What makes you stand out in an interview?

It is no secret, I LOVE interviews. To make it even more strange, I love to be interviewed. The challenge of crafting the perfect answer and organizing my thoughts into eloquence is thrilling. 

In my head it’s the same energy and “ta-da” vibe as those book of world records kids who stack cups. It is exhilarating to watch! That’s what my brain does with answers in an interview. I’m not saying it’s sane, I’m just saying it’s fun! 

Pageant girls are really, really good at this. They can stack words into 30 second or 1 minute sound-bytes that will make your head explode. And being on their support team is one of my favorite jobs. 

Recently, I have been asked to help professionals prepare for interviews ranging from the federal government to private enterprise. A very, very different arena for sure, but the goal is the same; show them why you are the best for the job. 

In the federal government, at a certain level, there are a handful of candidates for a specific job posting. Usually the candidates have all worked together, this one training that one, that one nominating this one for an award and so on and so forth. But for the most part, the resumes are quite similar. I asked my client, what is it that makes you standout next to Judy and James and Joseph as the correct choice for this position?

 “I have excel and powerpoint?”


“I have a certification in…” such and such fancy titled training thing?

“Um, no”

“Ok, then I don’t know”

I’m guessing, unless you are a pageant girl, you probably don’t know either. Take a deep breath, put your note pad down, it’s not as complicated as you are making it seem. 

With all things being generally equal on the resumes, the only distinguishing factor is YOU. Your life, your experiences. I don’t mean that one seminar you went to that one time. I mean YOU! 

I have one client who uprooted her life in Alaska when she married a military guy. They had a little boy, then another. While stationed a continent away from her support system, with her husband deployed, she decided to go to work at the child development center so she could provide income for her family (no, we don’t pay our soldiers enough, but that’s for another essay) and still be with her babies. That grew into a nice position at the center which allowed her to finish her paralegal certification. When her family was moved again, because military, she was qualified to earn an excellent position in Washington DC due to her experience, her reputation for hard work and newly minted certification. Now years down the road, she has the flexibility to make her own schedule and work from home. She picks up her boys every day from school and has yet to miss a soccer game or golf match. 

This year, she prepared to interview for a fabulous and much-deserved promotion, I asked why she didn’t mention any of this in interview practice. This story is beautiful and passionate and personal.

“I didn’t think that mattered for the job…”

I blink in disbelief. 

Her story is beautiful and inspiring. But if you read her resume you would see only a monotone portrayal of qualifications. It’s the basic pencil outline of you.  It is the full YOU, the road you took to get here, the lessons you learned, the failures and successes, the way you speak of the “why” and “how…” that is what fills in the picture with brilliant color. 

So much focus is placed on resume building in school and early professional life. But does anyone actually give guidance on HOW TO SPEAK after you hand over that well-crafted resume?! (I mean, I do but that’s not really my point.)

The profound poet of my youth was spot on when he penned, “There is no one alive that’s you-er than you…” so speak on it!

I wish someone told me, chapter 1

School is important. I should probably start there. It teaches you obvious things like math and letters and how to (reluctantly) dissect a frog. It also teaches you intangible things such as how to mentally prepare for hard things, like dissecting a frog or algebra. But those are things you already know. Today I would like to begin a series of posts about the things that don’t show up in a text book but are vital to surviving adulthood. Listen, dear heart. Learn from the ignorance of my youth. Do better than I did, learn from those who went before you.

I did the normal tour of duty in high school. I entered Junior College two months after graduation, state college three years later then moved to out-of-state private college to fully round out my Tour de Education. So I have a bit more experience than most in this particular area. I speak from hard fought victories and spectacular defeats. Shall we begin?

In high school, nobody knows where they are going and the ones who tell you they do, have not lived enough life yet. I vividly remember my senior year, I was doing extra homeschool classes just to graduate because in my earlier years I just couldn’t be bothered with minor details like homework and attending class. But I put my head down (cried) and got the work done. It just didn’t seem right for the student council Vice President to not graduate with her class. But what about the day after graduation? What about college in the fall? NOT. A. CLUE.

The night after graduation I loaded two of my girlfriends into my car and took a road trip. The first stop was to my dad’s house. I left my two friends there the next day and drove over to my cousins wedding. I was a bridesmaid and not a very good one. BUT, she sat me down at a table with the Director of the Music Department at the local junior college, the Show Choir Director and Assistant Director. Thankfully, my cousin had (and still has) a stellar reputation resulting in me walking out of that wedding with a full ride scholarship. Boom. College decision made.

My degree was determined at birth, music courses thru my veins. And so it was written. I am eternally grateful that I agreed to wear a puffy pink dress for my cousins wedding (this was before I fully appreciated the more feminine things in life). I thank her regularly. My point is, you may have an idea where you want to go next or you may be sitting in a cap and gown ( or maybe in a pageant dress after giving up your last title…) not knowing what you are going to eat for dinner. THAT’S OK!

What is not ok is staying there. Google some stuff, visit some schools and get yourself enrolled somewhere. Junior College, Vocational School, Military…all are viable options. Just pick one and go. Your life is not poured in cement. If it doesn’t suit after the first year, try something else. I did not know this sort of fluidity was an option. Not because I had dictatorial parents, quite the opposite. I had wonderfully loving and encouraging parents. I just didn’t know I had options for my future. Let me tell you, bright-eyes, you have options. Your life is not predetermined. You have many talents, some haven’t even been uncovered yet. You graduated high school, thats step one of succeeding at this life thing! 

So deep take a deep breath. Take a good look around your life and start walking towards a goal. You can do this. You are not lost, a failure, unable or unworthy.