5 little-known tricks that make interview candidates stand out, according to a seasoned headhunter

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  • Caroline Stokes is the founder of an executive headhunting and executive coaching company and host of The Emotionally Intelligent Recruiter Podcast.
  • A first interview is a lot like a first date: a hiring manager can tell if you're not interested in being there.
  • Stokes says it's key to know why you're interviewing, and to be incredibly familiar with the company or product before coming in.
  • Part of knowing the company means knowing the things that it could work on. And be ready to show healthy disagreement - it'll assure your interviewer that you won't be toxic in disagreements.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Hiring managers can sniff out whether someone is truly interested in a role, or just coming in for an interview because they're trying to escape their current situation.

Caroline StokesCaroline Stokes.Courtesy of Caroline Stokes

The interviewer can also easily tell whether you've actually made the effort to learn about their company and the product or services they offer or if you're just along for the ride. Here are five ways to impress the hiring manager on your first interview.

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1. Know why you’re interviewing

1. Know why you’re interviewing

Interviewing for a job isn't that different from going on a blind date. If you're not excited to be there, the hiring manager (or your date) will know immediately and wonder why you bothered to show up. If you appear to be going through the motions and if you seem to be there for all the wrong reasons, the hiring manager will likely dismiss you as a candidate the minute you walk out the door.

When the hiring manager asks why you're interested in the position, your answer can't be, "because you contacted me," or "because my friend referred me." Your answer must convey your enthusiasm — and most importantly connection — for the opportunity. Offer an authentic reason why you agreed to come in for the interview by conveying curiosity about the position as well as your belief that this is an exciting career opportunity.

2. Test out the product before you go

2. Test out the product before you go

The best way to have a dynamic, deep conversation about the company and its products or services is to give products a trial run before you show up for the interview. That might mean getting on YouTube and watching every product launch and tutorial video you can find. Before you interview, be curious about the product and the company. Seek out the company's history, the trajectory of its growth, and ways its products and services have changed over the years. This will allow you to have a collaborative conversation about the company's goals and offer suggestions on how to solve problems and make improvements.

3. Know the pain points

3. Know the pain points

By doing this level of research on the company and its products, you will have a level of credibility that allows you to create a connection with the hiring manager immediately. Then use your expertise — whether it's in engineering, business operations, data analytics, growth hacking etc. — to show the hiring manager the unique perspective you bring to the table. For instance, you can say, "This is what I can see from my perspective, and what you can do to improve," whether you are talking about ways to attract early adopters or ways to offer more targeted messaging to consumers.

4. Don’t be afraid to disagree

4. Don’t be afraid to disagree

Hiring managers like candidates to demonstrate how they would communicate negative information. They want to make sure your disagreements won't lead to a toxic environment. You want to show that even if you have a different opinion, you can play well with others so don't be afraid to express your disagreement during the interview. One way to demonstrate your ability to disagree without drama is to show you can have a healthy discussion even when you have a differing point of view. One way to introduce this is to ask the hiring manager, "I actually have a different perspective. Would you like to hear it?"

5. Whiteboard it

5. Whiteboard it

If an interviewer asks how you would solve a problem and there's a whiteboard in the room, be ready to use it. Hiring managers want to see how you think through problems and solutions so take the opportunity to walk them through your thought process by writing the building blocks of your strategy on the whiteboard. Invite them to brainstorm with you. And don't worry about getting the answer wrong. The whole purpose is to show them how you problem solve and invite others to participate in the process.

If you're uncomfortable using the whiteboard, you could bring your laptop to the interview and have a chart prepared to show them how you thought through a similar problem. You can show how you solved the problem as well as the final outcome. This can create a great dialog and powerful interview presence.

Armed with this mindset you should have greater confidence and be seen as a candidate the company truly wants to hire.

Caroline Stokes is the founder of FORWARD, an executive headhunting and executive coaching company designed for global innovation leaders. She is the host of The Emotionally Intelligent Recruiter Podcast and author of Elephants Before Unicorns: Emotionally Intelligent HR Strategies to Save Your Company.

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