Standing out in the crowd

Whether you’re changing careers, recently unemployed or a college graduate, finding a job can be one of the most stressful times of your life. The job market being what it is, even finding a job opening and applying can seem overwhelming, to say nothing of the face-to-face interview.

For someone newly entering the job market, the prospect of an interview can seem daunting, filled with a seemingly endless string of probabilities and situations. Fret not. There are a number of things you can do to stand out and ensure that you leave the right impression.

The first step is to grasp the importance of the face-to-face interview in the selection process.

“It is the moment when people decide,” said Karen Chopra, a career counselor in the D.C. area. “A lot of interviewers don’t know what they want until they hear it from a candidate.”

The job interview is the make-or-break moment for a lot of candidates, so preparation is key. But don’t overthink. “Don’t make yourself insane,” cautions Chopra. “You can’t anticipate every question, and don’t memorize. Be real and be present.”

But with a job market flooded with candidates from all skill levels, how can you make sure you stand out?

Jennifer Carignan, a career adviser at American University, offers some advice to graduates looking to stand out. “Start your job search as soon as possible and use all the tools and resources available,” she said.

Many schools have job-search databases at students’ disposal. Companies can post to these websites if they have openings, and students can upload their résumés for recruiters to browse. “Understand the value of networking — especially in D.C.,” Carignan said. Many jobs are found through networking, and something as simple as sharing the same alma mater can go a long way toward forging a connection that could lead to employment.

While previous work experience, personality and the ability to answer questions might seem like the most important factors in determining whether you get the job, there is something that is often overlooked, especially in this day and age, but is of vital importance: proper business etiquette.

While the idea might seem outdated, there’s no doubt that adherence to certain standards still plays a huge role in face-to-face meetings. “In a more informal world, etiquette can be seen through the lens of opportunities and obligations,” said Daniel Post Senning, great-great-grandson of etiquette writer Emily Post and coauthor of the 18th edition of Emily Post’s Etiquette. “There is less obligation to perform. No one may notice when you’re performing proper etiquette and all the little things, but if you stop doing the little common-sense things, then you might have a problem.”

According to Senning, there are seven basic etiquette rules to follow during an interview: be on time, which is five to 10 minutes early; dress one notch above what you normally wear or what the standard at the office is; bring at least three copies of your résumé; turn your cellphone off (or better, leave it in the car); introduce yourself with a firm handshake and eye contact, and repeat the person’s name back to him or her; be prepared to ask questions and show an interest in the company; and thank the interviewer at least twice, but optimally three times: verbally, in an email and via a handwritten note.

Pamela Eyring, president and director of the Protocol School of Washington, gets into the nitty-gritty of what you can do to stand out.

“Since 55 percent of a good impression is based on how you look, pay attention to visual details by focusing on grooming and attire,” she said. Women should look professional, but approachable, wearing light makeup and neutral colors. “Don’t show a lot of skin or cleavage — it’s a deal breaker."

Men should be clean-shaven and wear an up-to-date suit that fits properly, with appropriate footwear.

“Men are often judged by their shoe condition,” Eyring said.

Making a good impression requires utilizing all of your skills. “Outclass the competition by using your business etiquette to the fullest,” Eyring said. “Introduce yourself with a firm handshake. You should shake a man or a woman’s hand the same way — it’s not gender-related any longer — and keep good eye contact approximately 40 to 60 percent of the time.”

A part of proper etiquette is following the crowd, but there are times when going against what everyone else does can work to your advantage, especially when sending a thank-you to the interviewer. “Stand out by not sending an email," Eyring said. "People receive more than 250 emails a day. Even today, interviewers still respect a hand-written thank-you note, and it could be the deciding factor.”

Following these basic rules, as well as conducting Internet research or attending an online etiquette seminar, can often be the difference between getting the job of your dreams or becoming just another applicant in the crowd.