Skip to main content
leadership lab

This column is part of Globe Careers' Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at

Even with the economy in recovery mode, finding a job can be brutal. An average of 250 people apply for every corporate job opening. Scarier still, 80 per cent of resumes are rejected within 11 seconds.

Given those odds, it's imperative that you impress the big boss when you finally land an interview. Although I've handed off the hiring duties to my company president and HR team, I'm still involved in the hiring process for many of our leaders.

From almost 30 years of leafing through resumes and sitting through interviews, here are my tips for standing out to a CEO and getting the offer of your dreams.

Be above average

It sounds simple, but just getting noticed is an essential part of the application process – even qualified candidates can slip through the cracks in the early stages if they fail to make an awesome impression.

So think about what you can do differently – send in a funny video about yourself or make a stunning website. Or take a page from Sumukh Mehta's playbook: The innovative man from India landed his dream job at British GQ by turning his resume into a beautiful, 20-page magazine.

This concept works for sales, too. When 1-800-GOT-JUNK? was applying for a huge refrigerator removal contract, we delivered a fridge to the company's headquarters with "WE WANT THIS JOB!" written out in magnets. They loved our oversized "junk" mail ... and we got the job.

Study for your test

Even though it's never been easier to access information, it's amazing how many people don't do their homework. A whopping 47 per cent of interviewers said they've disregarded an applicant because they didn't know enough about the company.

Preparing for your interview means doing obvious things like exploring the company's website, reading industry journals and investor reports, or asking a current employee for the lowdown on culture. But everyone has access to this information, so getting a unique perspective is what will set you apart. Call the front desk or sales centre to find out how employees talk about the brand. If they're selling a product or a service, try it out yourself so you have first-hand knowledge to draw from. Walking into an interview with deep knowledge about the business is the best way to show you're actually passionate about the gig.

Challenge the status quo

I'm always impressed by candidates who aren't afraid to ask questions and speak their mind, because that's what our company culture is all about. When I interviewed Gabe Villablanca, who now leads our digital marketing team, he told me that our website was outdated and didn't convey the spirit of 1-800-GOT-JUNK?. Then he shared his plan to make it better. It's likely that many applicants before him thought the same thing, but he was the only one brave enough to say it.

Good leaders are looking for people to fill in gaps in their skills and knowledge. So show the CEO you're not just a yes-man or woman.

Employ Etiquette 101

Seth Godin says catching someone's eye means being truly remarkable. For example, imagine you see a purple cow in a field of black-and-white ones – what will you remember? To make a lasting impression and land the job, you have to stand out before, during, and after the interview.

One thing people often overlook is good, old-fashioned courtesy. I can't tell you how many interviews I've had where I didn't get a thank-you card or note after. Ninety-one per cent of employers enjoy receiving a thank you, even via e-mail; a full 22 per cent will turn down a candidate who doesn't send a note. As powerful as your first impression can be, it's your last impression that will make the biggest impact. Make it a good one.

These tips are all empty gimmicks if you can't back them up with experience and culture fit. But when you're facing stiff competition from other equally qualified applicants, every little edge counts. That's when a few tiny tweaks can put you ahead of the pack and grab the CEO's attention for all the right reasons.

Brian Scudamore is the founder and CEO of O2E Brands, which includes home-service companies like 1-800-GOT-JUNK?. He's a people-person and passionate entrepreneur who helps others take the lead in their small business.

Interact with The Globe