When you're applying to and interviewing for jobs, you know you need to stand out to a hiring manager—to make an impression that won't just be good, it'll be memorable.

But how, exactly, do you do that?

To find out, we asked a few of our hiring manager friends about the candidate they still remember: the person who, above all the people they've interviewed for all the positions they've filled, still stands out in their minds as going above and beyond in the application or interview process.

Before you send off your next cover letter, consider these strategies.


She Acted Like Part of the Team

I've met with a number of great candidates, but one who stood out was a designer who came in and blew everyone away. She did so much research on the company, the role, and gaps she could see filling, and she asked really smart questions. She also did her research on the interviewers so she knew her audience and connected with each of them in a personal way. It was almost like she was already part of the team.

And if that wasn't enough, she followed up with a handwritten note attached to a dozen amazing cupcakes! She was so thorough, enthusiastic, and funny, plus incredibly talented, that we just knew she would push the team forward and add to the energy of the culture. We were really excited to offer her a role, and she was a great hire!"

—Amy Knapp, Director of Talent Acquisition, Chegg


Her Cover Letter Blew Me Away

It's tragic, really, that the candidate I still remember was one we couldn't hire. That might be a hopeful note to all you career window-shoppers out there. I can think of few feelings more agonizing than writing the perfect cover lettercomplete with all the bells, whistles and caveatsand never hearing back. Occasionally, though, companies are like George Costanza: It's not you, it's them.

I once received a note from a job seeker that hit me in all the right places. And that's hard to do, because some cover letters are about as easy to read as Finnegan's Wake. We weren't in a position to hire her, or even interview her, but I still spent an hour dancing around on email trying to find the words to adequately respond.

She sent over what I call the "self-aware cover letter." The content acknowledges how mundane most application materials are, but understands their necessity. I recall a virtual handshake, a hat-tip to all the cover letters before hers, a quirky summary of her talents, and absolutely impeccable grammar. If I'm remembering correctly, there were allusions to a horrible food sickness in a foreign country peppered in as well. I might've even LOL'd.

There was only a single mention of the word unique, which seems six or so times fewer than the average cover letter I've read. She made an impression on me, anyway. And I work in advertisingI love impressions."

—Spencer Rinkus, Account Executive, Bread


She Showed Me Why She Was Relevant

The candidate I still remember took time in her first correspondence to briefly outline personal blog posts she felt best represented her as the ideal candidate and why each was relevant to me as the hiring manager and to the open position.

My favorite, “What I’ve Learned,” detailed her year-long experience as an intern at an accelerator: 'I learned: It’s better to ask a question, no matter how dumb you think you sound, than to pretend you know what you’re talking about' and ‘I’ve come to appreciate networking and learned that being friendly, making connections, and maintaining solid relationships is a top priority.'

Bull’s-eye for the marketing and business development role for which I was hiring. She came across as polished, capable, and eager from the very get-go. I’ve since hired her. First impressions mean everything.

(The candidate that I would love to forget walked in, slouched down in the chair, and started out the conversation with: ‘So, I don’t really know what you guys do.' Ouch.)"

—Alexis Anderson, Director of Marketing and Strategic Partnerships, PureWow


He Asked the Tough Questions

At Education Pioneers, we aim to increase the talent supply of top leaders and managers in key education organizations. Our Analyst Fellowship focuses on recruiting data-savvy professionals to apply their skills in the education sector.

Tom (not his real name) was a prospective candidate, a former science teacher who had used data in his classroom to track student performance. When we met, I anticipated typical questions like, “What do you look for in an ideal candidate?” but that’s where Tom surprised me.

Instead, Tom asked me about how Education Pioneers tracks our 'impact' on U.S. education and why data is critical to transforming the education sector overall. His demeanor conveyed that he was genuinely interested but also cautiously skeptical—he wanted to make sure the organization was making a difference. Tom’s tactful candor and thoughtful questions made him stand out as someone who definitely believes in our mission but who also understands that a healthy sense of doubt is required to help our programs achieve their fullest potential.

As a candidate, don’t be afraid to ask tough questions that show your sincere interest and commitment to the organization’s mission and success. In Tom’s case, it made the decision easier to make him an offer to join our new cohort of Fellows.

—Samantha Simmons, Associate, Analyst Fellowship Recruiting, Education Pioneers


Photo of man at interview courtesy of Shutterstock.

Updated 6/19/2020