One of the challenges of landing a job in a poor economy is getting that elusive first interview. You send in your resume and then wait as you compete with sometimes thousands of other applicants for the chance to win one of the three to five interviews awarded for that opening. What can you do to improve your odds? Here is some advise from a long-time hiring manager.
I am a hiring manager with over two decades of experience with the hiring process in the corporate arena. Although not every hiring manager uses the same filters or the same approach, there are some key elements that may improve your chances of getting that elusive first interview and a foot in the proverbial door. The following offers 4 actions that may help you on your way, but before we get to those, let me clue you in on the basic hiring process.
Hiring Process Overview
Most large companies use essentially the same process to identify candidates for interviews:
- Post the Requisition
- Collect Resumes
- Screen resumes down to 10-20 "qualified" candidates – typically performed by Human Resources
- Down-select to 3-5 candidates for interviews – typically performed by the hiring manager
In this process, you have 2 filters to navigate:
- Human Resources Representative
- Hiring Manager
The following will help maximize your chance of making it through these filters and landing an interview.
Filter # 1 – Human Resources
Your first obstacle is the Human Resources department (HR). In most companies, the HR representatives have only a rudimentary understanding of the specific positions. They handle multiple events (often hundreds of openings) for a wide variety of different positions at any given time. They do not have time to digest all of the information and make highly informed decisions in selecting the most qualified candidates. Typically, about all they have time to do is verify that the candidates meet the specified requirements of the position. To make it through this first check gate, you need to:
- Customize your resume
- Address the corporate culture
Customize Your Resume
When an HR Representative receives thousands of resumes for a single job opening, they look for easy ways to eliminate most of them. HR's goal is to narrow the options down as quickly as possible and only pass along the candidates that "best fit" the job opening.
If you want your resume to survive this screening, you should submit a resume (and cover letter, when appropriate) that clearly demonstrates how your qualifications, education and experience match the specified requirements. To do this, you need to draft a different resume for every position to which you apply. It sounds like a lot of extra work, and, honestly, it is. But that is what will separate you from the pack.
My approach to this is simple – repeat the requirements from the job posting, using essentially the same word, but presented as my experience, education or skills.
As an example, I once applied for a Research and Development (R & D) Coordinator position. I have never been an R & D Coordinator. I have been a Project Manager, a Resource Manager and an Engineer. My management and engineering experience was mostly in the area of safety and production, not in research and development. If I listed these general positions on my resume, it would not look like I was a good fit for this position. However, in addition to some basic education and general professional experience, the posting listed some specific required experience, which included:
- responsibility for planning project activities and organizing resources
- managing remote teams
- tracking and reporting progress against project objectives
- developing less experienced resources
To avoid being eliminated due to a lack of direct R & D experience, I took these and drafted a "Professional Profile" summary section to lead my resume. In addition to my general education listing, I added the following experience summarizations that repeated these requirements (italics added for this article).
11 Years of Project Management experience, with responsibility for planning project activities, organizing resources from multiple organizations and locations, and tracking and reporting progress against project objectives.
7 Years of Resource Management experience , including responsibility for developing less experienced engineers, project managers, project controls specialists, and administrative support personnel through coaching and mentoring.
22 years of analytical work.
In these simple statements I told them that I have experience with:
- responsibility for planning project activities
- organizing resources
- organizing from multiple organizations and locations (ie remote teams)
- tracking and reporting progress against project objectives
- developing less experienced [resources] through coaching and mentoring
By doing this, I made it abundantly clear that I meet the basic requirements of this job posting. No thought required. It is all there spelled out right at the beginning of the resume.
Having this section lead your resume facilitates a quick check for the HR representative who can go through these statements and check off the basic and specific requirements for the position. This keeps your resume in the pipeline and avoids it being dumped quickly into the circular file.
Address the Corporate Culture
Most corporations have a "thing" that is important to them. It could be anything. Southwest Airlines is historically known for focusing on friendship. They want an entire company of outgoing, engaging people who will make their customers feel welcome and "at home". If you want an interview with Southwest, your resume should demonstrate your outgoing, fun-loving side.
If you have seen the movie " The Internship" , then you have heard that Google likes people who personify "googliness". They also want employees who are passionate about improving the world by connecting people with data. By effectively demonstrating these qualities in your resume and cover letter, you give yourself a leg up on any competition who is just sending a static, generic resume.
In my company, the cultural emphasis is mobility. Due to the nature of our work, success in our company requires a willingness to deploy to sites around the world, sometimes for months, or even years. If you apply for a job in my company and talk about how eager you are to move often and deploy to new locations, you will raise immediate, positive attention. HR will likely flag this and communicate it to the hiring manager. Once you are noticed, it becomes much easier to land an interview.
Whatever corporation you are pursuing, take time to learn the culture and build it into your resume. If you find that their culture really does not fit your DNA, move on. Trust me, you do not want to work in an organization where you do not really fit. You will be miserable in the long run and a good organization will recognize it early and encourage you to move on to your next opportunity.
Filter # 2 – Hiring Manager
Having passed through the HR filter, your next challenge is to win over the hiring manager. The typical hiring manager is looking to fill a specific role. They usually possess an intimate knowledge of the job, often having filled the role themselves in the past. This manager looks at your resume and cover letter from the perspective of "can they do the job." This filter involves another detailed look at your resume.
For the HR filter, you have already repeated the specific requirements in the summary section. You should consider bulstering your summary with a detailed job history that once again repeats the requirements listed in the posting. Make a clear picture that shows how your experience aligns with their needs. They will pursue this further in the interview, so your statements need to be defendable.
In reality, this filter is not much more sophisticated or informed than the HR review. Whether or not you stay in the pile is often determined on the quality of the resume and other experience that the manager, or a respected contact, has with you personally. The following actions may help you overcome this obstacle.
Pay Attention to Details
Nothing pushes a resume into the old circular file faster than poor quality. Spelling errors, grammatic gaffs, and dates that do not make sense are all killers. I can not count how many resumes I have tossed just because they contained errors. For me, as a hiring manager, if the candidate is not conscientious enough to proof check their own resume, I can expect that lack of quality to show up in their performance after I hire them. After all, this is one of the most important activities for a person looking for a job. If they do not care enough about their own future and employment to put a little extra effort into their application, why would I ever expect them to deliver quality for me?
Make sure your resume is perfect. Review it, fix it, and review it again. Review it until you can not find any errors or things you want to say differently. Every change should trigger another review. Once you are satisfied, have someone else read it thoroughly to see what you missed. Your target needs to be perfection!
Pay attention to the details! They will not get you hired, but any typo, spelling error, or faux pas just might get you eliminated. Do not give the hiring manager any easy out. Make them consider you and your qualifications, not just toss you because you do not know how to us the spelling and grammar check tool in your word processor.
Identify the Hiring Manager
When it comes to landing a job, there is no substitute for personal relationships. I have hired several people based on my experiences with them outside of my company. Unfortunately, it is impossible to know every potential hiring manager. This is particularly problematic for anyone starting out on a new career or changing careers to a new discipline or industry.
The good news is that it has never been easier to overtake this obstacle. Modern technologies and social networking make it easier than ever to identify the hiring manager, or at least find someone who knows the hiring manager and can get your resume in front of them.
This is where all of your LinkedIn and Facebook experience pays off. Even alumni lists from your alma mater can provide you with contacts that may be willing to help you. Use all of your connections to identify and make contact with the hiring manager.
It may seem like an impossible task, but it is as simple as the "7 Degrees of Kevin Bacon." In your job search, Kevin Bacon is the hiring manager. All you need to do is find someone you know that is willing to use their contacts to help you reach the manager.
You may be very surprised at how many jobs are filled based on someone knowing someone who knows the hiring manager. As a hiring manager, if someone I know and respect recommends an applicable, it makes my job easier and lends confidence. At a minimum, it should provide an excellent probability that you will get an interview, provided you have completed the other actions discussed above.
Following these recommended steps will not guarantee an interview, but they will help best position you for success. As you work through them, always keep in mind that it is the hiring organization's responsibility to decide "yes" or "no". Do not make it easy for them to answer "no".