I Have to Ask: Standing Out in a Crowd

Posted on August 2, 2018


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In this series, guest columnists respond to one of three topics selected by ELGL co-founder Kent Wyatt. This week Sarah Medary, City of Eugene, Oregon, Director of Public Works, writes about standing out in the recruitment process.


I have often wondered how contestants on Survivor show up on a deserted island in business clothes. If I applied to be on that show, I’d pretty much wear nine layers of wicking clothing to every event or screening they invited me to.  I definitely would not end up in the jungle in a suit and shoes I can’t run in. I’d be prepared. These same rules apply when you are seeking employment. Even before you hit submit on an application, you should be thinking about the competition you are engaging in.  That said, here are a few things that always stand out to me in a recruitment process:

  1. So obvious, but seriously.  Typos and all of their buddies such as missing words and punctuation.  A mentor of mine once told me that people give the best they’ll ever give when applying for a job.  If they give you typos and incomplete work in an application, they’ll give you even more as your employee.  I’m not over the top about this and expect every application to have at least one typo somewhere. There’s probably one in this article.  What is a deal killer for me is the obvious rush job with lots of things missing or when someone has cut and pasted and forgotten to change the title or name of the City.  If you want me to notice you before we’ve even met, your cover letter and resume should be personalized and specific to the job in Eugene and be *almost* free of typos and grammar issues.  Giant bonus points if you tell me a story about why this job, and why the City of Eugene, is perfect for you.
  2. Self-awareness. Before I initiate any process step of a recruitment, I invest time in writing the purpose of the step and the outcomes I’m hoping for.  This simple and basic concept was not intuitive to me until a few years ago when a good friend introduced me to the POP by Robert Gass.  I share this because every step of the process and every question I ask has a purpose.  If you find yourself having difficulty answering, don’t skip the question. Candidates that stand out are not always the ones that have all the quick answers.  I’m looking for thinkers and feelers…especially those that think and feel different than me. If you are stuck, or don’t understand, it’s more than okay to ask for clarification or to say to me, “here’s how I understand that question and what I think you are asking, is that correct?”  If you skip the question, especially one that asks about something you have struggled with in your career, it’s a flag for me that you may be lacking self-awareness. I don’t embed trick questions. If I ask about a time you’ve worked really hard to accomplish something that didn’t happen, I’m not looking for a “I’ve never had that happen” answer.  We’ve ALL had times that things didn’t work out the way we intended. The candidates that score the highest will be the ones that exhibit, and communicate, their self-awareness and understanding of the ways they impact people and programs.
  3. Know your personal values and how they connect to the work you will be doing.  It’s a little more vulnerable to share your values in an interview process, but will really demonstrate that you have taken the time to understand the job and more importantly, yourself.  When someone asks, “Why Eugene and why now”, you’ll either have an answer that is super thoughtful and compelling or you may have realized the job and City aren’t the best fit for you. This is a really important step to take before you decide on what you want to do next and where you want to be in the world.  Pro tip – this is also a really great way to approach the dreaded strength and weakness question I alluded to in tip #2. Sometimes your core values show up as a weakness or challenge at work. For example, my number 1 core value is authenticity. This brings a lot of positives to interacting with people and developing relationships and it can also be a problem if you need a quick communication from me.  I write all of my own stuff and it has to feel right to me before I hit send. That can make me a bottleneck in a communication chain. That tells a lot better story than “Sometimes, I’m a bottleneck.” If you don’t know what your core values are, and you want a little help and an exercise to discover them, send me an email and I’ll help you out.

Lastly, my extra credit tip is to be gracious when you don’t get your dream job.  There are a lot of really talented and awesome employees in ELGL and beyond and it is often tiny little differences moving people into the top spot.  Ask for feedback if it’s offered to you as part of the process and pay attention to your self talk. Be kind to yourself and keep going.


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