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The best candidate doesn’t always get the job. In fact, rarely does the top candidate win the position – instead, they are beat out by someone else. A strategic hire. A better interviewer. A more likable person. A friend of the hiring manager. And so on. Companies have to hire in their own best interests and sometimes that means making a strategic decision over “qualifications.”

What Does Strategic Hiring Mean?

By definition, making a “strategic hire” means that the company chooses the candidate that has the ability to elevate the company in a significant way. For example: for a sales position, it may mean that they choose the candidate with the most direct, long-term relationships with a customer they have been trying to close. For a publicity position, it could be hiring the person with the most “social clout” instead of the person who has secured the most reviews. In a research and development position, it could be choosing the candidate with the most patents instead of the one who knows the technology.

It doesn’t always make sense and it’s definitely not “fair,” but more times than not, it works out well for the company (which is the goal). Why am I sharing this with you? Because not only do you have to be the most qualified candidate, but you also need to be considered a strategic hire. In a competitive job market, being a strategic hire/choice will almost always put you a notch ahead of another candidate (with the same or similar experience). It’s your ace in the hole, your rabbit in the hat, your Hail-Mary pass.

How to Become a Strategic Hire

To truly become a strategic hire, you have to have specific skills, knowledge or connections that are deemed valuable by your potential employer. You probably possess many of these things already, but are not leveraging them appropriately during the interview process. Figuring out your “ace” will take some forethought and a little research, but the potential pay-off is huge.

1. Start by taking inventory of your actual skills, knowledge and connections. Write them down – you will be referring to this list often. Be sure to include all of the “hats” you have worn in your various roles, all of the special projects you have taken on, the computer programs that you know how to navigate, the people you speak to (your clients and friends), and what you have successfully delivered during your career (and be sure to include your internship experiences as well).

2. Know the industry that you are applying into, even if you don’t think you have an “industry-specific” job. Being able to show that you are interested in the company’s specific industry and have real knowledge during the interview process will help bump you up in the eyes of the recruiting team. You will come across as interested in the specific job and as an intelligent candidate.

3. Read between the lines of the job description and figure out the gap they are trying to fill. The job is open because there is a glaring gap at the company. You want to figure out how you can not only fill the gap, but make an impact beyond what had previously been there. This is sometimes easier in certain positions, than others. But here are a few ideas:

  • Sales: your rolodex, contact lists, deal-size history, selling skills or courses, connections
  • Publicity: your national placements, number of connections on social media platforms, big campaigns – who you worked with and what your success rate was, big names you have worked with
  • Marketing: your marketing campaigns – size, scope, success rates, conversions; social media knowledge and experience; products/platforms you have marketed; budget scope
  • IT: program knowledge, platform knowledge, soft/hardware, levels of service, scope of project management and delivery, beta testing, and don’t forget all of the IT systems/tools you use at home
  • Human Resources: your experience outside of HR, unconventional thinking/deliverables, connections – within HR, industry and outside, RIF experience and scope, client group interaction
  • Communications: your portfolio of special projects, launches, reach and audience, efficiency/turn around, reporting hierarchy, online platforms

4. Slip in your strategic difference at the right point in the process – when meeting, for the first time, with the hiring manager. No one cares more about what the new hire will bring to the table than the decision maker – your soon to be boss. You do not need to be overt about it, but by asking questions throughout the interview process you will be able to piece together the gap. The way you deliver the message is critically important. You want to point out the problem without blame, and provide a solution. For example in a sales role: “I have been fortunate enough to work with Costco in the past and have established great ongoing relationships with the buyer. I think they would be a great client to on-board here for the XYZ program and I look forward to bringing your program to their attention.”

5. Remember that presenting yourself as a strategic hire (and being able to back it up) is only part of the picture. You still need to have the basic qualifications for the position, have stellar resume materials, and interview well!

Have you been hired as a strategic hire before? Or maybe you have been overlooked due to “more strategic” candidate? I’d love to hear all about them – and I have a few fun ones I will share as well.