In the current job market, any way you can stand above the crowd is a welcome boost. So to find out what bright-eyed candidates could do to prove themselves, we asked nine entrepreneurs from YEC what interviewees had done in the past–or, well, what they wish candidates had done–to differentiate themselves and land the job.

(Hint: Feel free to steal their strategies for yourself.)

1. Played the Piano

A job applicant once sent us a really witty cover letter that ended with a promise to play ‘Careless Whisper’ on the piano on command if given the job as our copywriter. Just reading his letter gave me the gut feeling he would get along well with our young, witty, and laid-back culture. He’s now been here for two years (though unfortunately doesn’t play the piano on command anymore).

Kenny Nguyen, Big Fish Presentations

2. Contributed to an Open Source Project

When hiring for technical roles, I ask applicants if they’ve offered meaningful contributions to open source projects in their free time. This can move the conversation toward what they’ve actually done and reveal if they have the important qualities and abilities we seek in these positions.

–Jyot Singh, RTS Labs

3. Scoped Out Our Clients

Within a 15-mile radius of our office, there are over 100 restaurants using our software for their digital displays. A job applicant immediately stands out as someone who cares about our product when they share their experience at one or two of our client locations. In the interview, they also instantly perform better because they understand how our product works in a real-life setting.

Nanxi Liu, Enplug

4. Skipped the Application Process

When I was looking for our first office manager, I wanted somebody proactive who would just get things done–-no matter what it took. I put up a job offer, and candidates quickly piled up. However, one of them really stood apart from the others when she looked up my contact details and sent a very well-thought-out email. I could instantly see how she’d apply this to everything else. I hired her the next day.

Pablo Villalba, 8fit

5. Wrote Interesting Emails

My first step in the process of elimination is to go through and open the resumes of applicants who have taken the time to write an email that covers a very relevant topic in regards to the position they’re applying for. When the applicants include some type of witty or enthusiastic content in the email, it’s usually a strong indicator that they’ll get an in-person interview.

Justin Jarman, Youbetme

6. Used Retargeting Ads

One arguably invasive but also clever tactic a candidate used was serve up retargeting ads that featured him in a favorable light. That included links to his website, articles that mentioned him, and his social media profiles. Without directly pinging me, he remained top of mind, and I discovered a lot more information about him even when I didn’t directly search for it.

Firas Kittaneh, Amerisleep

7. Knew Our Weaknesses

It’s really surprising how few applicants have properly researched our competitors. Candidates who really make an impact know all about our brand, as well as how our strengths and weaknesses could relate to the market in general. Researching our products is all well and good, but a grasp of the bigger picture is just as, if not more, important.

Marvin Amberg, Caseable

8. Created a Video Cover Letter

If someone created a video of themselves specifically pitching our recruiter on why they should be hired, that kind of personal pitch would help them to stand out as a candidate.

Mike Seiman, CPXi

9. Thought Deeply About Our Company

The applicants that impress us the most are the ones who have taken a deep dive into our site, business model, and press. It shows they are serious about the job.

Basha Rubin, Priori Legal


Photo of planes courtesy of Shutterstock.