X-Factor Three TipsX-factor is that elusive quality that sets one person apart from the crowd. It’s something to do with charisma, a little bit about the way that person makes you aspire to be like them, and a lot about them making you feel like you’ve known them forever. Whatever the exact ingredients, if we could bottle it and sell it we’d all be millionaires.

As you will have guessed, this article isn’t about the TV phenomenon of the same name. It’s about how you can use the X-factor to stand out in an increasingly competitive job market. But the TV show is relevant here, because the format is very similar to the typical recruitment process.

  • Short listing. This sifts out the people who are just applying indiscriminately without the right qualifications and experience. In the TV show, it’s here we see the wannabes, the people who can’t sing but just want to meet Simon Cowell.
  • Like the TV series auditions, we first see the person perform here. We get a fleeting sense of their personality and the opportunity to spot the talented ones.
  • Final selection. The boot camp and live show stages of the TV show are akin to recruitment’s second interview or appraisal centre stage. The stakes are raised, the pressure is on. By now the candidates have all shown they have what it takes to do the job, but this additional selection process allows the winner’s X-factor to set them apart.

So how can you use X-factor to help you win recruiter’s votes? Well, here are three ways to get that job.

  1. Let your talent shine through

Everyone from sports psychologists to neuroscientists seem to be wading into the debate about whether natural talent exists. On one side of the argument is the idea that you are born with a natural ability to do certain things – hit a tennis ball, come up with a new law of physics etc. The other side says that you acquire talents through shear hard work and hours of practice.

The truth is probably, as ever, somewhere in the middle. Our genetics and family history probably set us up with certain physical traits and engender the love for specific activities. And let’s not forget the importance of a support system that provides lifts home from swimming club, piano lessons, clean football kit and all the many other factors that nurture talent and allow it to thrive. On top of those foundations some of us then develop a passion, practise like crazy and eventually start to reap results.

Recruiters for top level jobs want to hire talent. They are never going to pick the person who is mediocre. And yet many of us are uncomfortable allowing our talent to shine. We are embarrassed to talk about personal success and the results we’ve achieved. But in the recruitment game, being humble won’t get you a job.

  • There is a big difference between being thrilled by your successes and bragging about them. We can easily limit ourselves by worrying we will appear big headed. But the exuberance of someone who has just won an award is charming. The trick is to let this energy and emotion sparkle in an interview. Be delighted with your national sales award, tell your interview panel how honoured you were to be recognised for your hard work, let your enthusiasm show.
  • Be able to explain your role in the success. If you are talking about your team increasing turnover by 150%, say what you did that helped them achieve that. Again, your energy here is key – you need to show you are an inspirational leader.
  1. It’s all about the performance

Love it or hate it, interviews are all about your performance on the day. There are no retakes, no excuses. In my old PR days I got an interview for what I thought was my dream job. The Head of Global Media for an international campaign organisation I had always admired.

I sailed through the first interview and got called to HQ for the second round. Then I got flu. Proper flu. Not a bit of a sniffle man-flu type flu, but full-on achey, brain numbing, can finally understand why so many people die of it, flu. My husband had to pack my bag and pretty much carry me to the airport. Over ten years later, I can still remember the question that threw me – “how would you plan a media campaign?”

Planning media campaigns was something I had been doing everyday for years. It was second nature. I stumbled around trying to work out what they meant by what seemed a trick question. With my flu riddled thinking, I was lost. Unsurprisingly, I didn’t get the job. I hadn’t given them any evidence that I knew how to do what would be needed of me.

Many recruiters work on a points system in interviews. Questions are developed to see if you fulfil what would be required of you and then you are scored to see if the answers you give meet or exceed those requirements. As Head of Global Media, being able to plan a media campaign was essential, and yet I didn’t show in the interview that I knew how to do it. It doesn’t matter what I had written on my application form. The scores at interview were what counted.

Combat your nerves. A bit of adrenaline is useful, too much gets in the way. If you know interviews make you freeze it’s worth taking action, consider hypnotherapy to calm you down or talk to your doctor about anxiety.

  • Most interviews will have set questions, take a while to think what you would ask if you were interviewing for the job. Practise your responses including for the obvious ones like why you want the job, where you see your career developing etc.
  1. Connection – Audience appeal wins votes

In order to have the X-factor you will need to give a little bit of yourself. This sometimes seen as a risky strategy, but without the human side some candidates can appear like a perfect answer automaton.

Getting the balance right is key here. I’m not saying go on gushingly about your boyfriend and that holiday you had in Ibiza. But as the TV show producers recognised, a bit of back story is good. Tell your career narrative, your aspirations, be honest about your mistakes, but say how you learnt from them, show you are resilient and resourceful and most importantly try to give something that connects with the recruitment panel.

Whatever the application process, make sure you connect from the start. Your CV, application form, covering letter or resume should all reflect the language that the recruiter is using. This helps you connect with the recruiter and lets them know you will fit in. So, if the company refers to ‘clients’ on their website, you talk about clients in your application (not customers, service users or other similar terms). This is all about tailoring what you say to fit the audience.

In an interview,

  • Speak the same language – make sure you connect with your written application
  • Speak adult to adult. This is a job interview, you haven’t been sent to the headmaster’s office. Don’t be cowered by some perceived hierarchy, talk as if you are talking to your peers.

The overall thing to remember about X-factor is that everyone has a different view of what it means to them. That means you really can’t fake it. So when someone hears you are going for a job and offers the platitude ‘just be yourself’, that really is the best advice in the world. Just be yourself, offer some of your personality, let your talent shine through and you can’t go wrong.

Blog X-factor – 3 secrets to job application success