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Recruiter Advice: How to Stand Out in the Crowd

My money says that you want a job, perhaps not this semester, but eventually. The problem is that all of your peers reading this also want a job, possibly even the same job you want. There is a lot of competition in the job search. Many of your resumes are practically identical to each other. Same first year project, same list of technology, a similar list of organizations, and a quick print of a degree audit shows that your classes and GPA are also neck and neck. So how do you stand out?  Show them what’s not on the resume. Show them you. Show them that you are professional and prepared.  

It seems like common knowledge, but many recruiters report that students aren’t prepared and/or lack common professional behavior. You can’t add classes or gain industry experience a week before a job interview, but there are things that you can do, that many of your peers don’t, that will help you stand out. Show the recruiter that you have transitioned from student to professional.

Days before the interview:

  • Research the company.  If you don’t have time to do a full perusal of their website, at least take the time to read the synopsis provided in CareerEngine. Use the “Employers” tab to get an overview of what they do and learn about the company culture. Many, many, many employers report back to us that they were disappointed in the number of students that didn’t know anything about the company or its products/services.
  • Plan questions to ask.  Recruiters routinely lament that students don’t ask them any questions. Use the knowledge gained from your research to ask them a question about a topic they haven’t mentioned yet. Did they get a new CEO? Ask them if that will affect the company’s mission or vision. Did the company have a very successful quarter? Find out how that could impact recruitment. Did the company just land a large contract? Inquire if that will change the scope of the posted position.

    If you can’t find anything striking or significant in your research to ask about, you can always ask general questions. Ask the recruiter what brought (and kept) them at the company. Find out what will be expected of you in the first 30/60/90 days on the job. Learn about the company personnel: how many divisions are there, how many are in your division, to whom would you report, etc.

    Plan for the end of the meeting, too. Ask for business cards and find out to whom you can send a follow-up email after the interview.  

At the interview:

  • Look professional.  Recruiters will be looking at you for 30 to 60 minutes. Arrive at least 15 minutes early to collect yourself. Take time to go to the restroom and check yourself in the mirror. Students have come to interviews with their collars (unintentionally) popped up, shirts half tucked, food on their teeth, and in great need of a tissue. We get it. You came straight from class and possibly ate lunch along the way; we can’t expect your clothes and face to be perfect. However, one minute in front of a mirror can correct these small mishaps.
  • Be professional.  More than one recruiter has commented on handshakes and posture. Trivial? Maybe to you, but not to them. They are considering you as a possible employee, someone who will represent their company, and they want someone who is not only intellectually competent, but also confident, professional, and polished. Look the recruiter in the eye when you introduce yourself. Use a firm handshake and sit up straight with your feet on the floor while being interviewed.

    Recruiters have also commented on phones. Your phone should be off and out of view, and your attention should be fully on the conversation at hand. Do not sneak peeks at your phone. If you are in a time crunch (perhaps you have a midterm that begins in 45 minutes), then let the recruiter know that up front, and together you can be aware of the time.

    Language is another way to separate yourself from the pack.  Avoid using slang and casual language. Recruiters’ comments on student communication skills have ranged from the overuse of filler words (um, uh, yeah) to the use of profanity. They also report that some students talk too fast while others barely talk at all. I’m guessing that no one goes to an interview with plans on stammering or cursing, but it has happened. Show professionalism by practicing the answers to standard questions before you get to the interview. Knowing what you want to say will help you to stay calm. You can practice interviewing with our online mock interview tool, Big Interview (found in the Shortcuts menu of your CareerEngine account).

The bottom line is that if your qualifications are the same as the next student’s, then use your preparedness and professional demeanor to make you stand out from the crowd.

"I've always considered myself to be just average talent and what I have is a ridiculous insane obsessiveness for practice and preparation."
-Will Smith

About the author

Laura Pizoli

Laura Pizoli is the Information Associate at Engineering Career Services.