This article originally appeared on Business Insider.
This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Nolan Church, a 34-year-old former recruiter for Google and Doordash from Salt Lake City, Utah. It has been edited for length and clarity.
Before opening Continuum, a talent marketplace for executives, I worked as a recruiter for Google. I also led the recruiting team at DoorDash where I saw the company grow from 50 to 800 employees.
After years of hiring, I tell job seekers that when you apply online, you should never expect to hear back from that company. The reason: There are way too many people applying for jobs and not enough people reviewing resumés.
Instead, candidates should focus on finding ways to stand out — and that preparation starts before the job interview. Here are five things all candidates should do when they’re preparing.
1. Look for a job when you already have a job
The best perspective is when someone thinks, I have a good job today, but I’m starting to feel interested in a new industry. When that happens, I suggest reaching out to those in that field, connecting with them, and building relationships with them.
For example, if a software engineer is interested in a new B2B company, they should go out there and reach out to other engineers. They should take that connection to coffee, see what they’re working on, and even offer them help. That way, when they do get an interview, they already have a warm connection.
You should always be poking your head over the fence, seeing what’s out there and building relationships with others you’d like to work with. You should always be networking.
2. Don’t be afraid to be bold
When I was working at Doordash as the head of talent, we had someone interested in working for us. To make his interest known, he emailed the CEO 21 days in a row, a different email each time, in which he discussed why he wanted to work for Doordash and why we should interview him.
While it’s potentially risky, I personally thought, We have to talk to this guy. I always advise not to be too afraid of cold outreach: If you’re really interested in a company, get in touch with those you want to work with — email the CEO, the head of talent, or the hiring manager and let them know why you’re the right person for the job.
3. Don’t just prepare questions; go deeper
A lot of times people ask me, “What are the best 10 questions I can ask at the end of an interview?” But it’s not about preparing a list of questions; it’s about more specific preparation.
Interviewees should be looking on the company’s website and reading up on the company’s values, vision, and mission statement to start. To take it a step further, a lot of founders these days are on a podcast or are online in some way. I think it’s amazing when candidates can come in and say, “I was listening to your founder say [fill in the blank]” and then give specific examples of what they heard.
4. Be ready with stories
There are a couple of stories interviewees should consider when prepping for an interview. One should definitely be around a successful project they have completed and their role within that project.
Another is a career highlight: Candidates should tap into what they’ve done well. For example, I once interviewed a VP of HR who told me their career highlight was running a layoff. She mentioned how hard it was on her — she wasn’t sleeping and felt very stressed — and that an impacted employee came up and told her afterward, “I know this must be hard on you. Thank you for treating me with respect.” It was such a great story because it was counterintuitive and real.
Finally, candidates should be ready to share a lesson they’ve learned — a time you received difficult, constructive feedback that had a profound impact on you. Explain how you processed it, and ultimately how it made you a better employee.
By telling stories interviewees are able to show their deep inner fire, their motivation, and what drives them most. It also makes the interview more conversational and more engaging for both parties — I’ve never seen it backfire.
5. Find other ways to stand out
Once when I was interviewing someone for a sales role at DoorDash, the candidate said they’d gone to 10 different restaurants that didn’t offer the DoorDash service and asked them, why not?
The candidate then brought those answers to the interview, and also came prepared with solutions on how to get those restaurants on board. That candidate stood out to us; it was if they had done the job already before the interview. We ended up hiring them within 24 hours.
While it may feel like you’re selling yourself in a super competitive world, that’s what you have to do. At the end of the day, you have to stand out.