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Advice / Job Search / Interviewing

3 Critical Elements of the Job Search Hiring Managers Will Never Agree On

Here’s a fun fact that might stress you out a bit: Hiring managers all look for different things when searching for candidates. And sometimes the things they’re looking for aren’t just different, but they contradict each other.

This took me by surprise when I started recruiting. I went into it thinking there’s a commonly accepted playbook used everywhere that would guarantee that I’d find the best candidates. Except it’s the complete opposite, and I learned that there are just some things about the job search that hiring managers will never agree on. Here are three of those things, and how you can find a happy medium to make any recruiter think that you’re awesome.

1. How to Format Your Cover Letter

Most recruiters will tell you they don’t actually spend that much time reading cover letters. Most will also disagree on how to write one that will stand out.

For the longest time, I used to advise my friends to use bullet points to highlight three or four accomplishments in the body. But I also know hiring managers who prefer applicants to write ones that are at least four paragraphs long—because they want to evaluate a candidate’s ability to write long form content. Which makes sense if that person’s job is going to involve a lot of writing. (Hint: If you’re applying to a job that involves communicating with people, err on the side of longer.)

The argument could go on forever, but the point is simple: As unpredictable as hiring managers can be once you are in the interview process, their cover letter preferences before you even get that far can be even trickier to decode. So, focus less on how you format a cover letter and focus more on telling your story well—no matter what it looks like.

2. How Long to Wait to Send a Thank You Note

I once received a thank you note within minutes of wrapping up a phone interview, which most hiring managers would agree is a good sign that the candidate simply had a generic template email teed up for me. So while it’s nice that I got one, it didn’t have the same impact it would’ve had it been personalized.

Some recruiters do appreciate it when you send a quick email within an hour or two of your interview. Personally, I wasn’t too thrilled when a thank you note didn’t appear in my inbox within 24 hours of meeting with a contender. And honestly, other hiring managers read their thank you notes so infrequently that they don’t even remember when they actually received them—and because of that, they don’t even care when you send them.

Although interviewers will all have unique preferences for when they’d like you to send it, I tend to default to the 24-hour rule. This isn’t just for the sake of the hiring manager—it’s also for your own sake so you don’t forget. Do yourself a favor and make sure you write it sooner rather than later.

3. What Kind of Photo You Should Use on LinkedIn

This one caught me by surprise when I started recruiting for one simple reason: I honestly didn’t think it mattered that much. Of course, I learned that it’s a pretty important thing to consider when you’re searching for a job. But I also learned that a lot of recruiters I know have really strong preferences about profile photos.

Some recruiters prefer that job seekers use a perfectly manicured pictures. That means corporate office attire. On the flipside, I was often not as keen on people who looked too professional on LinkedIn. A lot of that had to do with how much each hiring manager values culture fit.

The solution for you involves taking stock of what kind of work environment you want to land in. If you’re really into working with folks whose suits outnumber their socks, make sure you look buttoned-up on LinkedIn. But if you’re keen on working in a more laid-back environment, go for less of a headshot and more of a casual pic. (And obviously you’re smart enough to know casual does not mean disheveled and drunk.)

Hiring managers will argue until they’re blue in the face about how to evaluate candidates. But, here’s the good news: As the job seeker, that’s not your problem. Recruiters will always be headstrong, so it’s important to focus less on how to impress every one of them with every piece of your application, and focus more on telling your story. If you do a good enough job showing how awesome you are, the person reviewing your materials will have no choice but to let go of his or her preferences and do whatever it takes to hire you.

Photo of red and green street sign courtesy of Shutterstock.