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We are now almost fully booked for Summer 2024 and expect to close registration in the next few days.

How to Stand out to Employers: Tips and Tricks

23 February 2024

How to Stand out to Employers: Tips and Tricks


Don't know where to start with job applications? Take a look at our handy guide from InvestIN's recruitment team on what employers are really looking for and how to stand out from the crowd!

Applying for jobs can be a nerve-wracking experience. You might be trying to work out how to create your very first CV, or you might have already applied for some jobs and struggled to get past the first steps. So, what's the secret to standing out in the recruitment process? The best thing you can do is to put yourself in the employer's shoes and work out what they're really looking for from candidates.

From the employer's side, the journey of hiring people starts from writing the job description and person specification, and then designing the recruitment process based on this. They'll start with thinking about what they want their new employee to do, and what skills will be required to carry out these tasks successfully. These form the 'competencies' that you'll be assessed on throughout the whole process.

The great news is that this means employers tell you exactly what they want from you in the person specification sometimes called 'Ideal Candidate' or 'Preferred Qualifications'. This section of a job advert is your best friend in an application, because it essentially functions as a checklist of competencies for what the employers are looking for. While this might seem obvious, research by the Wall St Journal shows that most candidates spend as little as 14.6 seconds reading the requirements for a role before applying. It can be an easy mistake to make to use a job advert to check that the job is a good fit for you, without thinking about the fact employers will be using it as a framework to see if you are a good fit for the job.

Keeping this in mind can help you to understand how to stand out throughout the recruitment process at every step, employers will be referring to the person specification, and you should too! Remember, it's all about signposting to the employer that you are the perfect candidate for them.

How do I prepare for job applications?

Especially when you're applying for your first job, it can feel like you don't have enough to say in an application. While it's great to have formal work experience, it's also important to signpost all of your transferrable skills from various other activities. A great first step is to create a mind map of all the activities you take part in both in and out of school and draw links between the activities and the skills you develop by doing them. You can then choose the most relevant activities to go on your CV or Cover Letter. For instance, you could include a 'Voluntary and Extra-Curricular Experience' section of your CV and talk about how you developed skills of communication and event management through running a charity fundraiser, or how you improved your teamwork and resilience through playing rugby.

It can be a good idea to research the skillsets that jobs in your field require, so you can work on building these skills up in advance. You can check out our list of skills advice from industry professionals to find out what they're looking for or take a look at Indeed's list of good work qualities. For anything missing from your skillset, you can proactively try to develop this skill through work experience, extra-curricular activities or an InvestIN programme not only will this make your CV stronger, but it will make a great example of taking initiative or personal development.

What makes a good job application?

Our top tip for the best job application is to tailor your CV to meet the requirements of the job advert. This is one of the sure-fire ways to make sure that your application makes it to the next stage! Whether it's a hiring manager reading over your application or an Applicant Tracking System automatically scanning it, they'll be looking out for the same key words that crop up in the job advert, and ideally in the same order. It's a great idea to have a 'Skills' section on your CV that you can tweak for each application, whether that's changing around which skills are listed first or the phrasing of them. This doesn't have to be identical to the person specification, but if they've listed something like 'Strong communication and negotiation skills' as an essential requirement, then you'll want to make sure these are near the top of your skills list too.

Tweaking the phrasing of your CV can make it easier for employers to see that you're a perfect match for the role and help to make your CV stand out in a pile of hundreds. For instance, a person specification might ask for 'Proficiency in Microsoft Office', while your CV might say 'Strong IT literacy'. While these are different ways of saying the same thing, if you match the keyword phrasing it will not only help you stand out, but it shows that you have gone the extra mile in your application.

Tips and tricks for job interviews

Once you've got past the initial application stage, you hit the next step: the dreaded interview! However, with the right preparation, interviews don't have to be scary. Many employers will send you the interview questions in advance, to enable you to prepare your answers. Even if they don't do this, you can often predict which questions you are going to get asked by thinking about the skills and experience that were listed in their requirements.


  • 'Tell me about yourself'

Interviewers will often try to ease you in with a 'simple' question of 'Tell me about yourself'. However, it can be hard to know what to prioritise. Do you tell the interviewer about your family and pets, to make yourself seem personable? Talk about your experience and keep it purely professional? In fact, it's great to strike a balance between these, but you should always start with something that's relevant to the role. If you're applying for an internship at a Law firm, for instance, you might want to start out with 'I'm an aspiring Barrister, currently studying Law at university, and I'm the Secretary of the Debating Society.' You might give them a taster of some of your skills and experience and why you want this role, though bear in mind they might want to go into this in more detail later down the line. Finally, it can be nice to end on something non-work related to add a bit of flavour to your answer. A fun hobby such as baking bread on the weekends or enjoying ice skating might stick in the interviewer's mind and show you as a fully rounded individual, though it's important to make sure you still keep this professional.


  • 'Why do you want to work for us?’

This question can be tricky to navigate. Realistically, we all know that the salary is usually a key motivator for applying for any job. However, what the employer is really asking is why this role at this company in particular. This is where your research comes in showing that you've been proactive in researching the company will impress employers, and you can confidently say that your interests align with their mission. Again, using key buzzwords from the website or job description will show an employer that you've really paid attention and prepared well.

You should also bring in your own professional development. Are you looking to gain experience in a corporate setting? Are you looking to develop new skills? Build up existing ones? Explore new passions? Bonus points if this refers to something specific in the job description! A great way to frame this is to talk about your experience and then talk about how the role you're applying for would build on it. Talking about how you've done voluntary work in a certain field, but are now looking to build upon this in a corporate environment which matches your own values, will show that you're serious about the role.


  • Behavioural/Situational Questions

These questions are an employer's best way to evaluate a candidate's skills, because they ask you to prove your experience. They're usually formatted the same way: they'll start off with 'Tell me about a time...' and end with a quality or experience that is essential to the role. You might get asked about a time you had to overcome a problem, or a time you've displayed leadership or teamwork, or even about a time you've had conflict with a colleague. Employers are looking for a well-structured answer for these questions, which will display evidence that you have all the qualities you listed on your CV.

It's typically expected that you'll use the 'STAR' method in your answer, and provide interviewers with an explanation of the situation, what your role was, what actions you took, and what the result was at the end.

Again, what employers will be looking for are well thought-out answers which display clear, relevant examples of the competencies required for the role. Before an interview, you can go through the competencies and created a STAR template for each of them, and make sure you have a strong range of examples for any of these questions. Employers will be impressed with your ability to back up everything you said on your CV and will come away with a strong impression of you as competent, professional and well-prepared.


  • 'Do you have any questions?'

While you might think that it's polite to say you don't have any questions, this can actually come across as disinterest, or as if you are misunderstanding the role. You should always have one or two questions lined up just in case, as it shows that you're genuinely curious, and keeping that conversation going with the interviewers will help them to get to know you and your priorities.

Do take the opportunity to clarify any genuine questions you have about the role, which could be anything from what a normal day would look like to the next steps of the recruitment process, but try not to ask anything that's obvious from the job description, such as standard hours or pay. The best questions are the ones that show your interest in the company and what it would be like to work there you could ask about the company culture, how success is measured, or even what the interviewer's favourite thing about their role is. Interviewers are much more likely to remember candidates who seem passionate and enthusiastic about the company than those who don't have any questions.

How to ace Assessment Centres

An Assessment Centre as a final stage of an application process is becoming increasingly common, particularly for internships or graduate schemes who have large numbers of candidates to compare.

Assessment Centres are the employer's only chance to see how you would work in a professional environment, so it's important that you bring your A-game. You should dress smartly, make sure you get a good night's sleep beforehand, and ensure you're able to deliver your absolute best work on this day. It can be useful to think about the tasks you might be faced with, as they're mostly designed to simulate tasks you would need to complete in the role. Common themes include 'in-tray exercises' which test your IT skills as well as prioritisation and multi-tasking, so if there are any elements of the job that you are less confident on, like using Excel or how to write a professional-sounding email, you might want to brush up on these beforehand. You might also be faced with role-play tasks, and it's important to stay serious throughout these. The best candidates are the ones who immerse themselves in the role-play and respond exactly how they would in a real-life scenario this shows that you could manage the situation if you were given the role.

Finally, it's important to remember that in Assessment Centres that you're being judged throughout the day it's not just about the tasks! One of the benefits of Assessment Centres for employers is that they get to see how you interact with others, so you should remember to be switched-on and friendly for the entire day and stay professional throughout. It can be helpful to view your fellow candidates as colleagues, rather than competitors. Ironically, while you're trying to stand out, things like collaboration and strong teamwork can be much more successful than trying to be independent throughout the day or trying to beat someone to the right answer in a group discussion. You might want to practice ways of politely acknowledging things someone else has said and offering your own solution or compromise. Ultimately, effective communication, teamwork and compromise are skills will leave employers knowing that they want you on their team.

What to remember

Ultimately, the best way to impress employers and stand out is to be mindful throughout the process. Employers are looking for the candidate who will be the best fit for the role, so make sure you know exactly what the requirements are so that you can signpost that you really are the perfect fit for the job. Through preparation, you can be confident that you’ll impress any employer involved in recruitment and stand out from the crowd as the best candidate for the job.

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