Recently, I’ve been engaged with a local company doing some marketing consulting. They asked me to help them screen candidates for an open rec in the marketing department. This experience was both shocking and revealing.

Now, I’m not new to interviews. In fact, I volunteer for my alumni association every year to screen high-school students interested in attending. It’s great practice and I’ve always been extremely impressed with the kids I’ve met. All of them were motivated, intelligent and (yes) even professional.

Screening candidates for a job, on the other hand…well, I wish I could say the same things.

It’s Not as Hard to Stand Out as You Might Think

I was given 12 resumes and told, “Give me 4 to interview”.

So I started dialing.

The first phone number didn’t even work, the candidate must have mis-typed it on the resume.

“Attention to detail”- Fail

The second candidate began lecturing me on the “correct” use of social media. If he would have asked what my role is, he might not have been so bold.

“Works well in teams” -Fail

The third candidate called me from her car on her way to a doctor’s appointment. I could barely hear her and she knew nothing about the industry of the company.

“Passionate about our industry” – Fail

One resume I looked at was so poorly formatted, I had to zoom in 150% just to read it.

“Skilled in MS Word, experience copy writing”- Fail

One candidate was so vague that I had a hard time figuring out what HE did exactly. It took me 3 different lines of questioning to figure it out.

What High-school Kids Did Better

1) They did their research. They didn’t show up to the interview without knowing exactly why they wanted my school over all the others.

2) They were prepared. Most of them had notebooks filled with the essentials, my phone #, directions, and prepared questions to ask

3) Their excitement came through instantly, but without desperation. Not one of them asked me to call them back if I had heard any news. They were jumping out of their seats with excitement and passion. But they never begged.

4) They were fun to talk to and engaged me in conversation. It wasn’t all about them, it was about their ideals and their ideas.

5) They were specific. Every question was answered with specific events and their involvement was clearly spelled out.

My college is now one of the most competitive universities in the country. Only 1 out of 16.7 will get in. These are worse odds than our labor market.

Yet these kids held their ground in a professional manner.

I was VERY impressed with them, and not very impressed with some of the candidates for this job.

The good news is that I did find 4 EXCELLENT folks. Though they didn’t have a very high bar to cross, when they did, it was very obvious that they were a quality candidate.

Good News for YOU

When Mark Hannon wrote his Letter from a Baffled Hiring Manager last year, I thought he may have just had some bad experiences. Now, I know he is right.

And that’s VERY good news for you.

Dear reader, you are an intelligent and highly skilled professional. The very fact that you care enough to educate yourself in your job search means that you treat hiring managers with respect.

Rest assured, you are already standing out from 90% of your competition. And that is something to feel very good about.