Hiring managers play a critical role in deciding which job applicants to interview, the details of the job offer, and whom to hire. So if we should take job search tips from anyone, it’s them.
Illustration by Sam Woolley
I sought out a few hiring managers and asked them questions like “What things could job applicants do that would make your job easier?” and “What are things few job seekers do but absolutely should?” Their answers below might sound obvious if you’ve read any job interview and job search tips, but — straight from the horse’s mouth — these are the most important things you should know when applying to a job and communicating with the hiring manager.
Be Prompt, But Don’t Arrive Too Early to Your Interview
Arriving to the interview early makes you look like you’re on top of things, right? Yes, but there’s a fine line between early and too early. Lela Reynolds, a senior career consultant at Resume Strategist, says that being 30 or more minutes early can be detrimental: It could distract the hiring manager if he or she had something planned in those 30 minutes, and now they know you’re sitting out there waiting. It’s best to arrive about 10 or 15 minutes before the interview or, if you’re very early, get a coffee nearby or wait in the building lobby.
Consider this illustration from analyst Elisabeth Fosslien:
Stay within that window and you’re golden.
Don’t Apply for a Job Unless You Meet the Qualifications
Few things waste job managers’ time more than vetting unqualified applicants that hope to get an interview anyway. Really read the job description and apply only if you hit at least 85% of what they’re looking for, says Lynda Spiegel, an HR professional and founder of Rising Star Resumes. Make sure you meet the minimum requirements too.
This is good news: you don’t have to rule yourself out yet if you don’t have every single skill or qualification listed in the job description. But if the job is way out of your league, don’t waste any of your or others’ time.
Research the Company!
As obvious as this advice is, nearly all of the two dozen or so hiring managers who talked to me said this is one of the biggest and most common mistakes they see. Not researching the company is like going to a test without knowing the subject it’s on. Elle Kaplan, CEO and Founder of LexION Capital, says:
A hiring manager like me will be impressed if you know the company’s background like the back of your hand. For bonus points, I recommend you look at which company values and missions really resonate with you, and explain to the hiring manager why you’re excited to join a company that’s passionate about those traits.
Know the company’s narrative before you step into the interview room: How the company started, what’s happening with the company and its industry now, and where the company is headed. Go through the company’s web site but also go beyond: search for relevant business news and the company’s social media postings (including LinkedIn pages).
Angela Loeffle, Chief People Officer and human resources expert at Lending Club adds that you should research both your interviewer and the company’s leadership:
Familiarise yourself with the leadership team and key decision makers at the company in addition to the people you’ll be interviewing with. Don’t know whom you will be interviewing with? Ask. Knowing your audience will help you be more comfortable during the interview and can help hedge any surprises. With websites like LinkedIn, there is no excuse to not be knowledgeable about the company’s leaders, who works in which department, and whom you will be interviewing with.
Armed with this knowledge, you can demonstrate in the interview how you can contribute to the company’s goals and fit in with the company culture.
Think of It Like Speed Dating
Speaking of cultural fit, hiring managers consider culture fit as much as they do technical fit. They put a lot of thought into team dynamics, so it’s important to showcase your personality during the interview. Think of the interview like speed dating, says Claudia St. John, president of Affinity HR Group:
Applicants need to know that interviewing is a form of speed dating in a business matchmaking game. As in dating, the fit needs to be right for both sides and what hiring managers are looking for is compatibility, opportunity and possibility. What job seekers need to understand is that the interview is really about how they are going to solve the hiring manager’s problem.
Just like bad dates, job candidates fail miserably in interviews when they talk too much about themselves, give generic (boring) answers, or don’t look enthusiastic or interested. St. John says hiring managers are looking for people who project confidence, intelligence, and creativity, as well as sincerity and just a bit of vulnerability — but not too much! Just like dating.
Come Prepared with Questions
Another basic that job seekers seem to forget and that have hiring managers shake their heads: Not having questions prepared. Loeffler says she’s always shocked — and disappointed — when a candidate says “No, I don’t have any questions.” Asking questions shows that you’ve thought about the company and the opportunity and done some research.
Ask what you want to know that you couldn’t find out online: The top projects you’d contribute to in the role, how the company provides growth opportunities, what the department is like you’d be working in, and even “What keeps you up at night?” Loeffler says. Need more suggestions? Here are the five best questions you can ask your interviewer, 12 more questions worth asking, and even more questions that will help show you’re serious about the job.
List All Your Software Skills on Your Resume
Recruiters might look at your resume for an average of just six seconds, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make your resume more effective. In addition to highlighting how you meet the job’s qualifications, make sure you include the software you’ve worked with. Accounting Principals says:
We cannot stress enough how imperative it is to list all of the software programs you have used. In fact, this might be the most important point. When we are assisting a company with a search, they always tell us the software they work with and whether or not experience is required (90% of the time, it is). If you have the software experience that we’re seeking, we will call you every single time. Even if the skills match is slightly off, we will still call you and chat, because the client may be willing to train you for skills that you lack.
Naturally, this only applies to jobs that require the ability to use software programs, but perhaps your knowledge of Microsoft Publisher would come in handier than you think.
If You Lie, You’ll Probably Get Caught
Don’t lie. Heck, don’t even exaggerate. Chances are, if you’re applying for any kind of decent job, you’re probably going to get caught. Consultant and author Barry Maher says:
Having consulted on far too many hires to take anything at face value, I always insist on checking the final candidates’ resumes myself. And so does anyone else who knows what they’re doing. Where do people exaggerate and even lie? Where don’t they? Education, compensation, duties and responsibilities, achievements, awards, length of employment, etc. Some people fudge dates to make themselves look younger. When I told one applicant that no one at his former company had heard of the “Executive Merit Award,” he’d cited, he simply replied that was probably because after he’d won it three years in a row the company retired the reward in his honour.
One key: I always tell the candidate that I’ll be checking out the resumes myself with a fine tooth comb. Then I ask in a completely neutral non-accusatory voice, “Is there anything I might uncover that’s different from what’s on here that you might want to explain?” It’s astonishing what people will tell you then.
It’s human nature to want to fluff up our accomplishments when vying for a job — and many prominent figures have been disgraced after resume lies were found out — but it’s really too risky if you want that job. You can spin your relevant experience and temporarily lie about skills you can learn (though that’s also risky), but otherwise just stick to the truth and save yourself the time and embarrassment.
Send a Thank You Note
Written thank you cards might seem like an antiquated practice, but it’s still a considerate one. Perhaps because it’s old-fashioned it makes you stand out more — in a good way. Mike Smith, founder of SaleCoaching1, says:
Send a hand written thank you card to the interviewer. I have interviewed over 1000 people, I think 5 did this. It definitely will be remembered.
Some people might prefer to send or receive an emailed thank you note instead (opinions are very mixed on this topic!), but either way, a quick three-line thank you message can demonstrate you’re serious about the position. Seriously, send a thank you note even if you’re rejected for the job.
Don’t Badger the Hiring Manager About Whether They have Made a Decision
It’s annoying for us to wait a long time and not hear back about a job, but it’s also annoying for the hiring manager if you keep following up about it. The best course is to ask for a timeframe for a decision after you’ve finished your interview. Then you can follow up with a short, polite email and just keep on with your job search. If you haven’t heard back in 45 days, you could assume you didn’t get the job.
Put Yourself in the Hiring Manager’s Shoes
Finally, hiring managers want you to know that they are people too. They’re not mind-readers, which is why you should come prepared with questions about the job that matter to you. They often see a ton of applicants, which is why you need to demonstrate your knowledge of the company, your fit for the job, and your non-boring personality. Jeremy Schifeling, CEO of Break into Tech, says:
When I was hiring at LinkedIn, the biggest mistake I saw was that applicants didn’t put themselves in my shoes. Imagine what it feels like to sit down to a giant stack of resumes and cover letters that all look the same: “Dear Sir or Madam, I would like to apply for Job X, blah, blah, blah.” Can you start to feel your eyes close, your mind wander? Because that’s exactly what it’s like to scan through piles of conservative, template-based applications.
Next, imagine in the midst of that stack, you come across one that says, “Dear Jeremy, I may not be the world’s greatest marketer but I am one of the world’s most diehard LinkedIn fans. In fact, let me tell you about a time that LinkedIn changed my life…” Can you feel that spark? That sense that you actually want to read on – and aren’t just compelled to by your job?
So bottom line: Remember that hiring managers aren’t robots. We’re people too. So give us something interesting to read – not just the same old generic stuff.
Also, they really want you to succeed (it makes their jobs easier if they can hire the first person they meet!). Help them help you.