How to Be a “Wow” Candidate! 6 Strategies to Impress Recruiters and Hiring Managers


February 25, 2016 | in News | by Mara Covell


As an executive recruiter at Koller Search Partners, I meet many candidates who impress me with their skills and accomplishments.  And, I interview many qualified people who I place into great jobs. But, there is a type of candidate who presents as a cut above the rest.   And, when I meet a kind of candidate who offers a combination of qualities that catch my attention, I often say to myself, “Wow, that person is special.”

From the moment you meet a recruiter or hiring manager, they seamlessly move into “evaluation mode.” Know that that “mode” is nonstop, and you are being evaluated on many levels until you leave the interview. Follow these six tips to increase your chances of truly standing out and being memorable…

1. Enter the office with energy.  You would be amazed at how many competent and skilled people appear flat at the initial “hello.” They may pick up steam as they talk, but that first impression sticks.   Keep your energy high and attention focused from the get-go, and your interviewer is likely to become a more receptive and positive listener. Smile and be enthusiastic. For example, saying: “It’s great to be here. I want to learn more about this opportunity,” sets a warm, confident tone.  Don’t make the interviewer do all the heavy lifting when it comes to keeping the conversation moving forward. Long pauses and low participation from a candidate during an interview send red flags to a recruiter. That said, don’t push out a tsunami of information about yourself. Regardless of how an interviewer might structure an interview, some candidates simply talk too much, lose focus and meander during the conversation. Once I start to feel lost when a candidate is talking, I mentally check out. I question, for example, if he or she is prepared for our meeting, and is he or she an organized or disorganized thinker.  Your goal is to show “spark,” be informed, thoughtful, and concise.

2. Be open and upbeat with the interviewer.  Make eye contact and give the interviewer a firm handshake. Keep your body language self-assured. Brief small talk can engage and can help showcase your personality in a good way.  Be alert to what might prompt some small talk:  You may notice a Kindle on a desk and ask the interviewer if he or she is reading something interesting. You might see photos of children on a shelf and make a flattering comment about them. Be creative and, importantly, be sincere.

3. Don’t seem ambivalent about a job you are interviewing for. An interviewer wants to know that you are interested and eager to explore a particular position. That adds to his or her sense of trust, such that you will follow an interview process with good intentions and respect for the process.  Never let an interviewer think: “Why is this person giving me mixed messages about their interest in the job? Why are they wasting my time?” Exploring a new role is not committing to it.  Convey sincere interest in the position, learn more about it and, if a time comes when you feel it is not the right fit, graciously say so.

4. Be prepared and avoid appearing nervous. You will feel more in control and centered during an interview, if you are well-prepared. Be informed about who the interviewer is (check out their background, if possible). Prep yourself about the company, so you can discuss a position with confidence, and ask smart questions. Poorly prepared candidates are obvious; they seem shallow when they should show depth; and they can seem lazy. Not a recipe for “wow.”

Also, being prepared can mitigate nerves. If you are nervous, try your best not to show it.  Nervous, fidgety candidates may make a recruiter or hiring manager wonder about executive presence and how a candidate will interact with potential co-workers.  

5. Be self-aware: Understanding and knowing yourself is a key part of performing well and succeeding in leadership roles. Know your strengths, weaknesses, interests and goals. Be able to discuss them with an interviewer in a smooth, conversational tone. “Wow” candidates often take time prior to interviews to think about what information they want to convey to an interviewer, especially as it relates to a particular job. Typically, these candidates provide details and insights about themselves with clarity and explain how their backgrounds are a match for the job.

Can you answer the following questions? If you can, you are in a better position to organize your thoughts and deliver to an interviewer a more complete picture of yourself.

  • Who are you?  (Consider a succinct capsule of your professional background, highlighting what is pertinent to the position you are applying for.)
  • What are your strengths (What do you do best? Provide examples of how your strengths had a positive impact in your previous jobs.)
  • What separates you from others who may be seeking the same position?
  • Why are you interested in the job?

6. Show that you can adapt in a fast-changing business world. More than ever, it is important for candidates to show they can move successfully within the constantly accelerating pace of change in their industries. “Wow” candidates are informed and clear about current and upcoming changes in their industries. They can discuss how they have dealt with change in the past and how they have dealt with ambiguity at a company in the process of evolving, restructuring and reinventing. “Wow” candidates can cope with ambiguity; they can convince recruiters and hiring managers that they can manage when structure, business strategy, and job descriptions are in flux.  “Wow” candidates leave an interviewer feeling that they will stay competent and grounded in the face of change and unpredictability.


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