PEOPLE tend to adopt similar strategies in their job search: scouring online job boards, going through recruitment pages in the papers and networking their way into every possible industry. With many equally qualified job hunters in the rat race for your dream job, what will make you and stay ahead of the game?

Do quality research

Many how-to articles would have expounded umpteen times the importance of doing research on the company you are interviewing with. If what you know about the organisation is already available on its website, you can be sure all the other potential candidates will already have access to the same information and most probably prepared their homework too.

You will hardly impress any hiring manager if you plan to regurgitate what is already available in the public domain. Instead, take a proactive stance and make use of other channels to do your research.

Talk to people in the industry and collate positive testimonials about the organisation. Ask questions that will provide insight into the company's culture, management style, key success factors, its key clients and competitors, as well as its growth and market share.

You can also refer to journals, articles and media coverage of the company to get a sense of their activities and marketing strategies. Stake out social networking sites such as LinkedIn and Facebook to access and connect with people from the industries or companies you are interested in.

Armed with industry knowledge, your personal observations and invaluable feedback from your network of friends and contacts, you would be able to differentiate yourself from the rest and come across as a highly impressive and resourceful person with a strong passion to learn more about the company.

Use visual aids

Some of the most outstanding candidates are great presenters and storytellers. Instead of giving a one-hour verbal description of what they have done and achieved, they illustrate their knowledge, achievements and creativity with a Powerpoint presentation or hard copy portfolio.

Visual aids allow the recruiter to see and feel the actual work you have done and speak volumes more than a thousand words on the CV. The use of colours, sleek fonts and graphical images will bring your resumes to life and present a compelling and tangible showcase of your work.

If you have done enough research about the company, you can even present ideas which would make a difference to the organisation, or even solutions to issues it is currently facing.

Use testimonials

Testimonials are powerful tools that can strongly differentiate one candidate from another. Tap into your network of contacts and business partners from various industries and find out if they can write a few words on how they feel about you and your work.

If you have formed great relationships with significant stakeholders such as your colleagues, ex-bosses, suppliers and corporate associates over the years, they would be more than happy to write you a highly positive testimony. Collate them into a folder and use it as a self-marketing tool.

Hirers tend to be more impressed with what others say about you than what you say about yourself. The designation of the people you have approached to write your testimony matters too. The more senior they are, the more credible the testimony, and the more impressive you will seem.

Ask smart questions

Towards the end of an interview, you can be sure that hiring managers and recruiters will ask if you have any questions for them. If you say "No", you will most likely be struck off the list as this shows your lack of interest or enthusiasm to find out more about the job or the company.

Hence, it is essential that you are well-prepared to ask smart questions that will position you as someone who is perceptive, driven and eager to contribute to the organisation.

The following are some questions that are more popular with hirers:

* What are the organisation's growth plans for the next five years?

* What are my career progression opportunities in this organisation?

* What is the company's culture like?

* Are there learning and development opportunities?

* Are there opportunities to work for the organisation's overseas offices?

* How would you see someone like myself making a change in your company?

* What is the company's desired goal/objective for the person taking this role?

Avoid talking about salary and compensation, and questions that assume you have already been offered the job. As much as you need to ask questions, be a good listener and try not to interrupt when the interviewer is speaking or responding to your queries so that you will not miss out any critical information or details.

Most importantly, to be a truly outstanding candidate, you need to be positive, poised and confident. Focus on your strengths and hone them to higher standards; work on your weaknesses and turn them into strengths.