Being on the other side of the table for job interviews has given me perspective on what employers look for. I’d like to share my thoughts, from an employer’s perspective, on how to successfully land a job.
Note: this is a rather dense, multi-part essay. I am sharing a bunch of real cases from personal experiences in an effort to steer away from the clickbait crap that often appears on Business Insider and LinkedIn feeds. Views expressed are all my own.
1. Jobs can be found everywhere, so search everywhere.
The job listing on the company site is not the only place where we are looking for people. I’ve filtered applicants through:
- *Hired.com – specifically for software engineers
- Indeed.com – for any job listing
- *Angel.co – this is for people searching for startups, for any role
- LinkedIn – reaching out to candidates, even if they haven’t applied
- Company Site – for those who apply directly through our site
- Networks – this is pretty important, see section 2.
* Specific to the tech sector. There are numerous other job boards.
The bigger the company, the more human capital and working capital they’ll have to channel multiple sources of recruiting. LinkedIn, for example, currently charges $500 per month for listing a job for 30 days. Hired.com, for example, charges the company 15% of that hired employee’s first year salary. That means the company has to pay $15,000 to Hired.com for hiring that engineer for $100,000. The more applicants you want through various channels, the more it costs employers.
This means that, the smaller the company, the less chance you’ll find jobs on public listings. You’ll have better luck through networking, or searching directly through their site — that’s one of the few places where it’s free to post a job listing, for employers.
Also note that smaller companies generally do not keep their job listings up to date. If you’re really set on a specific small company, it’s worth reaching out to them directly about their openings — any employee works, doesn’t have to be senior management or the recruiter.
2. Understand the purpose of networking.
Networking doesn’t mean “meeting people who can get you a job.” Unless you’re well-known in the industry (or are related to a VIP within the organization), “knowing someone” does not result in getting a job.
Nevertheless, networking is extremely important. You meet folks and gain valuable information such as:
- Job openings at a company that you otherwise would not have known were hiring. Hiring windows are often thin, so simply knowing of an opening is already advantageous. Every job opening you find and apply to trumps not being in-the-know.
- Understanding the day-to-day reality of a job position. Identifying positions or companies that aren’t a good fit can save you a lot of trouble — employers may (and do) skew the reality of the position or company status.
- Identifying someone’s skills that complement your own skill set, resulting in a potential business partnership.
Another reality to accept is nepotism: hiring is often done internally. Good companies never stop finding talent. Employers often ask internal employees who they know. Assuming that the employees are trusted, their word is immensely more powerful than a stranger who applied via a job listing. The employee is putting his or her reputation on the line to vouch for an applicant, and therefore that applicant is assumed to be solid. A reference, once again, does not guarantee a job offer. It can lead to an interview, which is the foot through the door.
As a job seeker, reach out to your network, especially If you have a healthy relationship with any of them. References can go a long way; many (larger) companies have incentive programs that reward employees with referral bonuses.
Last note: networking in general should not be forced. Everyone has a network — of friends, family, colleagues, etc. Fostering these relationships should come naturally. Treat them as you would want to be treated, help them out whenever possible, and they will be happily reciprocate.
3. Know the employer’s position on recruiting.
Reading through resumes is not the most exhilarating job.
Keep in mind that smaller companies don’t have an HR department. Some don’t even have a full time recruiter position. Any employee (or even the CEO!) may have access to your application. We have other things to get to, and recruiting isn’t always on our minds. In these types of companies, recruiting is (incorrectly) viewed as a side chore. Keep this in mind — your application can be seen by any person(s).
A company I previously worked with frequently passed along applications to myself and other team members. We would conduct the interviews, and our verdict was enough for the hiring manager.
Good employers understand that the potential hire does not only interact with the hiring manager(s). I oftentimes share applicant information with other team members, knowing that the applicant will work with those members. Exposing the potential hire with the team will give the latter a better idea of the potential hire’s skills and cultural fit. Once again, keep this in mind when filling in the application.
4. Present yourself as a great fit for the role.
It’s common consensus that employers spend less than five minutes per applicant. This is absolutely true; I spend less than two minutes initially screening over an applicant’s resume. Employers receive tons of applications — some also proactively search for quality candidates via networks or platforms (e.g. LinkedIn).
This means that you really need to present yourself as a great fit for the role.
The resume is one of your only chances to do so. If you’re actually a solid candidate and will succeed in the job, but have failed to indicate so in the resume, you’ll never get the chance to demonstrate that success. Sell yourself effectively by making the resume stand out to the company, and make sure to read the entire job description to make your resume relevant. Here are some key to-dos:
- Highlight key skills that are required to succeed in the job, and you’ll capture the employer’s attention. Omit irrelevant information, unless it’s clearly evident that it includes transferrable job skills.
- If you do not have many key skills required to succeed in the job, make sure your brand school or company captures the employer’s attention. Employers do care that you worked for Google, or attended Stanford (Go Bears!).
- If you do not have the key skills required to succeed in the job, and you do not boast a name brand school or company, emphasize something that captures the employer’s attention such as long(er) term similar experiences, or transferrable skills from previous experiences. This gives the employer confidence that you’ll succeed in the position. Make sure this is very apparent to the employer, if you do not possess 1 and 2.
However, realize that good employers do not look for someone who can already perform all job functions perfectly. This breeds boredom, and that employee will leave the job in due time.
Here’s a transcript between myself and an employer during an interview.
Employer: “If you did not get this position, what would be the reason why you think you weren’t hired?”
Me: “I think that employers see me as someone with an impressive career so far, having become product manager and leading engineers at a relatively young age. But past that, they see someone who has insufficient experience compared to someone with 5+ years in the same environment.”
Employer: “That wouldn’t be a reason. I like people who are on their way to the top, not people who are already at the top.”
A friend, who is a medical director of a hospital and hires physicians, said the following:
“Those who give me trouble are the ones who already have a bunch of experience. They are set in their own ways and are resistant to change. I prefer hiring folks who aren’t as experienced but have demonstrated the potential. Therefore, I can mold them into doing some of the things my way… AND pay them less.” 😉
I definitely resonate with these beliefs, which is why I value folks who have presented themselves as a great fit to succeed in the given role.
5. Good cover letters actually matter.
If cover letters aren’t a requirement in a job application, most applicants will not submit one. Don’t be that person; submit one anyway.
One broad cover letter template should be written for every different type of job. If you’re applying for marketing positions, have a broad marketing cover letter that talks about your marketing experience. Have another one for a sales position, for sales-related experiences. This is already a good start, because you’ve done with 80% of applicants have not.
However, if you want to be over the top, you should further modify the template to fit the specific company’s job position, culture/fit, or both. Demonstrate to them that, not only are you qualified for the job, you actually want that job with that specific company because it aligns with your own values and vision. That strong expression will, at the least, capture the employer’s attention. See Nina 4 AirBnB.
This is key for most positions. Qualified, but unmotivated candidates who simply want a paycheck, will present more problems for the company over the long term, i.e. leaving the position after a brief period for a more sought-out position, or being unproductive and using Facebook during work hours.
Note: a well-written cover letter will not get an unqualified candidate a job. However, it will definitely persuade an employer to interview a qualified candidate who has submitted a CL, versus one who has not. It will also help an employer extend an offer letter to a candidate, versus an equally qualified candidate.
Second note: don’t submit the same cover letter that you throw in every job application. It’s extremely obvious and will earn zero points.
6. Make things idiot-proof for the employer.
Try to pre-empt questions that employers are going to eventually ask when scheduling an interview. This includes:
- Contact information. Phone numbers, emails, Skype. Make sure this is all correct. An applicant has actually provided me with an incorrect number before; how can I trust that person to deploy code or make a sales pitch correctly?
- Time. Indicating your current time zone, which makes scheduling interviews easier.
- Specific Interview Times. If contacted for an interview, present times you are available. Take the initiative by recommending a specific time. I’ve asked for specific time slots between a set schedule before, only to get a response “any time is good for me.” Extra work for me to select a time, not a good start.
- Indicating your available start date. if you aren’t available until 6 months from now, but the employer needs someone in one month, then there’s no need to waste either of your times. Be transparent about this.
7. Consistency from application to interview.
Employers do not like surprises. Your profile should indicate the same things across all your profiles, be it: resume, LinkedIn, GitHub, AngelList, anything. If I notice large differences, it’s a red flag. If it’s alarming enough, I may bypass your application altogether.
Do not fluff your resume, as it will be uncovered sooner or later by the employer.
I’ve come across an applicant with education listed as Stanford GSB. I excitedly announced to colleagues
“We have a Stanford MBA student applying for our position!”
When I interviewed the applicant and brought up their graduate school experience, the applicant said, “Actually I didn’t get my MBA from there. I took some classes and got some certificates.”
This was not transparent from the getgo, and I wasn’t happy. The applicant did not receive a follow-up invitation.
Final notes on Part 1.
I’ve skipped a bunch of common job application tips that are all over the web. Let me know if you’d like me to cover more points.