Tips for Standing out during an Interview

By Mary Arnstein, Communications Coordinator, ASEEES

This is part of our ongoing professional development series.  To view the other posts, please click here.  If you would like to contribute a career-related blog post (or an idea for one), please email us.  Job search topics will also be covered in our next webinar:  “An Insider’s Advice on Preparing for a Career in the Federal Government,” hosted by Matthew Ouimet (US Department of State). To register, please click here.

Job seekers go to great lengths to stand out from the crowd and land the jobs they really want.   However, it's most likely the simple things that will add up to success and help you outshine your competition. Here are some suggestions: 

Know yourself.  You need to know yourself and the field well.  Spend as much time learning about your craft as you do looking for a position.  Then determine what skills are most important. Write them down, rehearse your pitch and refer back to them often during the interview. This will show the interviewer that you know yourself and have clear goals and objectives - both highly desirable attributes.   

Know your prospective employer. Use every available source to find out as much as you can about the employer.  Your knowledge of the organization you're interviewing with will help demonstrate your sincere interest in working for them.  Be ready to answer the question, "Why do you want to work here?"

Prepare for the interview. One of the most common interview questions and often the first is, "Tell me about yourself." Other popular interview questions include: "What is your greatest strength?" and the dreaded "What is your greatest weakness?" There's no reason to wing it during the interview as there are plenty of available resources devoted to mastering tough interview questions. 


Keep the conversation flowing. Ask relevant and insightful questions throughout the interview.  The give and take of dialogue will show the interviewer your interest in the organization and fit for the position.   It is important to have balance, however: while you don't need to wait until the end of the interview to ask questions, do NOT hijack the interview by barraging the interviewer or putting him or her on the spot.  

Build rapport. Likeability and personal chemistry are most crucial elements of the job interview.   How do you build rapport? Appearance is critical: A polished and self-confident image sets the stage for a great first impression. Wear professional attire (yes, that means a suit) that looks good and feels comfortable.  Your facial gestures are also important. Smile upon greeting your interviewer and try to relax.  Maintain good eye contact; speak enthusiastically, calmly, sincerely and professionally.

Listen carefully. Often during a job interview candidates are so busy selling themselves that they forget to listen. It is easy to forget, too, that your first task is to show how you can help the organization.   You should listen as much as you speak, because demonstrating your interpersonal skills and your ability to meet an employer's needs will go a long way to getting the job. 

Drive home your experience and qualifications with a story. When explaining your skills, painting a mental picture for your interviewer will make your experience more relevant and memorable.  Give examples of a problem or situation you faced and describe the actions you took to resolve it.  Finally, describe the end result of your actions in measurable terms, including why your strategy was effective. 

Let your character shine through. Employers are looking for personal qualities, such as honesty, focus, willingness to think creatively, or a gift for making work pleasant for the people on your team.  Determine what aspects of your character set you apart from others, how these fit in the organization's culture and work environment and share this with the interviewer.