What I Learned in 10 Minutes of Being a Hiring Manager

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are entirely my own. Any general examples referred to are entirely hypothetical or based on typical resume and job application tropes.

I recently had the privilege of being on the receiving end of job applications. I seemed to have taken a lot of application knowledge for granted, as this was an incredibly enlightening experience. I thought I’d share what I gleaned, though this is no way earth-shattering and likely to be found in numerous places online. What I’d like to emphasize is that I realized all this within 10 minutes, so imagine what seasoned hiring managers must feel. If you want your application to stand out, put yourselves in the shoes of the person on the other end. Hopefully this article helps you do that.

Mindset

Let me help you get in the head of a hiring manager. They’re an employee. They need to get their other work done, they need to narrow down the applicant pool to a select few as quickly as possible, and they need to make sure they pick the best applicants. Time is of the essence, and anyone who rises above the rest will be contacted quickly. Everyone else? They won’t be so lucky.

The hiring manager will be looking at application after application, resume after resume, cover letter after cover letter. You have a B.S. in Computer Science? Good, so do the other 50 applicants. You claim to have experience in the relevant skill set? That’s great, but how can they verify that claim? You’re a “hard worker”? I think you get the point.

You might be the hardest worker, the smartest mind, the best leader of the whole applicant pool, but that isn’t worth a damn thing if you can’t communicate.

What is the hiring manager looking for? An application that sticks out. Someone that they are excited to talk to, someone who is excited about this opportunity. You, the applicant, need to stick out. A cookie-cutter resume and a same-as-everyone-else cover letter is not going to be effective. You need to present yourself as well as you can, as quickly as you can, and as concisely as you can.

Does your resume look like this? I sure hope not!

The Resume

Dos: HAVE ONE. Please. 1–2 pages, in PDF format, no spelling or grammar mistakes. If you struggle with creativity, then at the very least look up a standard resume format to visually break up different sections. If you can, you will benefit greatly from having a unique resume format. As an example, I’ve seen an instance where a baker sent in a cake to a bakery, with the resume written in frosting. Do something to set yourself apart.

Don’ts: Do not submit a text wall. No one wants to read that, least of all someone who just looked at 27 other resumes. Do not simply fill out information on a website, as a number of the job board websites put it into a rather unsightly sham of a resume. A poorly formatted, overly textual, non-PDF resume is a quick and easy way to piss off a hiring manager.

Your resume is your highlight reel, not a play-by-play.

Keep it to the point. Instead of 10 bullet points outlining the timeline of your project, write 3 short statements explaining what you yourself contributed. Talk about the details obsessively when you land the interview, not when you’re writing the resume.

The Cover Letter

Dos: If there is an option to attach or submit one, take advantage of it. Again, keep it short and to the point (3 paragraphs at most). If you have a website or other material to link to, this is a fantastic place to highlight it (more on that later). A good cover letter can be the extra push for your application.

Don’ts: If there is an option to attach or submit one and you don’t do it, your lack of effort will be noticed. Trust me. Rehashing your resume and making spelling or grammar mistakes here will also hurt your chances further. A cover letter that isn’t specific to the job is also incredibly noticeable and does not reflect well on you.

The Extra Mile

Be the animator who made a short film and shared it. Be the video game programmer who submits a video game resume. If you can in any way demonstrate or prove your abilities, you will set yourself apart immediately. Are you a web developer? Send a website you’ve built, who cares about the resume! Are you a hardware engineer? Concisely explain how you used 555 timers and IRF510 FETs to create a power supply, with PCBs ready to bring in for the interview. This extra content is by and large the easiest and most effective way to stand out and be noticed. The best applicant is someone who can already do the job. You know you can do it, but the hiring manager sure doesn’t.

Show them.