If You Think the Job Hunt Sucks, Try Recruiting…

Confessions of a Startup Hiring Manager

I head up recruiting and PR for FutureAdvisor, a fast-growing investment advisor managing hundreds of millions in assets from our offices in San Francisco. Our revenue and assets under management have both grown by 18 times in the last year, which isn’t bad even by Silicon Valley standards, and our staff has more than doubled. In the last few months, I’ve seen thousands of job applications, and thrown thousands away.

I’m not proud of that. I wish everybody had a job they loved, and I want the people who apply for roles here to succeed. I try to tell them what to expect with our process, and attempt to give them honest feedback if they’re not chosen.

That doesn’t always happen, because I make mistakes, get overwhelmed, and sometimes drop the ball. (Engineers, designers: I’m also the annoying guy who’s sending you unsolicited emails on LinkedIn to steal you from your current employer. So take these general criticisms and tips with a grain of salt.)

The points I’m about to make in no way imply that my own track record, as applicant or recruiter, is spotless. But I hope they’ll help job seekers avoid sabotaging their own resumes, and lead them to find better work faster than they might have otherwise.

The worst and most easily fixable mistakes that I see are typos on resumes and LinkedIn profiles. They immediately cast doubt on an applicant’s competence. If the person is applying for a role that requires coding or communicating a lot, then typos spell trouble down the road, because they make for buggy code on the one hand, and unimpressed clients on the other.

You may think typos are a small thing, but they’re one of the only things that hiring managers know about you, which makes them punch above their weight. If avoiding typos means sending a cover letter the next morning instead of late at night — wait 12 hours and give it another read.

Typos anywhere on a resume are also a huge indicator of failure later in the hiring process, which means there’s no point even doing a preliminary interview. Think of all the calls you never received for lack of a spell check. (While non-native English speakers get something of a pass, they should rely on a friend or professional service to vet their copy.)

The second-worst mistake applies to product folks like programmers and designers. If you want to make a hiring manager’s life easy, make your work immediately accessible, so that we can know quickly whether we’re a fit for you or not. Designers who fail to create a resume with their potential employer in mind will probably fail to create a product with the user in mind. We need links to a portfolio, easily clickable.

Coders should be sending recruiters to their open-source projects on Github or Bitbucket, which we can share with our engineers. Those projects don’t have to be huge: A good engineer can probably write a piece of non-trivial code in a commonly used language in a couple hours. It could just be the solution to a problem from a previous interview, as long as it’s well done and you’re proud of it. One good, solid piece of code will infinitely strengthen an application and get you over the first hurdles.

For recruiters in the trenches, engineering and design are no-bullshit professions that are more show than tell — competence is easily verified, and exaggerated claims easily falsified, because in the course of the interview process, applicants will be asked to perform the work they’re applying to do.

A third mistake is to bury important details about one’s career path or job status. Many applicants don’t clearly state when they graduated from college, whether they went through a coding school, or if they have authorization to work in the United States. Those are details recruiters need to know immediately. Being a recent grad doesn’t kill a resume, it just makes recruiters bucket you for another role, like junior dev or intern. By not telling hiring managers clearly and early who they are, applicants are costing the people they want to impress both time and energy, and annoyed hiring managers are less likely to reach out.

A corollary is when people change career paths and start to relabel themselves, twisting their resumes into new shapes. We’ve all spun our careers to appeal to the market, and I understand why people do it, but there are limits. A visual designer (logos) may call themselves a UX/UI designer (website page flow, buttons and choice structure). But the two are very different, and the portfolio doesn’t lie. It just takes longer to find out what’s what, and it leaves the hiring manager feeling like the applicant doesn’t know what UX/UI really entails.

Another example is the coding-school grad. Thousands of people across America are changing careers and training to be junior developers by going through 12-week intensives that teach them how to build Web applications with Javascript and Ruby on Rails. This is undoubtedly a good thing, because we desperately need more talented engineers. But the resumes of these new entrants are almost universally structured in the same way, with Projects on top and a mention of their academy or bootcamp at the bottom, if it’s mentioned at all. This kind of camouflage doesn’t help anyone. Be proud of your pedigree and wear it on your sleeve.

The job market is so hot in San Francisco that even very inexperienced coders will likely find jobs. That, combined with the grand promises of the coding schools themselves, means some novice programmers confuse themselves with seasoned pros. This misconception doesn’t lead to fruitful conversations with a team in need of a senior coder, because “senior coder” means someone with several years’ experience in a production environment. A little humility before one’s craft doesn’t hurt, no matter how hard those 12 weeks were.

There also seems to be some confusion about what it takes to be a product manager. More than a generic middle-management position, it’s actually a very specific discipline that requires deep experience with analytics, wide knowledge of user behavior, long reflection on tiny details in presentation and structure, and a huge capacity for teamwork, communication and logical reasoning. From the applications I see, product management has suffered the same fate as writing: everyone thinks they can do it, but doing it well is still very hard. Anyone who wants to be a product manager should probably learn how to make the thing — be it software or hardware — they have the ambition to manage. If that means teaching yourself to code, it would be time and money well spent.

A fourth, very fixable mistake is not creating a downloadable CV or resume with your contact information. Some applicants will put their job experience and education up on a website, others will simply point me to LinkedIn or Twitter. Know that hiring managers rely on software to ingest PDFs and Word documents, parse them for key data, and feed that into a CRM to aggregate everyone in a pipeline. Applicants who don’t provide their CV as a file are forcing recruiters to do data entry, which makes it much less likely that they’ll ever make it into the system to begin with.

To recap, if I could wish for one thing, I’d ask job applicants to be radically honest about their skills with themselves, at least, and make it as easy as possible for recruiters to answer important questions about them quickly so that we can reach out or move on. Anything that slows that process down is hurting you, us and everyone else in the queue.

Job seekers who live by the Lean philosophy can read this rant as a piece of customer discovery, with my opinions as just one data point in a much larger market.

Don’t cry for me, San Francisco. But please do realize that we can all work together to improve the hiring process, which is fraught with more heartbreak, disappointment and useless friction than OKCupid. If we can create a less wasteful and more efficient market of information, everybody wins.

P.S. We’re looking for engineers and designers!