three ways to differentiate yourself in an interview

In my twenty-two years, I’ve done my fair share of interviews, from applying to private high schools, colleges and graduate programs, to running for leadership positions in student organizations, to interviewing for jobs and internships, to being interviewed on TV! I’ve also been fortunate enough to sit in on numerous interviews for potential hires of my family’s business. It’s amazing to experience both sides of the table – the nervous, nail-biting side of the table, and the relaxed, inquisitive side too.



I don’t consider myself to be an expert on the subject, but over the years I’ve compiled a few “best practices” that I learned both through my own experiences and through the guidance of mentors. These are not for everyone – and they definitely aren’t for every industry – but who knows? Maybe they’ll give someone the confidence they need to nail an interview and land their dream job.

1. dress with personality

Us girls usually put so much thought into what professional, boxy, black or navy suit to wear to an important interview. We are taught in school to look as masculine as possible. No make-up. No earrings. Hair pulled back into a low pony tail or bun. No form-fitting clothes. And close-toed shoes ONLY. No peep toes allowed. You might as well skip the interview altogether if you even think about wearing strappy heels.

Throughout the past century, women were expected to hide their femininity so as to be seen on a level playing field as their male counterparts. But society is changing. Today, more and more women are embracing their femininity, their curves, their style, and their personalities.

Imagine a room full of women who look identical, showing little to no personality or cheer in their “look.” Now imagine that one woman is wearing a pink Kate Spade dress with a chunky, colored necklace. Who stands out?

dress with personality Source: Pinterest

Yes, we want to be evaluated based on our intelligence. But when all things are equal, who would likely get the job in this situation? The girl whose personality shines – the girl who exudes confidence.

You have a very limited time to show your true colors – so why not do it in the most obvious way possible? With your clothes.

2. tell your story

The best interviews are back and forth conversations. The interviewer asks you a question, you answer, you engage them with a question, and then the conversation flows from there. Interviews in which the interviewer asks the questions and the interviewee gives short responses without truly engaging are the worst – and might even put the interviewer to sleep.

Everyone loves to talk about their own experiences, share their backgrounds, and feel that other people are interested in what they have to say – including the interviewers! Ask questions. Show that you care and are interested in learning more about them. Plus, it’s a great way to get the conversation flowing! The more back-and-forth that the two of you have, the more of a connection you will build.

That being said, it is extremely important that you come prepared for an interview. Not in the handouts-and-flash-cards kind of way (though it IS very important to be well-versed on the company you are interviewing with), but in terms of telling your story.

You have one opportunity to pitch yourself. Tell your story.

How? Read the two sample interviews below. It is the same question – but two completely different stories.

Question: Where did you go to college?

Answer #1: I went to University of San Diego and graduated in 2010.

Answer #2: I decided to stay close to home and attend the University of San Diego. I’m a fourth-generation San Diegan – and nothing could get me to move from this amazing place! My family is here, my childhood was here, and I see this as my home forever. I thought about attending Georgetown, Cornell, and UCLA – but ultimately decided that pursuing an education in my end destination, San Diego, would be the best decision. All of my connections and experiences are here – which will be a huge asset when working for Company XYZ.

Notice a difference? It takes work to tell your story – and it definitely requires preparation. You have to really think about what made you who you are today and how your experiences shaped you. Every word you say should be deliberate, thoughtful, and help to express who you are.

3. focus on them, not you

Every sales book talks about the importance of focusing on the customer – NOT yourself. Take a look at the two below scenarios. Which one stands out?

Background: I am a vacuum salesperson hoping to make a new sale.

Pitch #1: XYZ Vacuums is the leading vacuum dealer in the world – we make more sales than any other vacuum company out there. We sell only the best vacuums, and our sales team can help you find the perfect, most energy-efficient, durable vacuum for your household.

Pitch #2: XYZ Vacuums will transform your life. With better, more durable, more energy efficient vacuums than any other vacuum company out there, you will have an unparalleled experience when cleaning your home. Not only will you save money on energy costs and have a vacuum that lasts a lifetime, but you will also enjoy a cleaner home because you bought the best product on the market.

Both pitches work – and sometimes it won’t make a difference in winning the business. The difference is that pitch #2 is relatable; it tells the customer WHY they should make the purchase. It directly tells them how the purchase of the vacuum will impact their lives, making it more of a necessity than a luxury purchase. It is about the experience – and undoubtedly is far more effective.

The same philosophy goes in an interview. You are pitching yourself – you are your own product. Instead of naming your skills and talents, explain how your skills and talents will make a positive impact on the company and make you an indispensable team member. So what you are organized? What matters is how your amazing organizational skills will completely revamp the company’s internal processes, streamlining what would normally be an arduous task simply by tidying things up a bit. Who cares that you are proficient at Excel? The interviewer will care when they learn how your Excel skills will benefit the company and the team as a whole. THAT’S what sets you apart.

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