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Hiring decisions are made during the interview process, yet many job-seekers take a passive approach, failing to adequately prepare a strategy to distinguish themselves from the other candidates, leaving much of the outcome up to chance.

The first interview for a job is the most critical because it determines if you progress through the gauntlet of the interview process to the next round. Capitalizing on ways to leave a unique impression on your interviewer will accelerate you through the interview process and propel you into the ranks of the candidate of choice.

Leading with an intentional, confident interview strategy can change the trajectory of your job search, making you the strongest candidate by differentiating you from your competition.

Here are seven tips to help differentiate yourself in a job interview:

1. Do in-depth research into the company beyond its website content. Investigate public records, news articles, third-party site reviews and first-person informational interviews. This level of study will allow you to talk intelligently about the company throughout the interview and strategically frame your responses to the questions you are asked.

2. Uncover and speak to the company’s pain points. All positions are created to solve problems for the employer, and many job candidates overlook integrating that into their response strategy.

3. Call out the elephant in the room. Whether it is your lack of experience, lack of required tech expertise or having been fired from your last job, don’t wait for the interviewer to mention it. Instead, prepare a statement describing how you intend to bridge any gaps that exist and effectively move forward. Being the first to raise the topic demonstrates your professional transparency and confidence to anticipate and address what they may be concerned about.

4. Ask insightful questions that will display your understanding of the requirements of the position. Then take a deeper dive into what the greatest challenges of the role will be and ask about the milestones that will measure your success.

5. Prepare specific examples that demonstrate your core strengths and align with the skills, experience and purpose of the position. This is often where interviewees get tripped up and lack confidence speaking about themselves, so capitalize on this opportunity and tell the stories that allow you to shine. Remember, it’s not bragging if it’s true.

6. Develop a leave-behind, or post-interview, packet to provide further information that may be the tipping point in favor of your candidacy. Features of an impactful leave-behind packet can include a career pitch deck; performance appraisals; testimonials from bosses, business partners, customers or peers; and a 30-/60-/90-day roadmap outlining your approach to this critical introductory period. This is a powerful yet frequently overlooked way to leave an additional, positive impression on your interviewer.

7. Remember to send a thank-you note after the interview, but not just a copy-and-paste of every thank-you note you’ve ever sent. Reflecting on the conversation, customize your message to address any issues that remain outstanding or you felt were not communicated clearly on your end. This may be the last opportunity you have to influence the outcome of the interviewer’s decision about your candidacy. And don’t be shy; if you really want the job, ask for it.

Using these tips as a guide, you can develop a strategy that will make you the standout candidate during your next job interview. Thinking differently and preparing differently than your competition is the key to your success!

This article was originally published on Forbes as part of their Coaches Council on November 22, 2021 and can be accessed here.

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