By Grace Donnelly
February 21, 2018

“Recruiting is much like dating in many ways.”

At least that’s the way Elaine Poucher, director of recruiting at Protiviti, which placed on our 100 Best Companies to Work For list, describes it. “Candidates often play hard-to-get in the beginning because this is the first time many of them are even considering leaving their current job.”

But whether you’re being courted by a company or making the first move to establish a professional relationship with an organization, there are a few ways to differentiate yourself from other applicants.

Recruiters and hiring managers from this year’s 100 Best Companies to Work For list shared their advice from applications to negotiations. The companies on the 2018 list are currently hiring for more than 160,000 positions, so brush off your resume and keep these tips in mind if you’re looking to land a new job at one of these 100 stand-out workplaces.

Before the interview

— Take time to customize your application

Applying for any and all positions without a plan is a major pitfall.

“When a candidate is not strategic about their interest, it appears that they are looking for any job, which is not an attractive quality to hiring authorities,” said Angel Brown, director of recruitment and talent acquisition at BayCare Health System. “Candidates should apply to positions for which they are qualified and for work they genuinely want to do.”

Don’t waste a hiring manager’s time (or your own) applying for jobs you aren’t interested in or that don’t match up with your qualifications.

— Pay attention to the details

“Precision is ever important,” said Michael Hirschler, director of human resources at Four Seasons Hotel Seattle.

Be sure to double check for grammar and spelling errors.

“Attention to detail is paramount to providing an unmatched experience. Messaging should be succinct and unique, not cookie cutter, or addressed to either the wrong person or location,” he said.

— Do your research

“Be curious!” said Stacy Richter, recruiting manager at Baird.

Take the time to learn more about the company’s mission and challenges, so you can better articulate how you can help the organization reach its goals.

“Candidates who demonstrate they’ve done deeper research on our firm — beyond visiting our website — stand out, as do those who come prepared for the interview with thoughtful questions,” she said.

— Ask for a referral

One of the best ways to stand out from the crowd of applicants is through a referral, said Ilysa Raphael, VP of marketing at Power Home Remodeling.

“More than 50% of our new hires come directly from employee referrals. So check LinkedIn, Facebook, and your networks of friends and family to see if you know a Power person. If you do, reach out to them to learn more about what it’s like to work at Power, and if it sounds like the right fit for you, ask for a referral.”

During the interview

— Make an impression on the phone

It’s hard to convey enthusiasm and make a real connection without being face-to-face, but acing the phone or video interview is important.

“One thing I tell candidates to do is to smile when they’re conducting a phone interview because the recruiter, hiring manager, whomever, can hear your smile while you’re talking,” a recruiter from USAA said.

— Avoid common verbal tics

Lose jargon and clichés like “I’m a people person” and “I think outside of the box.”

“We want a realistic, genuine view of you the person, including what you value in life and how that aligns with our belief that great businesses are powered by great people,” said Kim Nugent, VP of talent management at Kronos. “When candidates use the same catchphrases as everybody else, the real person inside cannot shine through—and that’s what we want to see.”

Try to keep unnecessary filler in your responses to a minimum.

“Always avoid the phrase, ‘to be honest with you…’ My expectation is that you are being honest with me during our entire conversation, so there is no need to preface a comment with that phrase,” said Poucher from Protiviti.

— Be a team player

“Don’t oversell accomplishments on your resume as only yours. We want to see how you’ve partnered with supporting organizations to win as a team,” said David Malloy, VP and head of talent acquisition at SAP America.

Some recruiters said they listen for “we” language rather than “I” when candidates answer questions.

— Don’t trash talk your old employer

Even if you had a bad experience at your last job, it really is more beneficial to take the high road.

“It’s important to know you would be a collaborative, friendly, and engaged colleague to join our team. Talking about previous employers or employees in a negative light can lead to a mixed perception of the candidate,” said Claudine Hoverson VP of talent recruitment at Synchrony Financial.

Try to talk about the sort of positive qualities you would want in your new workplace instead of dwelling on the downsides of your previous position.

— And whatever you do, never say “I just want to get my foot in the door.”

Many recruiters brought up this phrase independently.

“Although you may be saying that you are really passionate about the company and would appreciate any way to join, it sounds as if you aren’t passionate about that particular position,” said Shawn Minard, senior director of talent at Ultimate Software. “Remember that despite looking for people who will stay for the long term, hiring managers are looking for someone to be successful in the role they’re trying to fill.”

Express interest, desire, and excitement about the position you’ve applied to, even if you hope to work in a different role at the company eventually.

After the interview

— Ask questions

“We encourage potential hires to have questions prepared to ensure they interview us as much as we are interviewing them,” said Brown from BayCare.

Thoughtful questions show that you’ve done your homework and considered how you fit into a role at the company.

“My favorite question that a candidate will ask is, ‘What makes a person successful in this job?'” said Poucher from Protiviti.

— Follow up

Whether it’s a handwritten note or an email, be sure to thank interviewers for their time and for the opportunity to be considered for the position.

“Make sure to mention something that was discussed during the interview,” Richter from Baird suggests. And keep it short.

— Negotiate after the offer

Compensation questions are often top-of-mind when pursuing a new position, but don’t worry if it takes a while to get down to the details.

Recruiters from Fortune’s 2018 Best Companies to Work For advise saving negotiations for after you receive your offer.


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