Notes from the Hiring Table, Part 3: Crafting the Ultimate Resume Weapon

It should come as little surprise that the resume is a critical part of the hiring process. Arguably it's the most critical piece, because without a good resume, you can't even make it to any other step in the game. And, after hearing from Jack Williams with Staffing Technologies that you shouldn't even bother writing a cover letter, it looks like your resume is your sole tool to get you to the next phase.

But writing a good resume is about a lot more than grammatical perfection, layout aesthetics, and an accurate work history. A resume is one of the most difficult marketing pieces most people will ever have to write. And that resume needs to be able to clear every hurdle in the process: the computer screen, the recruiter, the HR rep, and the hiring manager. This article will explore what each one of these foes is looking for.

The Computer Search

When sizing up this opponent, it's easy to get a satirical image of a C3PO-type bot scanning over your resume with quantitative checks in mind. And realistically, that might not be that far off. While not every employer will use a search to shrink the candidate pool, many will. And while a technically savvy recruiter or hiring manager could easily glean your credentials from your resume, you have to make it easy for the computer. Common search queries will be for relevant technologies, software, and certifications.

"As a job hunter, I can put key phrases on my resume, and then someone who does a database search and pulls them out, if they're looking for someone who's certified that's one easy thing they can pull out," said Matt Rodriguez, owner of Dunn-Wright Systems, LLC.

The moral: be sure that if the job description asks for proficiency in a given software program or requires a certain certification, that you make sure those pieces are on your resume. Even if you don't think they're that valuable or you don't keep them on your resume as a standard, don't let your name get removed from the pool for a stupid reason.

The Recruiter

In many ways, a good recruiter is the voice of reason in the hiring process. They're experienced in the art of hiring, and don't focus on mostly irrelevant things like good personality fit with the team or whether you like to fish. Therefore, figuring out how to succeed with a recruiter is far less of a science—demonstrate clear experience in the fields required and a strong interest in the position and company. Many recruiters are paid based on the length of time that their chosen candidates stay in the position, so you want to make it clear that you're very interested in the position and passionate about the job.

I go into much more depth about how to please recruiters in this article. But one last note: remember that recruiters are only as good as the company they're working for. So while being an overall smart, driven individual should be enough to get you to the next phase, recruiters need to cross their T's and dot there I's. In other words, also make sure you clearly demonstrate that you have the competencies requested on the job description.

The HR Rep

Human resource professionals can take on a number of roles in the hiring process—they might be in charge of the original resume screen, they might conduct screening phone interviews, or they may be used for salary negotiations. Potentially all of the above.

The main thing to remember with HR reps is that they're not technical experts. Therefore, they're going to judge you by their own set of pseudo-scientific criteria based on best hiring practices. Do you make eye contact, smile, and hold a conversation well? (This only applies to in-person interviews, of course.) Do you demonstrate confidence when discussing the details of the position, and are you able to communicate fairly complex and technical concepts in terms that they can easily understand? If so, you shouldn't have a problem clearing this step. (And, to reiterate: don't wait for the HR rep to ask you questions related to the job description. Make sure to demonstrate that you meet all the requirements of the job description as you go along.)

Lastly, make sure you have some answers to those questions such as "Give me an example of a time when you had to switch gears halfway through a project," or "Tell me about a time when members of your team disagreed on something, and what you did." I don't personally believe that these questions do much of anything to measure competency, but HR reps love them because they require very little planning or understanding on the part of the interviewer.

After the jump, we'll cover the fourth and final opponent, the hiring manager.

The Hiring Manager

The hiring manager is the biggest wildcard in the entire process, because his or her strategy varies so drastically from individual to individual. Therefore, you'll have to size up this character during the interview stage, unless you have some secret insight from another employee in the company, for instance.

Typically, this is one of the last steps in the hiring process. Therefore, it's likely that pretty much all of the candidates at this point are technically competent. At the end of the day, the hiring manager will probably hire the person that they like the best. It's often said in marketing that people "make decisions based on emotion and back them up with reason." In other words, if the hiring manager really likes you and has no strong reason to disqualify you, they'll justify to themselves why you're the best candidate based on it.

So, a lot of this is out of your control. You might have little in common with this person and might not share his or her interests. Faking who you are isn't going to get you anywhere. So here's what you can do: be yourself, be friendly, be cordial. Don't say anything too controversial unless you get the green light from the hiring manager's body language. And ultimately, follow his or her lead: if he or she wants to chit chat, don't be quick to cut to the chase. But if he or she is all business, don't waste his or her time with idle chatter.

Don’t Obsess, But Be Prepared

The hiring process is such a game that it can be frustrating to the point that you want to give up. The best candidate doesn't always get the job, but there are things you can do to increase your odds of being that candidate. If you keep these pointers in mind, and focus on applying only for those jobs where you are a great fit, I have little doubt that you'll find a position that you both work well in and also enjoy doing.

As much as we don't want to admit it, I think most of us know what our strengths and weaknesses are. So play to your strengths, sharpen your weaknesses, and give it your all. Take interest in the company and the job, because this is your career we're talking about. Your energy and body language oftentimes say more than your words, so take a genuine interest and you won't have to fake it.

Note: While I've been using a "war" theme for this article (just for fun), I don't really see job hunting as a battle—I just know it can feel that way when you're stuck in the process. Of course, I recommend being yourself, and would never condone being dishonest with potential employers. All's fair in love and war, but not in job hunting.

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