Although this was almost a decade ago, I still remember this episode well and it’s a story I refer to when advising anyone on pursuing an opportunity they are really interested in. For those soon graduating from school and are looking for job opportunities, it can be difficult at times, depending on the condition of the job market and economy.

Whether the market is good or bad, you and many others are seeking the same opportunities, whichever ones there happen to be. Some of the more coveted opportunities (if you imagine a position with a Fortune 500 company) will have many applicants, and top companies will attract top talent. If your dream job is with one of those companies, having good grades (yes, it’s important as you’re seeking your first job out of school), extracurriculars, internship/job experience, is table stakes. Everyone’s resume at that level is robust, so if having a strong resume is standard, how does one stand out?

The interview

If you get the interview, that is the moment you can make an impression. That is where you would be able to communicate why the company should select you over other candidates. What most candidates would do is research the company a little bit before the interview, know some basic stats about the company, maybe a little bit of history, and current company initiatives. This is certainly required for a company you’re interested in, but this too, is table stakes.

So if you’re on equal footing with everyone else, or perhaps at a disadvantage in some areas, what can you do to stand out?

Show them a preview of what you can do for them!

If you’re shopping for a car, would you buy one without having test driven it first? Most of you would not. Most of you would first look at all the vehicle’s features, stats, etc, but that alone would not be enough for you to make a decision on a specific vehicle. And before some of you split hairs and bring up the fact that there are online car resellers like Carvana and Vroom where you buy a vehicle without seeing or test driving first, know that they have a 1-week test period where if you do not like the car, you can return it for a full refund. Point here is, before making (or committing to) a big decision like that, you want to try it out first!

Now imagine you’re a recruiter…

…and you need to make some hiring decisions. You can go off of resumes from all the applicants, decides which ones to narrow down on. Then comes the interview where you get to gauge their personality and learn more about them. While you’re learning more about the candidate, you can only estimate the value they bring to the company based on what they’ve told you and what they might’ve done for other companies. And I’m not saying any of that is unimportant – it’s absolutely necessary, in fact, but there is nonetheless a degree of risk that the recruiter takes when they decide on a candidate.

As a recruiter, you want to collect as much information as you can about the candidates to make the best possible informed decision. Now, depending on the company and job, some may actually take the interview process further and set up a case study for the applicant to do, either on the spot, or over the course of a few weeks. This will give the company about as much information as they can handle as they’re getting a preview or test run of what the candidate can offer. However, most companies and opportunities don’t quite go to that extent.

In my case, it was 1 interview, and I had to make an impression.

Here’s what I did

I found out about my interview about a week before it was scheduled, so I used the entire week and weekend doing research on the company. Any bit of information I could find online, I read about it. The end result of all that research was two fold:

  1. I was able to prepare extensively for the interview
  2. It allowed me to put together a 16-page business marketing proposal

The proposal was not unlike other marketing plans I put together for certain business courses, so it was a motion I was familiar with already. In brief, the marketing plan was my recommendations on how the company could better market its products and services, backed up by research and even surveys I had conducted with classmates and friends about the company’s product and brand.

So I bring that to the interview, but I leave it in my bag until the end. The interview goes very well, and before parting ways, I hand over the proposal I had put together and made a quick comment about what it was. The purpose was not to actually present anything in this proposal during the interview (it IS 16-pages, after all), but to leave a lasting impression.

This was designed to be an impactful leave behind

If the recruiter did happen to look into the proposal in detail, then they would’ve gotten a good idea of the quality of work I can put together. If at minimum (and more my expectation) the recruiter skimmed over the proposal, they would’ve come away with the impression that not only was I serious about the opportunity, but that I put a great deal of thought into how I can improve the company. This, in and of itself, is more work than 95% of candidates would ever bother doing and would be the type of action necessary to stand out, especially when there are many other qualified candidates pursuing the same role.

Does it need to be a full fledged marketing proposal?

No! I tell you that story to explain what I did. You can certainly do the same, or you can take a different approach that requires quite a bit less time, but still shows the recruiter you’re being thoughtful about the process, the opportunity, and how you can bring value to specifically that company, which is ultimately the idea here.

That different approach, would be a 30-60-90 plan. This corresponds to number of days where you lay out a plan of what you intend to do within the first 30 days of being at the company, first 60, and first 90. In a nutshell, it explains how you’re thinking about the company and the steps you’ll take to ramp up and add value. Won’t go into much detail in this article about that, but I’ll leave you with two links I hope you find helpful in crafting your plan for the opportunity you’re interested in:

  1. 30-60-90 Plan Template
  2. Marketing Proposal Template

Hubspot happens to have some really good resources, so there’s more you can check out. At any rate,


Hope this helps – good luck in the job hunt!




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