Skip to main contentA logo with &quat;the muse&quat; in dark blue text.
Advice / Job Search / Interviewing

This Secret to Standing Out in Interviews Is Almost Too Obvious

Impressing a stranger, standing out from the competition, earning an offer—these are all challenges, even for an experienced professional who should be a perfect fit.


Because the higher up you climb on the ladder, the more you’re competing against candidates with similar impressive experiences and qualifications.

As a CEO and interviewer for many years, I’ve met so many great people I ended up passing on.

So, your next question is probably, “Well, then how do I stand out?”

Here’s the big secret that has nothing to do with your resume bullet points: Your strongest selling point, your best competitive edge, is yourself. Truly—no one can copy that.

How do you show who you are over the course of a job interview? Try the following approaches:

1. Knock “Tell Me About Yourself” Out of the Park

I ask this question at the beginning of every interview (and so do many, many other people in charge of hiring). Luckily for you, the typical response is generic and long—meaning you have the opportunity here to make yourself memorable.

Consider and practice your response before entering the room. Think of it like a book’s back-cover synopsis: You’re trying to excite and encourage the interviewer. You want her to want to learn more about you—aim to make him or her curious. (Bonus: Include something that isn’t on your resume because the element of surprise can spark additional curiosity.)

If you’re not specifically asked “Tell me about yourself” during the interview, be proactive and find a way to share your answer during the conversation.

Related: A Complete Guide to Answering “Tell Me About Yourself” in an Interview (Plus Examples!)

2. Give Examples of Working Outside of Your Team

Employees who can’t (or won’t) think outside their own role cause major headaches for managers. That’s because if you make a decision without considering how it’ll affect others, you could negatively impact culture, productivity, and general operations. (And no one wants to hire that person.)

That’s why it’s so important to show that you can build relationships with people outside of your immediate department—and even outside of the business itself.

When you share a story about broad impact, you’re giving what I call a “borderless leadership example.” Explain how actions you took in your former role positively influenced other aspects of the business. For example, you could say something like, “I was a social media manager, but instead of just interacting with customers in a way I thought was best, I built strong relationships with co-workers in marketing and public relations. This helped me ensure that I was on message, and supporting their efforts as well.”

By discussing the connections you forged, you’re highlighting your unique approach (and people skills).

3. Show Genuine Passion

Passion is more than a buzzword: It’s something interviewers can’t get enough of. (Seriously, take my word for it.)

Sometimes, your excitement for a role may be overshadowed by your nerves. If you’re feeling anxious, I suggest finding a topic you’re more at ease discussing, even if it’s something outside of the professional environment (like your love of running, or your work with a charity).

Discussing your life outside the office can help you feel more comfortable, and it’ll help the interviewer relate to you on a different level. Additionally, if you share what you’ve learned from those experiences (e.g., teamwork from your club sports team or people skills from your volunteering) you’ll continue on the path of selling yourself as a top candidate for the job.

4. Demonstrate Self-awareness

You’re going to be asked about your weaknesses at some point during the interview in some way or another. The best responses to this question admit an area for growth, and then go on to discuss what you’ve learned by working on it.

For instance, when I was interviewing, I’d often speak about my impatience. I would explain how it had been both my friend and enemy: It helped me get things done; but, at times, it irritated my colleagues. I discussed how I modified my behavior—like waiting an extra day to follow up on requests—as well as what I’d learned (that being considerate of your co-workers is worth moving a little slower on certain tasks).

In order to truly “be yourself,” you have to know who you are—including strengths and weaknesses.

5. Impress With Your Personal Take on the Company

Every job applicant should research the organization before his interview. But many people stop there, and just regurgitate what they read on the website. However, someone who takes it a step further always stands out. For example, I’m a fan when an interviewee mentions something occurring in current events or society that could have a potential impact on my business.

To do this, find the company’s overarching objectives on its website, and then think about something unique you can relate them to. Consider how societal trends might influence its strategic direction. For example, customers expect more direct relationships with brands; maybe you see an opportunity for the company to be more accessible to the public.

The interviewer doesn’t have to agree with your ideas. The fact that you’ve put the time into thinking creatively about the business will showcase your unique perspective and prove you’re not like everyone else.

You know that you should “be yourself,” but you might not have known exactly what that means in the context of interview. Use the tips above to demonstrate how you’re a unique candidate, and the value you’d add if hired.

Photo of light bulb courtesy of Shutterstock.