While I was working in a Labs office in San Francisco, a painfully competitive job market, one of my main priorities was always recruiting. Every day, I’d go through the queue and review every resume that came in. Every. Single. One. Well. Most. Anyway. I did not want a screener to throw out good applications. I did not want a computer to eliminate some spectacular candidate because they hadn’t listed some framework or experience with some nice-to-have skill. Smart people can fill skill gaps pretty fast. So I read a lot of resumes. A lot.
Now that I’m on the other side of the fence and about ready to start looking for the next step in my career myself, I thought I’d bestow some hiring manager experience on you as a job seeker for the initial application. Read these things. Do them. I beseech you for the good of all those other hiring managers out there who feel the same way. But please, use these powers for good and not evil.
Thing 1: I want to hire you. Desperately. I am not doing you a favor.
You are a hot commodity you qualified candidate, you. You are rarer and more beautiful than a double rainbow. There are few things more joyful to a hiring manager than to read a well-written application that says “I read your job ad. I can do that job, specifically. Here’s why. I like your specific company because of these reasons. And, witty personal anecdote!” I will hire your ass so fast it’ll make your head spin. Negotiate with me. I’ll buckle. First, you need to get me to understand that’s who you are.
Thing 2: I am conflicted because I’m also looking for reasons not to hire you.
Yeah, I know. Kinda sick. I have this very limited time to review your application. I need to make a huge, sweeping judgment about you based on just a few minutes of reviewing your application. Spellcheck. Double check my company name. This is easy. Just take a minute to make sure that you’re applying to the right company for the right job and that you use good grammar and spell everything correctly. Easy, right? Yeah, actually do what I just said. Also…
Thing 3: Write a (genuine) cover letter.
It’s a hassle. You’re applying to a lot of jobs. Do it anyway if you have the opportunity. Write me a note and say something that lets me know that you’re actually interested in working for me, specifically. Talk about the job (get the title right) and the company (e.g., Zappos has great customer service, right? Say that.) You don’t need to list all of your qualifications or even try too hard to sell me. Just let me know you read the ad (or however you heard about us) and why you’re actually qualified to accomplish the main requirements of the job.
But show some personality. Now, this varies from company to company, but I think there’s a fairly universal dislike of the “You can see from my resume that I have all the skills required…” formality. That’s as close to not writing a cover letter as you can get while still using up part of your life to do it. I’ll love you more if you say “While asynchronous programming was a mind-bender to learn, I love the incredible speed I can get out of it.” Wow, it is weird. And fast. You’re hired!
Thing 4: Be honest.
I will immediately zero-in on such things as you trying to hide that you went to a 12-week programming cram school. My best developers have been coding for years. Don’t try to tell me you learned what they know in 12 weeks. There’s no shame in changing careers, but don’t try to fake me out. Just come out and say “I love coding so much, I did this cram school, and I learned a lot about Ruby and single-page apps. I want to learn more!”
Same for time off or your responsibilities at your previous job. You weren’t working for six months? OK. Did you learn anything? Tell me that. And if you were a project manager, don’t pretend to have been a developer. Eventually, we’ll find out, and we’re all going to have to sit in awkward silence while you put your stuff back in your folder and leave. Eesh.
Thing 5: Be relevant.
Don’t try to blind me with acronyms. You are not a master of every possible one of those 32 JXM, CLI, ABC, FBI things. You maybe are really good at a couple and decent at half a dozen. The rest are just keyword spam. They effectively erase the ones that I really wanted to see. I just see a big blurry block of letters. I hate you now because my head hurts. Good job.
Look at your resume and reword things to fit the requirements of the job. If this is a Ruby coding job, I’m just not going to be that psyched to see that you’ve mastered every obscure library from the bowels of whatever hell C++ springs from. Maybe you could focus on your general mastery of object-oriented programming or some Python work you’ve done. Just take a minute to consider “how does this support my application?” and reword accordingly (while keeping thing #4 in mind, natch.)
So, there you go, five of the approximately infinity things you should keep in mind when applying for a job– particularly in the tech world. It is an unsubstantiated fact that I just made up that easily 95% of applicants do not follow these basic steps. Misspellings, bad grammar, obvious lies or deception, and spammy mass applications just set off the warning bells and set your application back. You might shine through, but why start with demerits right out of the gate?
Agree? Disagree? Let me know in the comments below. If you’re a hiring manager, you might also want to check out my post Let Me Work For You: The Five Insights on the Perfect Job Listing.