Interviewing is tough. When there are many qualified candidates, standing out in an interview becomes about more than just presenting your accomplishments—it’s also about showcasing yourself and your skills in a compelling, memorable way.
So, how can you make sure you nail this final step in the hiring process? We asked a panel of 13 startup founders from Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) what a potential hire can do to stand out from the crowd, make the best impression, and land the job.
1. Demonstrate What You’ve Done
Results stand out, and potential hires can really stand out by highlighting what they’ve done and the results. It’s so important to hire talent who can execute, and my focus as an employer is to determine if hires can theorize, strategize, and execute their plan. There are plenty of thinkers and not enough doers. Separate yourself from the masses, and demonstrate what you have done.
2. Ask Me a Smart Question
I am often the last stop on the interview schedule. I always ask candidates if they have questions, and I often hear, ‘All my questions have already been answered.’ It’s tough to hire someone who doesn’t want to ask the founder even one question. Good candidates come prepared with a lot of tailored questions.
3. Know About the Company
I am constantly surprised by how many people I interview who don’t know anything about my company. Not doing research before the interview demonstrates that the candidate didn’t come prepared. On the flip side, a candidate who can anticipate the challenges and opportunities for the business is the type of person I want to hire.
4. Use Our Product
I love it when I interview people who have taken the time to sign up and poke around on our website. It’s easy to register, but most candidates who make it to our interview don’t sign up beforehand. When someone does, it makes for a better interview, and it is a great signal that the candidate is serious.
5. Know the Interviewers
Do your research about the people who will be interviewing you. Know their professional background, interests, and experiences, and ask them relevant questions that show you did your homework. Ask the interviewer why he or she chose the company you’re interviewing at, what attracted him or her to the opportunity, and what the future looks like for the business.
6. Have Solutions to Company Problems in Mind
The best thing a potential hire can do is come to the interview with an understanding of the company’s problems and potential solutions. Companies need employees who can help increase revenues, save time, or reduce costs. The best employees are great problem solvers. You rarely have an interviewee show up with a plan to solve one or many of the company's problems.
7. Research the Company’s Competitors
Knowing about my company is expected, but I will be impressed if a candidate has gone the extra mile and looked into our competitors as well.
8. Admit What You Don’t Know
Stop posturing, and tell us what skills you hope to refine and why. Possessing a willingness to learn and a strategy for developing those skills will benefit our organization. Humility, personal initiative, and a clear understanding of what’s valued goes a long way.
9. Reference Someone You Already Know
Business is all about relationships and trust. In an interview, the best thing you can do is show that you are already in the interviewer’s ‘circle.’ Prior to your interview, you should research the interviewer and the company. You should try to mention at least one or two people the interviewer knows and trusts. This will develop rapport and camaraderie.
10. Act Like You’re Already In
Go out of your way to do a competitor analysis, and send through proposals for competitive strategies going forward. You have to be proactive and show you care so much about the company that you are willing to be responsible for its growth even before you are offered a job. This is especially true in a startup environment where the founders need to know you care deeply.
11. Inquire About Weaknesses
To stand out during an interview, ask the interviewer detailed questions not only about the company’s vision and successes, but also about where its weaknesses lie. This allows you to insert yourself into the future picture by relating that weakness to areas where you’ve succeeded in the past. If they think you can help make them look good, you’re halfway in the door.
We give our potential hires ‘homework,’ and they typically ask when we’d like to see it. Our response is ‘whenever,’ but we really mean as soon as possible. We want to see world-class work that is delivered in a timely manner. World-class is easy to spot—it stands out from the rest.
13. Adopt the Mindset of an Internal Consultant
I assume any potential candidate I interview has done his or her homework and is daring enough to ask the hard questions. To stand out, a potential hire should take on the mindset of an internal consultant who solves problems well. Present some actionable insights around business problems the company faces. It’s a presumptive tactic, but if the homework was done well, it’s likely a winning one.