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Advice / Job Search / Interviewing

The 5 People You're Competing Against in Your Job Search

person in interview
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Big interview coming up? Well done, my friend. Well done. Are you feeling calm and prepared, or are you now stewing about the competition? Don’t beat yourself up if it’s the latter; it’s perfectly natural, and can actually work to your advantage—unless you let it unravel you.

Don’t let it unravel you.

Instead, think about the various types of people that’ll likely be in the mix, and figure out how you can take ’em on.

1. The Super Preparer

This is the one we all hate the most.

She’s the candidate who started preparing for the interview 12.1 seconds after being invited. She’s logged no fewer than 47 hours studying the players, researching news stories about the company (back to, like, 1997), and practicing her answers to every possible behavioral-based question she could drum up through Google. She’s researched salaries on Glassdoor, found people who work there, and already arranged several informational interviews.

She’s impossible to beat—or is she?

How You Can Outshine Her

Make no mistake, showing up for an interview fully prepared can give you an enormous leg up on the competition. However, there is such a thing as over-preparing. When you over-prepare—especially in practicing verbatim answers to potential questions—you risk coming across as a stilted robot. You risk looking like you’re not paying attention when, in fact, you’re just so hyper-focused on what question’s coming next that you can’t get into an engaging, natural groove of conversation.

A much better way to go about getting ready, especially when it comes to anticipating interview questions, is to think about the most commonly asked questions and then consider examples from your work history that would be good to share.

In other words, rather than memorizing answers, spend time thinking about moments in your career that you were super-challenged, or very proud, or learned a lesson, and so on. This way, you can draw upon them readily, without being over-rehearsed.

2. The Free-Wheeler

This competitor’s the exact opposite of The Super Preparer. He’s (you realize I’m using “he” and “she” only hypothetically, right?) going to spend 20 minutes, tops, limbering up for this meeting. Why? Could be because he’s generally great at conversational banter, or knows that he’s a strong on-paper match for the role.

Maybe he has an “in” and thinks this interview is all but a formality before an offer’s extended, or maybe he’s just too busy to spend much time fine-tuning his game-day strategy.

How You Can Leap Frog Over Him

Obviously, you’ll have plenty of advantage over this guy if you do your homework. Smooth talkers don’t always get by on charm alone. Study the players, study what’s going on with the company, and jot down some non-obvious questions to ask either during or at the end of the meeting, to show that you’ve been paying attention.

Also, knowing that The Free Wheeler’s typically pretty good at the small talk, consider enlisting a friend to run through a mock interview with you. Ask that person to pay particular attention to—and give feedback on—how natural and conversational you sound when answering questions.

3. The Pedigreed Pro

In any given job search, you’ll likely also be competing with someone who has a strong pedigree—education at a top-ranked college, career chronology at the top-known employers—you get the drift.

So, what happens when you’re not a Stanford-educated professional, who has done global humanitarian work, and enjoyed a career climb through the most revered organizations in the land? Well, hi. That’s called most of us.

How You Can Still Get Ahead

If you’re going after jobs for which you’re genuinely qualified, you simply cannot get all tangled up with fear of the pedigreed competition. It simply does no good. Instead, spend your time thinking about what (specifically) this organization wants and needs from the person they’re going to hire for this role. You can figure this out through the job description, through conversations with “insiders” before the interview, and, in the interview itself.

Use this intel to your advantage. Spell out what you can walk through their doors and deliver, with their specific needs and priorities in mind. Remember: Pedigree’s all fine and well, but it means very little if the candidate can’t dive in and help an organization grow, make money, save money, or thrive.

4. The Dead-on Match

Oh, so you’re like an 80% solid fit for the role, are you? Well, that’s great—until you start panicking about The Dead-on Match people with whom you’re likely to compete. Guess what? You’re probably going to go head-to-head with people who look to be simply perfect on paper.

They’ll have the right number of years of experience, doing the exact things this job calls for, and specific knowledge of that same industry. But you know as well as I do that perfect-on-paper does not always mean perfect at all.

How to Beat the Dead-on Match

An important thing to realize—especially if you’re not a 100% match—is that companies tend to hire based on three things, not just one. The first thing they’re looking for is the obvious one: “Can she do this job?” This absolutely must be a “yes” or you go no further in the competition.

And, for sure, this person may very well have this one on lock. However, the other two things are equally important—“Do we like her?” and “Do we think she’s going to fit in around here?”

So, if you’re a “pretty good fit,” you’ll certainly want to work to give the interviewer confidence that you can fulfill the requirements of the job. But, you absolutely should also strive to endear yourself to the hiring manager, so they come away feeling like they must get you on board.

5. The Cocky Contender

This person’s easy to beat. In fact, The Cocky Contender often does herself in without you having to even lift a finger.

Don’t get me wrong: Corporate decision makers typically appreciate confidence very much in a candidate. However, when it enters the “noticeably cocky” or “full-on arrogant” zone, it’s probably going to be game over.

How to Compete with Her

Work to enter the interview with an ease and sense of enthusiasm about you. Speak with energy, and make eye contact. Be friendly, direct, and succinct. And never flinch. If you don’t know how to answer a question, don’t make crap up—ask for clarification, or admit that you don’t know X, but you imagine that your knowledge of Y will be very helpful.

In other words, hold your head high without coming off as a know-it-all. And work to communicate in a style that resonates with the person you’re meeting with.

When you get down to it, any job competition’s an individual race. You need to focus on how you can show up strong and perform your best. However, understanding what the characters around you are all about can enhance your ability to knock it right out of the park on game day.

And, home runs? Everyone loves those.