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How to Establish an Advantage in Job Interviews

By Amy Feind Reeves

Good entry-level jobs are scarce, and extremely competitive when they become available.

In this economy, you're not only competing with other new grads, but also with grads from previous years that are still looking for a place to land.

What can you do to make your candidacy stand out?

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Prove You Are the Best Candidate

All job descriptions objectively state the skills required for a role. Your job in preparing for the interview is to provide evidence that you have those skills based on your experience to date. Pretty straightforward, right?

But what if there are skills that are required but are not stated? If you could prove you have those skills you could potentially create a competitive advantage over other candidates.

Two Required -- But Unstated -- Skills

There are two skills that are considered essential by all employers for all roles, but they don't always make it to the job description. Those skills are:

  1. A keen eye for detail, and
  2. The ability to juggle multiple and often competing priorities.

Whether you have an interview coming up to be a financial advisor, nurse, teacher, event planner, or anything in between, rest assured that your attractiveness as a candidate is going to be enhanced significantly if you can provide evidence that you have these two skills.

Why Are They ALWAYS Applicable?

Regardless of the job or the employer, these skills are always in demand:

1. A keen eye for detail is critical for all employers because -- no matter how good a manager is at paying attention to detail -- s/he can always use an extra brain at work to make sure that there are no typos or missed details in the work product (e.g. client presentation, treatment plan, syllabus or schedule of events) or oversights when implementing plans (e.g.missing WiFi connection, not enough electrical outlets, no vegetarian meal options).

Everyone has had the experience of getting caught in an oversight, be it large or small. No one wants the experience again. If you can provide evidence that you will serve as an additional line of defense against any of those things happening, you will likely develop an edge over other candidates.

2. The ability to juggle multiple and often competing priorities is part of everyone's work life (and most people's home life).

An admin may have three bosses who all need their expense reports processed by the end of the day. An engineer may need to generate a three- dimensional model by 3:00 pm, when a budget draft and testing plan on another project are also due.

Juggling multiple priorities at once is a skill that everyone needs to develop at some point. Again, candidates who can demonstrate they already have this skill are going to have an edge.

How Do I Demonstrate I've Got Them?

As you prepare for your interview, make sure you prepare at least one story that provides evidence you possess these skills. It doesn't matter if your story comes from experience as an intern, student, camp counselor or parking valet.

What does matter is that you can tell a simple, cogent story about a time when you used these skills to perform well in a pressured situation. For example:

  • If you and a group of friends got stuck in a bus terminal overnight when headed to a soccer tournament and you were the one who stayed up all night figuring out how to exchange the tickets to get everyone where they needed to be -- that's your story. Don't be shy about stating that:
    • Your attention to detail allowed you to figure out how to correct the issue.
    • Your ability to focus on the solution, in addition to figuring out where you could find food and brush your teeth in the bus terminal, demonstrates your ability to resolve a problem even though there were competing smaller problems going on at the same time.
  • If your roommate talked you into being in charge of parking for the bands at Spring Fling and your one-hour commitment turned into an all day affair that included negotiating with both campus and city police -- that's your story. Be proactive about including that:
    • Your attention to detail helped you figure out before the band arrived that their equipment truck was not likely to fit in the space provided.
    • Under a tight timeframe, you rounded up the parties needed to augment the space and keep things on schedule.

It doesn't matter how big the impact of the result. What does matter is that your interviewer knows you have these skills and are keen to use them.

When Do I Tell My Story?

You can use your story when answering a direct question, such as

  • "Can you tell me about a time you faced a problem?" or
  • "Why do you think you would be good in this role?"

You can also simply assert it as something you would like your interviewer to know.

The trick is creating a transition, such as "I can tell you about a time I really enjoyed being put on the spot" or "Here's why I know I would enjoy the demands of this role."

Bottom Line

Don't be shy -- your interviewer will appreciate your confidence and enthusiasm. Clearly communicating your attention to detail and experience and ability juggling multiple deadlines will impress the interviewer and put you ahead of the other candidates.


About the author...

Amy Feind Reeves is the Founder and CEO of JobCoachAmy, where she leverages her experience of over 25 years as a senior executive and hiring manager to help new professionals find and keep jobs that make them happy. Her corporate practice focuses on managing millennials. Amy has enjoyed successful careers as a commercial banker, global management consultant, entrepreneur, corporate executive, and non-profit executive. Amy graduated cum laude from Wellesley College and earned an MBA at the Tuck School of Dartmouth College.


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Guide to Job Search for New Grads:

Starting Your Job Search:

Handling Special Situations:

Networking for Your Job Search:

Navigating Job Interviews Successfully:


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The Job Internship Process:

Succeeding with that First Real Job:

Job Search Basics for New Grads:

New Grads Job Search Expert:

Additional Resources:


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