What Sets You Apart in the Interview Process?

Define: Interests – A State of Curiosity About Someone

One of the most important things you can convey on your resume and your letter, beyond the obvious job skills, is what sets you apart from other candidates. What makes you memorable and interesting?  One way you can do this is by finding a way to share your interests.

At the bottom of my resume I have a short list with a few non-religious or non-political organizations I am a member of. One of the listings is for MENSA (MENSA is a high IQ society, reserved for the top 2% of the population).  There have been a few interviews that it did not get mentioned. There have been a few more interviews, where the interviewer will ask me what MENSA is, which turns into an opportunity for me to graciously explain it is a society for people with a high IQ.

Most of the time, it is a point of admiration with the interviewer and becomes a nice talking point that gives me a minute or two to assume an easy control over the conversation. It’s also a subtle way to let possible employers know that I am definitely above average.

Perhaps you would not use the MENSA bullet point, but there is undoubtedly something interesting and unique about you that would capture the attention of a hiring manager. Are you an amateur astronomer? Perhaps you are a championship chess player, or a member of an art or literary society. You want to use something that makes you interesting and stand out, but not alienate a hiring manager.

I also have a small collection of letters of recommendation from past colleagues and managers. One of the recommendations I have was written by a friend in the television industry who mentions, as one of my many attributes, that I bake an amazing chocolate ganache cake.

While that may not have a particular application in the office environment, it shows outside interest and skills as well as shows a personal side to building relationships within the workplace. It almost always starts some kind of conversation about baking, eating, memorable office birthday cakes, or something similar.

Many people love to bake, and take the opportunity to discuss a favorite recipe. Other people will confess not having a knack for baking, and I can share with them how easy the cake is to bake, and recite the ingredients, and assure them it really is as easy to make as it sounds.

Baking may be quite off topic from the interview, but the interview should be a conversation and a chance for an interviewer to get to know you and discover not only if you have the skills for the job, but if you’re the right fit for their company culture. Insights to outside interests can often help them discover that missing link.

Those two examples are very different ways of being able to personalize yourself, without having to share vacation slides, or bore the interviewer with some story or anecdote that turns out was much funnier in your head, than it was in the telling. The key is to find a few ways to subtly show the interviewer a few interests you have, and how those interests illustrate your (added) value to their organization.

Remember, however, that you should always use caution when trying to make yourself memorable on a resume and in the interview. When you have an opportunity to use a ‘bragging point’ that is achievement based, you want to be sure you don’t come across as arrogant. No one likes a know-it-all, or someone who is an unseemly braggart.

You want to find a way to help the interviewer connect with you personally, while respecting and maintaining boundaries and not inflicting them with something that is irrelevant.  You also want to help give them another example of your value as an individual and your worth can be easily illustrated as exceeding the bullet points they have for the position.

It is also very important to keep in mind that religious and/or political participation on your resume can work against you just as easily as it can help you. You are unlikely to be able to predict how your audience will view those, so proceed with caution.

Even if the interviewer personally identifies with any groups you might list, if they feel that you might be ‘too free’ in sharing those views in the office, you could be risky for a smooth running office. Perhaps they disagree with you, and decide to not hire you in spite of your being the best qualified person for the job.

Have you thought about what makes you interesting or unique, when compared to the other candidates an employer will be looking at? How do you stand out against someone with similar experiences and skills? This is your chance to showcase ‘the total package’, not just your skill set, but your interests and strengths that may not be something that is communicated on a resume, but would still make you a valuable asset. Make yourself memorable in a good way, and you’re one step closer to getting the job!

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About Ryan Wilson-Foley, PMP

Ryan Wilson-Foley PMP, is a career project manager across multiple industries, including prior experience as an RPO Project/Program Manager for Fortune 500 clients. He was also a casualty of the economic crisis and a ‘career’ job hunter while on a 28 month bout of unemployment. His wealth of experience in hiring and managing people, as well as job hunting, leads him to have more experience with the interview process than many HR professionals combined (or so he insists on telling people.) He’s also a Gemini and a genius baker.

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