There is one thing job candidates do not like to think about – the odds.

beat the oddsOf course there is a reason, the odds are usually so depressing that candidates block the thought from even passing consideration.

In many executive searches there may be anywhere from 20 to 100 candidates who apply. Even 20 to one is uncomfortable but 100 to one is downright depressing. So this begs the question: How do you differentiate yourself from the herd? Here are five things a candidate can do to level the playing field.

  1. The resume. Submit a resume that addresses the needs of the employer from the job description or position overview. This means you have to do some customization. One way is to use a professional summary that specifically focuses on the client’s requirements. If you have already submitted before you receive a more comprehensive overview of the position, re-submit an “updated” resume that accomplishes that important objective. This resume is your first interview. Produce one that is aligned with the employer’s needs and will speak to your ability and value.
  2. Be a “helpful” candidate. During the initial phase of the recruitment process, when the odds are so one-sided, the process tends to be adversarial to the candidates. Recruiters are trying to winnow the list of potential candidates down to a manageable level. Submitting a resume that is so generic that it does not connect skills and successes with the needs of the employer is one reason candidates are eliminated. Put in the extra effort — be a helpful candidate — by going the extra mile to present your best foot forward in how you answer each question.
  3. Do your homework. Research the prospective employer, check your network to determine whether you have any contacts with connections to the targeted employer that might support your candidacy. Review the information that the company or the recruiter has provided. Anticipate questions you might be asked and prepare some winning responses that you learn but do not memorize. Recruiters say poorly or unprepared candidates are a consistent problem in the majority of searches they conduct. Candidates who are well prepared typically far surpass their competitors in terms of the quality of their answers.
  4. Anticipate the negative questions. Be prepared for those questions that make you uncomfortable, or that, all things considered, you would just as soon they not ask like, “Why did you leave your last job?” or “Why have you had so many short job tenures in recent history? What was your biggest career mistake?” Candidates who compose their answers “on the fly” usually do poorly. You know they are coming so be a helpful candidate by providing an authentic answer in a positive tone.
  5. Rehearse your answers. Typically, 70 percent of the questions a candidate is asked during the job interview process are ones they have been asked before. Be prepared to provide a killer answer that you can relate specifically to the needs of the employer. Candidates who know their message typically are more effective in every phase of the interview process.

I invite you to join me on Twitter, our company FaceBook page and on LinkedIn. Join me tomorrow for our weekly podcast.