Making Every Contact With a Hiring Manager Count

February 13th, 2013 § 0 comments § permalink

As a follow-up to our last comments about Thank You notes, today’s question comes from a jobseeker looking to both express gratitude to an interviewer and schedule a follow-up appointment. John completed two rounds of interviews for an Analyst position at a fund and was asked by hiring manager to schedule a return visit. Here’s his draft of the email:

Mr. Hiring Manager,

Thank you very much for the invitation to come in for a third round interview regarding the Analyst opportunity at ABC Investments. I appreciate the opportunity and I will gladly make myself at your convenience. I look forward to speaking with all of you again and hope I can cement why I would be a great addition to your already successful global securities platform. Again, I remain extremely excited about the possibility of contributing to your team and the ABC global platform in the near future.

Thanks,
John Analyst

This response isn’t awful but it does sound canned, formulaic and generic. There are a lot of words but little content. It contains much lauding but nothing about who John is or why he’s interested. When writing an email, a cover letter, a thank you note or any communication with a hiring manager, you’ve asked for a short window of their time. Ensure you’ve wisely chosen your phrasing so that at the end of those 15 seconds, the recipient has a more positive outlook on the applicant then before they opened the email. » Read the rest of this entry «

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The Unfortunate Art of the “Thank You” Note

January 17th, 2013 § 0 comments § permalink

In many situations today, a “thank you note” may be extraneous given the circumstances of a particular interview process. If you’re meeting the same individual for a second or third time, a firm handshake and “it was nice to see you again” will certainly suffice. Hiring managers, recruiters and HR reps are all deluged with hundreds of emails a day. Choosing to send that email should be an all-in commitment to quality. Too many job seekers asking for another few moments of their interviewer’s time via email only to squander an opportunity to make another good impression. The unintended consequence could very well be a change to the last positive opinion an interviewer had formed about the candidate. A weak and poorly written thank you can (and has in too many situations) cost an otherwise strong candidate a job offer.

Let’s examine a thank you note that a candidate recently provided to Holla for their review and edit, before sending it to a hiring manager:

Mr. Hiring Manager,

It was great meeting you yesterday.  Thank you so much for taking time to speak with me about the Investor Relations position.  I really appreciate the clarity you provided around the expectations of the role and the ideal candidate.  I am extremely excited about the role and I would love the opportunity to be a member of your team. I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Thanks,

Jill Candidate

Jill actually had done quite well on her interview. The hiring manager and his team found her knowledgeable and engaging and was impressed with the research she had done on his firm prior to the meeting. The above note shows none of the research or effort Jill put into her interview; it quite literally could have been in response to any job. When the firm’s last impression of Jill was as a bright young woman with the ability to match her experience with the opportunity, a note like this will call to question all of those qualities with under a hundred words.

A thank you note must be concise but also targeted. It should bring to the interviewer’s mind positive qualities uncovered during the interview, be they similar sector coverages or experience with oddly structured leveraged buyouts. It should contain substance but lack fluff. The candidate should seek to remind the interviewer of why they had initially agreed to see the applicant and what they had hoped to see in  him or her.

Jill sought to be engaged and responsive. Instead, she appeared generic, careless and thoughtless in her final touch with the decision maker.

Here is Holla’s rewrite:

Mr. Hiring Manager,

I wanted to thank you for meeting with me yesterday regarding the Investor Relations Position. ABC Firm is involved in exciting work within the LBO space and I am confident my analysis and deal support at XYZ Capital qualifies me technically for the role. The opportunity to focus on Oil and Gas is rare and I look forward to leveraging my prior M&A exposure in these sectors. I remain extremely interested in this opportunity am available via the contact details below to discuss the next steps in this process.

Thanks,

Jill Candidate

With 22 additional words (89 total, for those counting), Jill’s thank you note from a resume-writing manual became a targeted and exciting closing statement – a summary of skills and experience plus their relation to the job, an expression of interest in the role and a defense of her unique qualities and experiences.

Holla’s re-write also varies sentence structure. Jill’s original note begins most sentences with “I” and (sorry for being harsh here, Jill) reads like it was written by someone of far less intelligence than she really possesses.

It’s far better to send no “thank you” at all than to present yourself as someone who views it as a boring formality worthy of a canned response and no more. If a “thank you” is necessary, prepare for and execute it as you would an interview – a compelling sales pitch from a researched and accomplished professional well qualified for the role.

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Making the Most of The Relationship with Your Recruiter

October 20th, 2011 § 1 comment § permalink

Agency recruiters can be a valuable resource to any job seeker. In a competitive market flooded with resumes from online submissions, aligning with a third party that has the ear of a hiring manager or key HR contact can be crucial in landing you the best opportunity. An agency recruiter has spent their career developing and maintaining these connections and much of their value comes simply from who they know. Beyond making the introduction, you should count on an experienced recruiter to provide you with background on the role, the company and the individuals hiring for it to improve your chances of a successful interview with a positive outcome. Unfortunately, a more recent proliferation of dishonest and ineffective recruiters has hurt the industry as a whole at a time when it is most valuable – a difficult economy where human capital is a highly prized commodity.

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Avoiding a “No” Answer When Asked About a Technical Skill You Lack

February 25th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

I have an interview coming up for a software development position that I’m really excited about. However, there is a preferred qualification I simply have no experience with (optimization mathematics). How can I best handle this if asked about it? I’ve been trying to read up on it in my spare time but I’m not sure I’m actually qualified to answer any questions about it.

A poor answer to a technical question is a failure that can only be blamed on the interviewer himself. The author of today’s question won’t set himself up for failure – simply reading the description and drafting answers for questions about all areas listed within is the most basic preparation one can do.

There’s a very simple answer to this question:

Know what you know; know what you don’t know.

When technical skills are limited, and book study is the only experience you have, avoiding an incorrect factual answer can sometimes fear a candidate into a simple “no” answer instead of taking the deficiency head-on. Understand that you lack the skill and focus your preparation not on memorization, but on relating past experience to the desired function.

When reading up on a very particular field like optimization mathematics, first look at what other technical areas formed the base of the specialty. An example in the programming field might be C++ as the precursor to the more modern C# language. Have you had experience with the broader skill set in the past? If no, try to expand further into a “grandfather” level of progression, i.e. C, C++, C#. Is there relatable experience there? Similarities to system designs you’ve operated or hardware by the same manufacturer?

Rather than simply saying “no,” make an attempt to draw these very reasonable parallels. Few, if any candidates, possess 100% of the required and preferred skills of a job description. When an answer ties honesty, research and thoughtful associations together, your interviewer will remember only your response and not the fact that you lacked the skill in their original question.

Aim to relate two or three projects that all required you to use programming languages or network protocols that are in the same family or general technology as the skill you lack. For example:

Mr. Interviewer, the opportunity to work with optimization mathematics is one of the reasons I was attracted to this job, but it’s not an area I’ve had a lot of exposure to in my current role. I’ve had several other recent projects that used other quantitative skills that I think will greatly shorten the learning curve I’ll require to bring myself to speed.

Notice how in the above example, we don’t lead with a negative, as in, “I don’t have any experience with that skill, but…” A quick tie in to your positive motivations in seeking a new opportunity (as discussed in this article) is an additional way to subtly reinforce your candidacy.

“No” should rarely be a word in a job seeker’s vocabulary. A “no” indicates a lack of understanding about the job or failure of preparation on the part of the candidate. If one answers “no” to something that was on the materials they received to prepare, only they could have prevented the collapse.

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Why Simply Applying Online Isn’t Getting You Anywhere

February 18th, 2011 § 1 comment § permalink

I have been doing a lot of job searching online, but feel like emailing my resume is ineffective. I’ve been considering physically going to the company and handing in my resume in person. What are your thoughts on this?

You’ve certainly got the right sentiment regarding your job search but I doubt that most building security desks would let you into their tenant’s offices without an appointment. What your question really looks at is how we can be more proactive (a recurring theme of Holla) when seeking opportunities during our search.

Applying for jobs online has simplified the process for candidates in almost a detrimental manner. When the baseline effort required to submit a resume is easy as signing up for an account at TheLadders.com or Monster, one can apply for a hundred jobs in 15 minutes plus a few seconds per posting. The inevitable result is a recruiter on the other end of a job board pipeline that flows endlessly with unqualified candidates. The small percentage of legitimate candidates for the position can be easily passed over as the pipeline continues to flood. Just the time required to review so many resumes occupies time that could be better served speaking to more in first round phone screens than is actually possible. With so many individuals all vying for small slices of a recruiter’s time, being proactive, creative and aggressive with how you contact a potential employer can provide a significant competitive advantage.

Submitting via a job board is not really emailing a resume.

The question from today’s job seeker indicates that “emailing” his resume has produced little in the way of positive results. It is safe to assume that by “emailing,” he really means “submitting via a job board.” There is a very real difference between the two. Resumes submitted through a job board all arrive in the same format: consistent subject lines with the title and candidate’s name, a table of information in the body and a resume attached. Glossing over these similar emails in one’s inbox is just one reason why job boards are ineffective. The difference between really emailing a resume and just submitting via a posting will put your details into an inbox where they’ll stand out – not some Outlook sub-folder that’s combed through once every few days. A little extra effort to ensure your resume gets to the eyes of a hiring manager can significantly increase response rate during a job search.

Begin by scouring the description you have available for clues as to who the hiring manager might be. Often these posted specs include a phrase like, “Working for the Vice President, Financial Reporting, you will be responsible for…”  that will tell you exactly the name of the individual you should source to present your resume to. Researching the individual’s actual name is easily the most difficult part of your research. Using tools like LinkedIn and Spoke to uncover names and titles can be very effective but isn’t perfect or complete. You’ll locate some people but not others so set your expectations appropriately.

With the hiring manager’s name at hand, determine their email address. Visit the firm’s website and write down their URL domain. It’s likely that email addresses are “something@comanydomain.com” and the only other detective work required is determining the formatting of the “something” before the @ symbol. Using the wildcard symbol when searching Google can help you uncover this information. Search for “*@companydomain.com“. The results should boldface email addresses for various company employees that appear on the web. Skip through “info@domain.com” and “sales@domain.com” as these won’t help you reach individuals. It’s finding several addresses listed publicly that follow a “firstname_lastname” or “f.lastname” format that will allow you to contact directly the hiring manager you seek.

When you can’t locate the title of the manager, use an educated guess to drive your research or if all else fails, the same resources should allow you to locate with greater ease the proper HR contact for the position. While an email to a hiring manager would be more likely to increase your chances for success, taking the time to send directly to HR will also make your application more visible amongst the crowd.

Don’t squander the opportunity you’ve just created for yourself.

Assume that the result of this hard work and creative effort is that someone in a position of power takes time from their day to carefully read your cover letter and resume. Since you’ve taken the time to present yourself directly, make absolutely sure that the presentation you’re putting forth is the best one possible. Your cover letter should be carefully crafted, specific to the job you’re applying for, and contained both in the body of the email and as a separate Word or PDF attachment. Your resume should be properly formatted and have a legible filename that includes your full name and the position you’re applying for.

Since the candidates sourced from job boards are, on the whole, very sub-par, the expectation a hiring manager has for an individual who seeks them out directly is significantly higher. Make sure that you beat that expectation with a well-targeted application for the firm’s opening.

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How to Get Past the Phone Screen, Every Time

February 16th, 2011 § 1 comment § permalink

I’ve been getting a decent response rate to my applications, but I seem to be getting weeded out during the phone interviews. Could you provide some information about how to get past these gateway phone interviews and what the interviewers are really looking for?

With hundreds of applicants for each opening, the initial phone interview has become a crucial tool for professional recruiters. Expect a phone screen to be much shorter than an in-person meeting – 20 to 30 minutes at most – and to touch superficially on a large number of topics as rather than delving deeply into a few. Usually conducted by an HR or recruiting professional, it’s nearly guaranteed you’ll be asked these three key questions that are the pillars of every interview.

Tell me about your experience.

This topic has been covered elsewhere but it always bears repeating. Know backwards and forwards each job, accomplishment and bullet point you list on your resume. When asked something such as, “do you have experience with the Great Plains accounting software?” the correct answer is not simply “yes.” Articulate about everything you’re asked by the interviewer. A great deal of what eventually will determine your success or failure in the phone screen is attributable to your general manner of speaking, something that goes beyond avoiding “like” or “um” when considering a question. Truly “knowing one’s experience” comes from the detail and context provided in your answers in addition to simply being well spoken. » Read the rest of this entry «

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Preparation That Will Get You Past the First Interview

February 13th, 2011 § 1 comment § permalink

The interview process most large companies employ today begins with a first round “character” meeting conducted by a Human Resources representative, followed by in-depth interviews with multiple hiring managers in stages two and beyond. Most corporate HR departments are understaffed and lack an understanding of the technical positions they recruit for – two reasons why the recruitment agencies they partner with are such a key resource for them. Today’s question focuses on getting past the first round with HR:

I’m a C# developer who has a first interview coming up with a traditional manufacturing company. They don’t do a lot of hiring in this area and my first round is with an HR generalist. Any tips for making sure I don’t botch this?

Understanding of some basic core interviewing skills can move you past this first round. It is also helpful to understand that the HR representative, who will be your first impression of the firm, might not be the best individual that the company has to maximize that impression.

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Tough Interview Questions: Misjudging a Colleague

February 8th, 2011 § 1 comment § permalink

Today’s question comes from an active job seeker who was recently asked a difficult but very clever question while on the hunt:

I was recently asked in an interview to desribe an instance where I had misjudged a colleague. Can you provide any advice on how to answer this question without falling into an “interview trap?”
I think this is a great interview question and kudos to the interviewer who posed it. Some might feel that this is a question that will fail to elicit any useful information but the exact opposite is true in my opinion – a question like this provides insight into how an individual sees flaws in their own charatcer and how they look to rectify that. Questions that provide clarification and validation of technical skills will always be present in any kind of interview but these should only serve to confirm presence of the skills for which the candidate was interviewed in the first place. A question like this can show you whether a person has an ego or possesses enough self-awareness to realize their own faults and bias.
Questions like this are designed to trap the interviewee into saying something that will give a hiring manager reason not to bring this person on board. The trap with this particular question lies in the chance that you’ll reveal stereotyping or bias when dealing with peers, managers and subordinates. You want to be careful not to categorize employees or make general assumptions. Specifics are obviously needed in a situation like this but those specifics should be limited to your interpretation of an individuals work or the skills they may lack in presenting that information in a cohesive manner.
My answer to this question would sound something like this:
While in group meetings/discussions/whiteboard sessions with John Smith I had felt that his contributions were lacking in substance or originality. When I took the time to read the written report he had provided along with his business plan, I was impressed and surprised to discover significantly more detailed thoughts on implementation and execution. I now plan to engage and challenge him more in these discussions to draw out those ideas in front of a group.

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