who they believe they can rely on. They’d much rather hire someone who is transparent and eager (but may not look like the perfect candidate on paper) than someone who says all the right things but doesn’t feel truly present. So by scrapping the over-rehearsing of answers and treating the interview like a candid conversation between two adults, you can be emboldened in the interview to be candid.”
3. Keep Confident
“The secret to rocking any job interview is simply having confidence,” says Kerri Byron, marketing manager of Cortera. “You have to remember that the company isn’t the only one interviewing; you’re also interviewing them to make sure they’re a good fit for the goals you have set for yourself. If you got as far as an interview, that means the company saw something within your resume and experience level that reflected the qualifications they are seeking. You’re already one step ahead of anyone who wasn’t called back. Speaking to your skills and experience in the professional environment should come naturally to you, as it’s really just a re-cap of how you’ve spent your time since entering the workforce. Speak to your success and convey that message with conviction, asking intelligent questions to lead you further towards a decision as to whether or not that company is a good fit for you.”
4. Stay True to Yourself
“My secret to standing out in a job interview is to remember to be your authentic self,” says Tiffani Otey, a trademark attorny with Womble Bond Dickinson (US) LLP. “If the interviewers don’t like who you really are, chances are you won’t enjoy the work environment at that job anyway. When I was a first-year law student I got a coveted interview for a summer associate position with a local office of a well-known law firm. I went straight from undergraduate school to law school without having any professional work experience in between, so this was one of my very first professional interviews. On the morning of my interview, I got myself dressed in my best (only) black suit, grabbed by leather portfolio and copies of my resume and headed out the door. My GPS driving directions said it should take me about 30 minutes to get to the interview. About 25 minutes into my drive I realized I was lost! I had to call the law office and get help from the receptionist to find my way there. I started freaking out because I realized I was going to break the cardinal rule of interviewing — DON’T BE LATE. Needless to say, I arrived about 15 minutes late, flustered and feeling off my game.
“The receptionist and the rest of the people I met that day were more than gracious, but I couldn’t help but have the sinking feeling that my tardiness meant I wasn’t going to get the job. In a way, believing that I had already lost the opportunity by being late allowed me to relax during the interview process. I didn’t stress myself out over answering everyone’s questions “just right” and allowed myself to simply enjoy the process of meeting everyone. I allowed my natural curiosity to come out, without worrying about whether I was asking the ‘right questions’ of my interviewers. And if I didn’t have a question for someone when they offered “is there anything else I can answer for you?” I broke the other cardinal rule of interviewing (always have a question) and simply smiled and said, ‘Nope, I’m good.’
“Based on everything I had been told about interviewing, this interview was not going to land me the job. But I left feeling like I showed my authentic self, despite having botched being on time. Ultimately, I DID get an offer to be a summer associate at that firm, and later when I graduated from law school, and offer of full-time employment. I am still an attorney with that firm today. It just goes to show you that it’s never too late to come back from a mistake, and that being your authentic self is what really counts at the end of the day.”
5. Be a Storyteller
“My ‘secret weapon’ is my ability to tell a story,” says Amanda Page, essayist and educator. “Even when asked the usual job interview questions, instead of listing my strengths or weaknesses, I tell a story about a specific one. One of my strengths is idea creation, so when asked about my strengths, I tell a story about a time I brainstormed ideas with a team. Or, I tell a story about hearing ideas in what other people are saying. More than once, I’ve listened to colleagues talk through a problem and then suggested they turn it into a poster or academic presentation. But, I don’t frame it like that. I would say, ‘My colleague was telling me about her frustration with students seeking exam answers in secret Facebook groups. She said that she suspected there was a connection between students cheating on exams and them taking shortcuts in patient care. I said, let’s look for research on that. We turned her musing into a presentation that was accepted at an international conference. I listen to my co-workers, and turn conversations into collaborations.’ Instead of offering explanations, offer stories. I suggest having a handful in your back pocket that you know inside and out. Try out different stories on friends and in social situations, but keep them ‘job interview appropriate!’ They don’t have to be funny. They can be matter of fact. They just have to move the interviewer to see you as a human being who learns from experience, and who has knowledge from experience that you can utilize in their workplace.”
6. Ask Good Questions
“My secret weapon for standing out in a job interview is to ask really good questions,” says Priyanka Prakash, a senior staff writer at Fundera. “I don’t mean general questions like, ‘Who are the company’s competitors?’ or ‘What are the day-to-day responsibilities of this job?’ Those are questions that you can answer for yourself by looking at the company’s website, doing independent research, or talking to HR. To stand out, ask thoughtful questions that relate to the interviewer’s area of expertise and role at the company. For example, if you’re interviewing with someone from the marketing department, you can ask something like, ‘I noticed that the team’s marketing strategy has changed from Y to X. What caused that changed, and what have been the results?’ These types of questions show genuine interest in the company and that you’re a detail-oriented person, two important qualities for almost any job!”
7. Have a Conversation
“I think interviews provide you with a great opportunity to make a lasting impression on your interviewers,” says Hamna Amjad, a content marketer at SIA Enterprises. “Do something different than the rest of the candidates that make you stand out so that your interviewers can recall you when they are making a decision. One great way to do so is by turning your interview into a conversation. Don’t just let it be a series of questions. Rather interviewers should feel like they are having an intellectual conversation with a bright and passionate individual. Do some extensive research about the interviewers and the company. Read everything about them on their website and social media. This would help you in giving better answers and coming up with intelligent questions. Try to actively participate in the conversation. You can ask about specific projects, challenges, goals, and more. This would show your interest in the job and how you are willing to give your best to the company.”
8. Be Passionate
“My ‘secret weapon’ to stand out in a job interview, which can’t be really considered a trick or a secret, is ensuring my passion about what I do shines through,” says Ana Santos, UX designer & consultant at ana-santos.com. “I think this is something many people forget because they feel the pressure of following certain guidelines and saying specific things, but from my experience, what works best is being spontaneous and faithful to what you are. When you’re truly doing what you love, it’s easy to talk about it for a long time and inspire people with how motivated you are about making a difference in your field. Let’s also remember a job interview goes both ways, so being yourself also allows you to evaluate whether the job and company’s culture would be a good fit.”
9. Address the Job Description
“The way I make sure I stand out in a job interview is to take the job description that was posted and list each of the requirements they are asking for in a document,” says Kim David of Project Stella Resources. “Then, I specifically address each one of the requirements and list one or two ways I meet each of them or an experience I had where I did the task required. I type this up separate from my regular resume. I can provide this during the interview but it also helps me prepare to answer any questions about very specific experiences. It also provides me with a list of things to talk about when I get asked to ‘Talk about a time when…'”
10. Articulate Weaknesses Well
“My ‘secret weapon’ to standing out in a job interview is a killer answer to the question about weaknesses or past failures,” says Miki Feldman Simon, founder of IamBackatWork, a company dedicated to returning women to the workforce. “Employers want to see that you have a growth mindset, that you are aware that you do not know everything, you are ready to take on a challenge, and learn from your mistakes. They want to know that when you will hit an obstacle, you will not give up, but rather see it as a challenge and a growth opportunity. Have a story ready to share of a situation from your past where you made a mistake, or did not do well, and how you learnt from it and have improved in those areas since.”
A version of this post previously appeared on Fairygodboss, the largest career community that helps women get the inside scoop on pay, corporate culture, benefits, and work flexibility. Founded in 2015, Fairygodboss offers company ratings, job listings, discussion boards, and career advice.
AnnaMarie Houlis is a multimedia journalist and an adventure aficionado with a keen cultural curiosity and an affinity for solo travel. She’s an editor by day and a travel blogger at HerReport.org by night.