You Need More than Experience

I recently came across a report of a fascinating survey conducted by Career Builder. The question the survey posed to employers was, if two candidates are virtually identical in experience and qualifications, what are the factors that would make you choose one over the other? This is interesting because it takes all the typical responses about evaluating new hires—such as communication skills, technical know-how, leadership and teamwork abilities, and relevant experience—out of the equation.

From the article I can’t tell if the survey gave employers a list of factors to choose from or provided space for an open-ended response, but either way, the results provide pertinent information for job seekers. According to the article from CBS MoneyWatch, here are the top responses:

  1. The candidate with the better sense of humor: 27 percent
  2. The candidate who is involved in his or her community: 26 percent
  3. The candidate who is better dressed: 22 percent
  4. The candidate whom I have more in common with: 21 percent
  5. The candidate who is more physically fit: 13 percent
  6. The candidate who is more on top of current affairs and pop culture: 8 percent
  7. The candidate who is more involved in social media: 7 percent
  8. The candidate who is knowledgeable about sports: 4 percent

What the results suggest is that there are things that job seekers can do in an interview to enhance their chances. While you may not be able to improve your sense of humor, you can certainly make sure that the employer sees that you are involved in your community—you can put it on your resume and, if relevant, add it to your cover letter. And you can find a way to bring it up in the interview.

Moving down the list to #3, it’s not that difficult to make sure that you’re dressed appropriately. If you don’t know what “appropriately” means, you can get lots of advice on the Internet, or you can read Appendix K in my book, which provides a lot of suggestions about what to wear (and what not to wear) to the interview.

#4 is not as tricky as it may seem. Learn as much as you can about the hiring manager or interviewer ahead of time by doing research on the company website as well as social media sites such as LinkedIn. Don’t fake a commonality, but find a way to demonstrate any commonality that you have. Once you get in for an interview, especially if the interview is in the personal office of the interviewer, be observant about what you can see that reflects the interviewer’s interests.

Items 5, 6, and 7 will take some advance planning. If you’re not physically fit, start exercising now! If you aren’t “on top of current affairs and pop culture,” try spending just 15 minutes each day skimming news/pop culture websites such as CNN and Entertainment Weekly. If you’re not involved in Social Media, create your LinkedIn profile and start connecting with people quickly!

The last item on this list would normally be a problem for someone like me who is not a sports fan, but when I worked in sales (an area where it’s important to establish a relationship and show that you have something in common with prospective clients), I often dealt with clients who were big fans. Since I have had opportunities to attend some pretty amazing sporting events (although not always willingly!), I always had some way to connect with them. For example, if I noticed any type of baseball memorabilia in the office, I would talk about attending the final game of the World Series one year. If I noticed football, basketball, or hockey memorabilia, I could talk about games I’d attended or teams I’d seen. In other words, what you need to do is think about any possible ways you could connect with an interviewer who, for whatever reason, seems to be a sports fan. Perhaps you’ll notice that he or she uses sports metaphors in talking about the organization or the work of the group.

The important thing to remember is, don’t force the issue. Be observant and try to find ways to connect with the interviewer that demonstrate your knowledge in areas beyond the specific experiences relevant to the position you are seeking.