Thursday, February 9, 2012

What I Look For When I'm Hiring Someone

In my job as an engineering manager I've been part of the hiring of quite a few employees. Here's the insider information to get me to hire you.
First impressions are hard to look past, so be sure that the first thing I see is your best foot forward. Until you distinguish yourself as a solid potential you're literally a sheet of paper in the employer's eyes- if you're lucky enough to even be at that status (with most large companies you're just digital bits that no one has paid any attention to yet). If you have the option, submit a cover letter with your resume. If a resume is a skeleton, a cover letter is the organs and tissue (you'll finally get skin when I have you come in for an interview). When I read a cover letter I'm looking for a few things:

  1. Is this the same exact cover letter the applicant has sent to all the jobs you applied for? There should at least be some evidence that the letter has been customized for this specific job. When all I see is a generic letter it tells me that you're throwing your resume out to any job posting possible, hoping you'll get a bite. 
  2. How well do you sell sell yourself? At this point, for all I know you could be a robotic drone, a fossilized dinosaur, or a tree stump. I'm not hiring your achievements; I'm hiring you. Sell me on why you'd be a valuable asset and why the things on your resume matter. 
  3. How well can you communicate? I'm an engineer not an English major. Most grammar and punctuation mistakes will go by me- so you're lucky. However, being able to communicate through the written word is a skill that everyone needs to posses. The content should be well thought out and organized. If this isn't your forte have someone else look it over. If it is your forte, have someone else look it over. By the time it gets into my hands it should be a pristine piece of literature.
Reading the resume comes next. Like your cover letter, your resume needs to be a work of art. Thoughtful, concise, and relevant. This is what I'll have my eye out for:

  1. Do you meet the basic qualifications for the job or at least show that you'll be able to pick up on the position quickly without me having to spend countless hours training you? Job requirements can be subjective, if you can prove that even though you don't meet the specifics that you'd be a close enough fit, it might be enough to get you in for an interview. Especially if you're a recent college grad. I know that experience is a hard thing to come by so if you're at least a fit in 75% of the areas we're asking for I'll put your name in the hat.
  2. Did you even look at the job requirements? Like the first note in the cover letter section, it doesn't take me long to figure out if you did your homework. One time I had a PhD student go on and on in his resume about all the extensive research he did on quantum light physics and not once did he mention a single qualification that we were looking for in an intern. Boom: unqualified. Resume goes straight to the circular file. He was probably over qualified, but he didn't take the time to look at what we were asking for so I didn't return the favor.
  3. Is this your first time using a computer... or did someone just not tell you about formatting? Most of the resumes that come across my desk are the most boring things to look at visually. They're not thoughtfully constructed and they look like every other paper on my desk. Make your resume pop- professionally of course. Lisa Frank stickers in the header won't get you too far with me. Your school should have resume services that will help you with this and your resume overall. Even if you graduated 15 years ago, alumni usually have access to the university resources in the career department.
  4. When submitting a paper copy of your resume or cover letter, go to an office supply store and get resume paper. It is an added touch of professionalism. If you're submitting a digital format always use a non-editable format such as a PDF. When you save your document in Word, there is a drop down for the format type. Pick PDF. This allows you to see your resume exactly how I'll see it. And you can make changes to it but I can't. Nothing irks me more than to have to figure out what kind of formating you could have had when the document left your computer (yes, that means you whoever sent me the resume that transmogrified into a 100 page Powerpoint). 
If you've been able to pass these observations you're doing better than most. Now comes the time that I find you online. You can do this yourself- Google your name and see what pops up. That's what I'll do. If you have a page like LinkedIn that supports your cause I might give you a bonus point. Conversely, if anything questionable or unprofessional comes up that I'm 100% certain is tied to you (hundreds of people have your name so I won't blindly assume it's you) I probably won't be picking up the phone to call you in for the next step. Your interview:

  1. Show up 15 minutes before your interview. Any earlier and you'll distract me from my regular job. Even if you have to sit in the parking lot until the time is right, that's better than me knowing you're in the building waiting. Any later and it tells me you're unprepared.
  2. Shake my hand like a man and look me in the eye. If you fail here it will probably bug me until I interview the next candidate. 
  3. Appearance I will accept: suit or sport jacket, tie, and slacks; appearance of basic hygiene; hair combed. Not hard. Appearance I will laugh at and tell all my friends about after I go home: bed head, wrinkled (I-just-pulled-these-off-my-floor) clothes, and/or crusty eyes. Sorry, did I wake you up for this? I seriously had a candidate walk in like this. It proved to be my all time favorite interview- it closely resembled the infamous Joaquin Phoenix bit on Letterman. And while it proved to be endlessly funny (I had to bite my tongue extremely hard several times to keep from laughing) the guy didn't get the job.
  4. If you've gotten this far, you should know something about the company- what we make, a brief history, what industry we fall under. It's all available on our website. I'll ask you about it.
  5. When I ask if you have any questions- you should. And the question should not be "What does your company do?" Mr. Phoenix's understudy asked that one. See note 4 above. I'll accept any other valid question.
  6. Follow up with a thank you card. Hand written is best, but email is better than nothing. One time two candidates were neck and neck and the one that sent in the thank you card got the job. Courtesy can go a long way. Don't call me every day and ask if you got the job. I'll entertain a weekly phone call or email asking for a status update. Anything past that is annoying.

So those are my secrets. It's not law, it's just what I look at when I hire someone, but I'm sure other companies look out for the same things. Be confident, be professional, be persistent and you can get the job you're after.

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