How to Improve Your Employability
and Stand Out from the Crowd

See also: Employability Skills

It is a well-known fact that securing a job offer is becoming increasingly difficult, making standing out from the sea of other applicants vital.

As the CEO an online retailer I understand the difficulties in recruiting the right staff for my business. Over the years I have interviewed a lot of people, and have come to learn what differentiates a good interview from a bad one, and how to spot when a candidate has really gone the extra mile.


You should always research the company inside and out before an interview.

The more an interviewee knows about the business prior to working for us, the more I can envisage them becoming part of the team. Remember, knowledge is power, so be sure to showcase everything that you understand about the organisation.

The candidates who stand out are the ones who go above and beyond right from the first interview.  I always take notice of the ones who have come up with ideas. Don’t be afraid to go to the interview with ideas you have come up with from your initial research. The interviews that often don’t go very well are the ones where candidates have come in stating things that they don’t like about your website, for example, which is perfectly fine, but it is extremely easy pick faults in things - always be sure to offer a solution.

However, most importantly, go to the interview knowing how the hiring company differs from their competition.

  • Who are they?
  • What sets them apart?

I think it’s important that candidates know who our customers potentially are. For example, a key area for my business is the gift market, so if in an interview I asked somebody what they knew about Pen Heaven and they replied: “I think you must be in the gift market”, then that shows they’ve done their research and picked up something very important to us.

Be Proactive – Use your Initiative

When in an interview for a job at a small business, the most important thing to realise is that they are very different to large corporations.

Small firms don’t have huge teams of other people to fall back on, so you need to show yourself to be extremely proactive - a self-starter. Some people like the reassurance of having other people there to provide support, whereas in a company with relatively few members of staff, you have to really go out of your way to prove yourself.

We want people who can use their initiative, and who don’t want to rely on other people.

In a past interview we had one exceptional candidate apply.

This person came to the interview with examples of how they would tweak our existing copy in order to develop it. That was very good, and straight away gave us an idea of what they could do.

The Skills You Need Guide to Getting a Job

Further Reading from Skills You Need

The Skills You Need Guide to Getting a Job

Develop the skills you need to get that job.

This eBook is essential reading for potential job-seekers. Not only does it cover identifying your skills but also the mechanics of applying for a job, writing a CV or resume and attending interviews.

Know your Stuff

Knowing and understanding the medium by which a prospective employer conducts business is vital.

If they have a physical store, good face-to-face customer service skills will obviously be essential, but for an internet-based businesses, a sound, basic knowledge of online would be highly beneficial. You need to demonstrate a commitment to online, so being involved in social media is going to be important.

More generally, show energy and enthusiasm. We always look for people who can see the future possibilities of the business, so that’s really important. Experience is good, but not always essential - I think it is more important to be a fast learner and show us that you’re eager. .

Are you a Good Fit?

What I would suggest is to not try your luck in applying for any role, then try to fake it throughout the interview thinking you can fool the interviewer. Make sure you genuinely think you are a good fit for the position.

Go to the interview having read the job specification and, for every single task it outlines, know you can do a good job at it. Sometimes people talk a brilliant talk, but can’t always demonstrate their capability.

Making sure you know your stuff is as much for your benefit as the employer’s - you should choose a job you think you will enjoy and be good at, and the employer should have an employee who will thrive in that particular environment.

Graduates - You Don’t Need to be an Expert!

With graduates, most businesses will not be looking for people who have years and years of experience.

Undertaking work placements and internships are great as they show initiative and a willingness to develop, but in a graduate I look for people who are intelligent, bright, and who want to learn.

It’s useful to have graduates within a business as we can bring them with us on our journey, and mould them into what the company needs. Hopefully what you get is someone who has a proven track record of enjoying learning.

For a small business that’s perfect, as companies like mine don’t need highly specific roles, what we need is people who can have an input in everything, and these people will grow into their role for a few years and then go on to become the next generation of managers.

Show that you are capable of growing and developing along with the business and you won’t go far wrong.

See our page: Graduate Employability Skills for more.

About the Author

David Cole is the CEO of Pen Heaven, a specialist online pen and stationery retailer.

The company has grown significantly since its founding in 2008, and has come to be a market leader in personalised stationary, including engraved pens.