5 Small Things That Make a Big Difference to Hiring Managers

by Salary.com Staff - Original publish date: February 12, 2014

Competition is Fierce

As you progress throughout your career, may you have the good fortune of consistently being the unanimous, nobody-else-comes-close, top candidate for every job that you apply for. Perhaps it’s because your talent and expertise is undeniable. Maybe friends or old co-workers continually reach out to you to join them in their latest venture. Some of you might wisely take the path of least resistance by seeking out jobs through referrals so that you don’t have to compete with the masses.

For everyone else, you're probably facing a very competitive job market. Let’s face it; it can be really, really hard out there to get a great job.

The Difference Between Candidates Could be Miniscule

Put yourself in this scenario:

You apply to your dream job and breeze through the first round of interviews. HR loves you, the fit seems great, and they email you the very next day to come in for another round a week later.

This time, you meet with 3 more managers and spend nearly 5 hours learning about the company. Things go even better than the previous round, and you find out that you are one of the finalists for the position.

Another week goes by and they set up a Skype interview with one of the key project leaders in another office. You prepare for hours on end and have a fantastic conversation. You’re incredibly excited and tell all your friends how great the opportunity is. HR emails again and tells you it’s between you and another candidate, and invites you back to the office for a final interview with senior management, and once again, you hit the ball out of the park.

A week later you’re sitting at your desk (admittedly, dreaming of the moment when you’ll get to give your notice) when you see a call from the company coming in on your mobile phone. You sprint to a private conference room, breathlessly answer the call, only to have your HR contact tell you "I am SO sorry. You were a really fantastic candidate, it was incredibly close, and this was a really difficult decision. But in the end, unfortunately we’ve decided to make an offer to the other finalist."

You Need to Stand Out in a Good Way

Devastating, right?

So in a scenario where there might be 500 resumes, funneled down to 50 and then 10, and then narrowed again to the top 3-5 candidates, everyone is going to be good. You’re all going to have a solid education. You’re all going to have relevant work experience. You’re all going to do pretty well on your interview.

This means the decision on who to hire could come down to something very, very small. So why not make sure you have that edge? Here are some tips.

5. Get a Wardrobe Update

Yes, the suit you bought 4-5 years ago to wear to your buddy’s wedding is "fine." It still fits you pretty well, you washed the dress shirt you usually wear with it, and you’re wearing your lucky tie.

But what if you invested in a brand new suit in the latest style and had it tailored to fit your 2014 body, not your 2009 body? What if you bought a brand new white dress shirt that is so crisp that it makes the new suit look even better? What if your old tie wasn’t really lucky? It was just old. Is there the slightest chance that this new outfit could make you feel more confident?

4. Pay for a Professional Headshot

How about your LinkedIn page, your Gmail account, and your Skype avatar? Do you use a professional headshot photo, or that halfway decent picture someone took from their phone?

When you’re on that Skype call with the remote manager and they’re staring at your image, is it possible they’ll think you’ll be a more professional representative of their firm?

3. Create a Stylish Resume

Every other candidate built his or her resume from the exact same Microsoft Word template. Do you do something – anything – to graphically distinguish yourself from the pack?

For conservative fields like finance, it could be an interesting font, a shaded box, or a very small splash of color. For more creative fields, it could be as extreme as infographic elements worked into the layout.

In an increasingly design-centric world, could this small tweak set you apart?

2. Don't Just Say It, Show It

Truth: Once a hiring team starts going round after round of interviews with multiple candidates over several weeks, they all start to run together. The winning candidate might just be the person who does something memorable and sticks out in the mind of the hiring manager.

While everyone else is saying what they did in their last job, why not be the one showing what you did? Will bringing supporting materials (a portfolio, a business plan, a video, a website, a case study) be the key to sticking in their head long after you’ve left the room?

1. Control Your Personal Brand

If there’s one thing you can be certain of, it’s this: At some point during the hiring process and before you’re given an offer, the hiring company will Google you.

I’ve spoken to many college students lately and asked what comes up when this happens. The vast majority say it’s their Facebook account, LinkedIn profile, or aren’t even sure. They look at me and say, “What’s the big deal?” So I turn the tables and make them take the view of the hiring manager.

You’re hiring for a position at a rising company that values resourcefulness, attention to detail, creativity, and is in tune with technology trends. It’s down to two final candidates. Both earned honors at their university. Both had an internship at a relevant company. Both interviewed well. It’s a dead heat. When they search for the first person, their Facebook page comes up. When they search for the second candidate, a creative and professional website that they built appears.

Will any of these tiny little differences really matter? Maybe. Maybe not. But who would you hire?

Once You Make the Cut, Make the Pay Grade

When you finally get through the interview process you'll be made an offer. But before you even get to that point, Salary.com can help.

The first thing you should do is research, so you're able to come to the table armed with the knowledge of what your job is worth. Use our free Salary Wizard below to find out what's a fair salary for your position. You can enter your location, education level, years of experience and more to find out an appropriate salary range before you negotiate.

Good luck.