Unsolicited Advice for Job Seekers

As a hiring manager, I’ve spent my fair share of time combing through resumes, conducting countless phone screens, and facilitating a ton of interviews. I’d like to share some of my learnings not for hiring managers, mind you, but to all of you job seekers out there. Hopefully sharing my perspective will make your job search more successful and land you just the right position. This advice applies whether you’re applying for an internship or to be CTO.

My first impression of you is your resume. I’m going to spend at most 2 minutes looking at it initially. Probably less. The sooner I can get to relevant information, the better, and the longer I’m likely to look at it. If I have to work to understand your experience and skillset, I’m moving on. Quickly. If you can’t fit your entire work history — details and all — on 2 pages, you’re saying too much. One page is even better. I don’t need to know every little task you performed. Summarize your skills and capabilities in bulleted lists. Help me understand at a glance what you’ve done and can do and want to do. Being able to communicate clearly and succinctly is not only a strategy to get your resume noticed, it’s also an important part of being a good collaborator.

Your opportunity to make an even stronger first impression is to write a personalized cover letter. Want to know the first thing I do when I open your cover letter? I type Command-F and search for “NPR”. I love to read letters from candidates who love NPR and are excited about the job. On the other hand, if you send a generic cover letter that really just says “my skills match the requirements”, you’ve just squandered that first impression.

The cover letter is your first chance to make me feel special. Make me feel like this job isn’t just any other job. In some cases, a well written cover letter can offset shortcomings in your experience. Seriously.

Now that your resume and cover letter have my attention, I’m going to give you a call, so I can learn about you. I’m going to ask you a bunch of questions to help me understand how you like to work and learn and what you know and what you care about. This is your chance to make yourself seem special. I want to hear what excites you. It could be anything, really, as long as there’s something. And, again, this is your chance to make me feel special. This is your chance to reiterate how this isn’t just another job to you.

If you’re applying to a technical role, I’m probably going to ask you some technical questions. When I ask you a question you don’t know the answer to, you should probably say, “I don’t know.” If instead you make up an answer, I not only know you don’t know, but I also know that you’re reluctant to admit it. Not only is there no shame in IDK, I encourage it.

While on our phone call, I’m also going to give you the opportunity to ask me questions. Ask me anything you like. But ask me something. There’s no way you know enough about this job to make an informed decision (unless, of course, this is just another job to you). It gives me yet another chance to understand what matters to you. But, if the only question you can think of is, “how’d I do?” Well, maybe, it’s best not to ask. Chances are, you won’t like the answer. Instead, ask me about the team or the culture or the projects or how we work or what Audie Cornish is like or why I love working here or whether you’ll get to see a Tiny Desk Concert.

I often get the question — what am I looking for in a candidate? This is a good question and my answer is invariably the same regardless of the role. First, I expect some foundation of knowledge that is in line with the specifics of the job. More importantly, though, I’m looking for smart, creative people who have a desire and demonstrated ability to learn and are passionate about something. Everyone that works here does so because there is some (or many) aspect of their job that excites them. It can be a passion for technology or NPR’s mission or building great products or QA automation or working with smart people or building scalable infrastructure or learning new things. Or most likely some combination. Without exception, our work is fueled by passion (and smart, creative, talented people). I want to hear about yours.

Congratulations, you’ve still got my attention, and you’ve moved on to in-person interviews with the rest of the team. The above advice should continue to be your guiding principles. Makes us feel special — like this isn’t just another job. Make yourself stand out by demonstrating your passion and your willingness to learn. Be willing to say, I don’t know. Ask good questions. And definitely show up on time.

Good luck.

Oh, and we’re hiring.