A few months ago, something very unexpected happened.
An old hiring manager who previously rejected me for a job last year, emailed me to see I would be interviewing again for a new position in the department. In 2018, I was working in administration and thought I would be stuck as someone’s assistant forever. I applied for an internship program because I had hit my breaking point and needed to break out of my admin job. So applied for this program and before we start on how I become a stand out candidate, I wanted to give some context on the history of this job application:
Oct 2018 – I applied for an internship program with the Federal Government. This is a yearly application. I knew my chances were slim because usually, this position requires a business degree (it’s actually one of the application questions, to which I had to reply “no.”). However, there was a 500-word essay component involved (their version of a cover letter), to which I knew I could sell myself (bonus points because I’ve always been good at writing. I don’t have a business degree, but I can write a killer essay).
Nov 2018 – I passed to the next round and sent me the first online exam.
Dec 2018 – I did well, and moved onto the 2nd in-person exam (pre-COVID times). I have taken this kind of test before and hadn’t done pretty average. This time, I really studied for it. My results came in the 86th percentile.
Aug 2019 – They asked me to do a pre-recorded interview. I did it and sent it right before my vacation to Sri Lanka and the Maldives.
Oct 2019 – They requested an in-person interview.
Nov 2019 – I did the interview (right after my concussion which was a bad idea btw don’t do ever feel like you can’t re-schedule an interview for medical reasons). Even though I felt like I wasn’t 100%, I emailed each interviewer individually with a follow up of our conversations during the interview.
Dec 2019 – They let me know they had chosen to go with another candidate. I requested a follow-up call for feedback
Jan 2020 – I had a follow-up call with the hiring manager. He said I had a great interview and would have loved to have me on the team. When I kind of pressed on things I could do better, he had difficulty finding flaws in my interview. He said it was just because someone completely exceeded the qualifications and experience for this position (remember: I didn’t even have the basic business degree). He shared that I was one of their top choices and wished me well.
Aug 2020 – The hiring manager emailed me. Obviously, I had not applied to the program again because I’m actually already am in the same position at a different organization (that also pays higher). However, he personally reached out stating that because I had interviewed so well last year, they would be really interested in meeting me again for the intake this year.
Sept 2020 – After speaking with my career mentor, I decided to accept the interview. I didn’t get it (again), but I learned SO much and gained a ton of experience in interviewing for this type of position. Although it hurt my ego, I really wasn’t that disappointed. I’m extremely happy where I am. This internship is also 4 years long and it ends with being a senior position at the end. And the complete risk of sounding cocky, but with my current career path, I think I could get that senior position in less than 4 years with my current organization or something comparable elsewhere if I choose to leave.
So why did I share this very long story with you? Because as you can see this was an INCREDIBLY long and competitive process. And even though I didn’t get, I wanted to share with you these key takeaways when it comes to career planning and job search. This hiring manager did not have to reach out to me again. I know this competition well and they have hundreds, if not thousands of applicants; they did not have to reach out to me. But they did, and today I want to share you can also become memorable and stand out as a job candidate:
1. Create A Strong Story-Telling Personal Brand
Story-telling is a power tool. That’s why you can remember songs and plot lines to movies from years ago, but zero facts about subjects you learned in high school. I have a very clear story I tell employers and that’s what they associate when they meet me. I have clear values and story about WHY I do what I like to do so I’m not just another person that walks in and says “I want this job. It will help me grow. You should pick me.” My story is also extremely geared at my target audience – I know I want to work in public procurement. Even though I don’t have all of the “on-paper” credentials, I stand out because I am crystal clear about who I help and why.
2. Show Genuine Interest and be kind.
Never underestimate the power of kindness. I always keep in touch and on good terms with everyone I work for. This has led me to be referred for different contracts, glowing recommendations, and great mentorship opportunities. Many people do not follow up with kindness – which includes sending thank you notes. I take it a step further, I stand out by emailing everyone on the hiring team separately and personalizing it to things I learned about them individually during the interview.
3. Never stop learning.
In those 18 months, not was I learning new skills that ended up getting me promoted in my current position, but it also allowed me to develop the skills required for that internship position so I could impress the hiring managers throughout the interview process. I studied a lot. I researched a lot. And at the end of the in-person interview I even asked the hiring manager that he was so taken aback with because it was so incredibly technical to the process, he replied “wow, where did you even find that detail about our work?!” If you don’t have the opportunity to demonstrate aspects of your knowledge in the job interview, make sure you do it at the end when the interviewer asks “do you have any questions for us?” Read more about how to do this and position yourself as a problem solver in this article here! This is how to stand out.
4. Understand Impostor Syndrome To Build Confidence
Confidence is key. A few years ago, I wouldn’t have even bothered applying to that program. I would have instantly seen that a business background is what was desired and automatically passed. Now I have the confidence to not only apply to those jobs but also do not rely on the security. A part of me was tempted to go into the program because it’s a GUARANTEE of a higher position. Now I go into the job search process with confidence in my skills, worth and potential because I know how to stand out.
5. Don’t give up.
I was stuck for so many years being someone’s assistant and in entry-level positions when I know I had so much more to contribute. I didn’t know I would end up here, but I kept persisting with it anyway. Even when there was rejection and self-doubt if I was even capable of this or should I just stay in the safe route of admin (where I was getting promoted)? I want to tell you it was all sunshine and rainbows, but as I was trying to break out of admin, it was a lot of rejection and hard work.
These are all things I coach my clients with so I know this is not me “being lucky” or “special” in any other way than I was willing to put in the work. And it was work, I applied for the program and it took 18 months for me to get rejected. However, during that time I learned so much that was able to get me here to the point where I am now really confident in my industry. That was not the case 2 years ago.
If you are looking to break out of an industry or ready for the next step, I hope you found this post/podcast episode helpful. If you need more help on how to stand out, be sure to look out for my career coaching program launching at the end of Nov 2020!