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Advice / Job Search / Interviewing

3 Job Search Lessons I Didn't Learn Until I Started Interviewing Candidates

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When I interviewed for my current role, I was a nervous wreck. And I wore a full suit, which, if you know my company (a small startup), made me look completely overdressed and out of place.

Luckily, as you can tell, I got the job (despite wearing all my mother’s clothes). But if you told me then that eventually I would be the one interviewing people to work for The Muse, I’d have scoffed and said, “That’s a good joke. Should I keep this suit then?”

Fast forward two years and suddenly I found myself on the other side of the table as we started the process to hire a new editor. And being in that position confirmed a few big things.

1. Cover Letters Really Do Matter

I’m an editor, which means cover letters are obviously important to me (hello, can you write?).

But that’s not the only reason why they made such a difference in whether or not I wanted to interview someone.

After taking a look at people’s resumes, sure, I knew maybe a couple of companies they’d worked for or had a general sense of how qualified they were. But I still had so many questions. Why were they applying to this role? What does that title really mean they did? How passionate were they really about the skills they listed?

Cover letters matter because the hiring manager wants to hire someone who’s excited enough for this role to put in the extra effort, do their research, and show you why they’re a great fit. Yes, writing one and tailoring it to the job is time consuming, but I also guarantee that if you do it, someone like me won’t brush over it when they see it (saving you more time job searching later on).

Of course, the reality of job searching is that 55% of hiring managers don’t read cover letters. But that means 45% do—and you never know which kind of hiring manager you’re going to get (it could be me!).

2. Common Courtesy Goes a Long Way

Sending a thank you note. Including my name in your cover letter.

These small actions—however small—really do make a difference. I found when candidates didn’t do these things, no matter how much I enjoyed their application or interview, I would question both how much they really wanted the job and how much effort they’d put into other less-than-exciting tasks they might be doing on the job.

But one thing that especially stuck out to me was what people did after being rejected. More often than not, as you might guess, they did nothing.

But the people who did follow up—and did so in a kind, respectful, and mature way—made me think, Huh, I know this person wasn’t a good fit for this role, but maybe I’d consider them for another position down the road.

So, even when all hope is lost, send one last polite email because you never know why you were rejected, and if it’s not “for being a horrible, no-good person,” it could lead to another opportunity when the right role opens up.

3. Sometimes, It’s Actually Us, Not You

When I was job searching and received countless big, fat rejections, I always wondered why. Could I have done something differently? Was there a better way I could have shown I was the right person for the job?

What I realized when I began interviewing people was that what we’re looking for can be kind of vague (I apologize on behalf of every hiring manager ever). We may start the process thinking one specific skill’s required, but then after adjusting team goals decide we’re actually more interested in someone with another expertise. And sometimes, we come across someone who makes us realize we needed something we never thought of.

The reality of this is that we want the right fit, and that’s harder to describe than we’d like it to be (again, sorry).

It sucks to get rejected, especially when you believe it’s the ultimate match. But remember that when you do land a job, it’ll be because someone really, really wanted you.

I won’t deny it—being the one applying for a job is definitely harder, more exhausting, and more stressful than being the one hiring. Hopefully, these three lessons can help you rethink your job search strategy so it works for you.

If nothing else, just remember that one day, you’ll get to be in the interviewer seat, too. And damn won’t that feel good?