As a career counselor, I frequently tell job seekers that they should try to put themselves in the shoes of a hiring manager. Rather than approaching your job search and communicating to prospective employers that you’re trying to figure out what’s best for you, it is so much more effective to present your skills in a way that shows what’s in it for the companies.
Of course, this is tricky business because, well, who knows what hiring managers are thinking? To shed some light on the topic, here’s a walk-through of the process many hiring managers go through before extending a job offer—and, more importantly, how to stand out in each step.
Step 1: Review Resumes and Cover Letters
Say you’re a hiring manager who doesn’t have the luxury of working with a recruiting team. That means going through a pile of hundreds of resumes and cover letters and scanning for specific experience or particular skills. (Even hiring managers who do get to work with recruiters and applicant tracking systems inevitably have to review lots of job application materials.)
Let’s talk about the cover letter first, because cover letters are actually very simple. Instead of restating your resume in sentence form, have your cover letter add value by highlighting two to three relevant skills that the hiring manager is looking for and giving an example of a time you used that skill (try this template). Better yet, figure out exactly how you can make the hiring manager’s life easier and write about that. It’s called a pain letter—and here’s how you do it.
As for the resume, give the hiring manager a break by making your resume easy to skim (here are a few tips for doing just that) and formatting your resume in a way that takes into account what the hiring manager’s priorities are. (Note: This might not be the way that makes the most sense to you.) All in all, in the resume and in the cover letter, try to connect the dots for the hiring manager as much as possible. You might see how you’re the perfect candidate, but unless you really spell it out, it might not be as apparent to others.
Step 2: Conduct Phone Screens
After weeding out many of the resumes for being unqualified, hard to read, or boring, the next step is conducting phone screens. Many times, the phone screen is used to assess technical prowess in order to essentially find out whether or not a candidate is able or skilled enough to do the job.
So, obviously you’re going to have to confirm that you are indeed capable of doing the job. But if you want to really rock the intro call, work on demonstrating that you’re exceptionally excited about the position and that you’re a strong cultural fit for the company. Remember: The hiring manager will be doing a lot of these, and talking to someone who actually sounds fun to work with will likely make this person’s day.
Lastly, just because you’re conducting the interview from your own familiar room, don’t get too comfortable. The number one mistake people make on phone interviews is sounding bored.
Step 3: Interview Finalists
If you make it to the final on-site interview, things are looking pretty good for you. Hiring managers generally don’t make the effort to bring people into the office unless they’re pretty interested in their candidacy because it requires so much effort to set up a full day (or even a couple hours) of interviews. This final hurdle is usually to further confirm your skills and abilities and then spend some time evaluating cultural fit.
In this stage, it’s important to remember that hiring managers are not trained professional interviewers—it’s just not what their main job is. That means the burden falls on you as the interviewee to get your message across—even if you’re given bad questions. Here’s my formula: Make a statement that answers the question (“I’ve very comfortable handling conflict”), and then support your claim with a story from your experience. Stories are a great way to simultaneously show off your previous experience and build rapport with the interviewer.
Other than that, there are some things interviewers almost always like to hear and others that they really prefer you don’t mention. The rest is pretty common sense. Show up a little early (not super early) and be professional and gracious during the meeting.
Step 4: Evaluate Candidates
The last step for the hiring manager is to make a final decision. Sometimes the choice is easy—one person clearly shines over the others. Other times, when the competition is really close, it comes down to which candidate the hiring manager likes the most. (Yes, really.)
This means, aside from being ready and able to do the job, you also want to be as likable as possible, finding ways to really connect with the interviewer throughout this process. If you get this right and you don’t slack off on the thank you note you send, then you’ve done everything in your power to stand out in front of the hiring manager.
As a final note, be patient as you wait for a response. The hiring process can take a very long time, especially for positions that require the consensus of an entire search committee. Hopefully, you’ll be hearing good news soon, but if not, use this as a learning experience for your next interview and reflect on ways you could have improved—while understanding that many things in this process are beyond your control. Good luck!