At Software Advice, we’re hiring like mad, or at least trying to. You might think a growing company with interesting jobs, great pay, top-notch benefits and a cool office would find hiring to be a breeze in a recession like this. Nope.
We want A players on our team – we have 19 so far. However, we typically sort through about 150 candidates for each hire we make. Only about twelve of those 150 candidates get to a first-round phone interview.
Why so few?
It’s not worth our time to interview any more than that. The incremental effort of interviewing more than twelve out of 150 candidates produces a very low marginal yield of qualified hires. There may be a superstar hidden in the other 138, but it’s not worth our time to dig too deep to find her. Yes, we look at each application, but we do so with an eye for why we should reject the candidate, not why we should hire them. That quickly gets us to roughly a dozen interviewees, and then we switch our mindset to start thinking about who we want to hire.
With that as context, I want to share some of the screens I use to whittle down 150 applications to twelve interviews. I’m not talking about the usual hiring criteria; yes, we absolutely look at experience, achievements, academic credentials, etc. That’s all core and critical. Instead, I’m going to talk about the head-smacking, silly things people do that make me click “reject” in our applicant tracking system (ATS).
One more bit of context: our typical hiring profile is a recent college grad, zero to five years out, looking for a sales or marketing job. Keep that in mind. Here goes:
1. Don’t name your resume, “resume.” About a third of applicants name their resume document, “resume.doc.” “Resume” may make sense on your computer, where you know it’s your resume. However, on my computer, it’s one of many, many resumes with the same name. I used to rename them, but then I noticed the strong correlation between unqualified candidates and the “resume” file name. Now I reject them if I don’t see something really good within ten seconds. By using such a generic file name, the applicant misses a great opportunity to brand themselves (e.g. “John Doe – Quota Crusher”). If you’re qualified enough to sell or market for us, you won’t miss the opportunity to at least use your name in the file name.
2. don’t use all lowercase. i’m not sure where this trend originated. is it some text messaging thing? it’s so easy to capitalize properly on a keyboard. how much time is this really saving you? to me, it screams out, “hi. i’m lazy. my pinkies are really heavy and I’d rather not move them to shift. when i start working for you, i’ll look for other ways to be lazy. i’ll also rebel against authority figures like you, just like i’m rebelling against the english teachers who dedicated their lives to helping me become literate.” seriously though, this bad habit buys you next to nothing and is bound to offend countless detailed-oriented hiring managers.
3. Don’t write like a robot. I’ve noticed a funny phenomenon with many grads who are entering “the real world.” While their speech is still littered with “ums,” “likes” and “you knows,” their writing is exceedingly formal, long-winded and boring. The people who are reviewing your application were young once too. They may still be young. Most of them have a sense of humor. They get bored. Please, don’t make them parse dense cover letters and resumes that read like some robot ate a thesaurus and puked. Just use concise, well-written prose. Keep sentences short. Toss in a joke or two. Show us a little bit of your personality. We’re going to have to work with you more than we see our spouses, so show us that we’ll enjoy it. No robots.
4. Don’t spam hiring managers. It’s easy to tell when a candidate is just applying to any job out there to see if anyone will call for an interview. Unlikely. Hiring managers want to know that you are excited about the position. They know that passion for the role is critical to success. Take the time to understand the company and the open position. Write a cover letter or email that explains your interest in the role and your qualifications. Tweak your resume to match the hiring criteria. On our web application, we ask applicants to answer three questions. Why? Because spammer applicants will just enter simple answers of a few words; applicants who care enter well-written, thoughtful answers. We delete the former immediately. Remember, these jobs are competitive; the only way to compete is to stand out…in a good way. Spam won’t.
5. Don’t expose your licentious personal life. We’ve all read about social media missteps – those unfortunate photos of you passed out drunk, covered in flour (“antiqued” as my co-workers call it), profane words written on your face. Honestly, I understand. If Facebook and camera phones were around when I was in college, I’d still be blushing in embarrassment. Now that you want a career, put that stuff behind you. Start managing your reputation online and off. One of our three application questions asks for the applicant’s proudest achievements. Today some guy answered that he had produced and starred in his own music video. Kinda cool, I thought. That is, until I clicked the link and witnessed the puerile lifestyle of which he remains so proud. Reject. As a rule, I’m not going to pry too deep into your personal life, so don’t jinx yourself by showing us you at your worst.
6. Don’t talk badly about your former employer. If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. This is especially relevant in the hiring process. When I read negative comments in an application or cover letter, I’m shocked. My problem with this is twofold. First, it typically takes two to tangle. I assume there is a high likelihood that this applicant finds trouble wherever they go. Moreover, talking badly betrays a lack of “political judgement” – a critical skill set for the workplace, whether you like it or not. When I hear a candidate say that their last employer was incompetent, a micro-manager, or unfair, I assume I’m next on their list. The candidate may be right; their former employer may be horrible. I’ll pass on the opportunity to find out.
7. Proofread your resume. It’s unbelievable the number of spelling, grammar and punctuation mistakes I see in resumes. Again, this is a blaring clue telling the hiring manager that you don’t check your work and you don’t pay attention to detail. More than one error and I’m clicking reject. Why so harsh? Because I don’t want to have to double check your work when I hire you. Hiring managers want leverage, not more work. It’s really easy to have someone review your resume. Friends, family, career counselors – all these folks should be willing to give it a quick read. Fresh eyes can catch those typos you’ve glanced over ten times. Take the extra effort and avoid the nearly automatic “reject” reflex that hiring managers have when they spot your errors.
8. Format your resume nicely. Take the time to format your resume nicely. It’s one of those small clues hiring managers look to for an indication of your attention to detail, organization and pride in your work. If you send me a sloppy resume, I’ll reject it knowing that you are likely to do sloppy work if I hire you. There are standard formats out there; use them. Don’t reinvent the wheel. Don’t get creative (unless you are applying for creative jobs in design, advertising, etc.). For sales, marketing, finance, administration, etc., stick to a clean, one-page format like the Wharton School Template. Don’t make us figure out your resume format when we’re busy trying to figure out you.
9. PDF your resume. Not everyone uses the same operating system and word processor that you do. I use a Mac. I don’t have Word – don’t want it. My ATS can’t handle .docx files. A lot of the resumes I see come through horribly garbled. So much for that nice formatting you did (Did you?). PDF, or portable document format, is a simple solution. Anyone with Adobe Reader – most any corporate computer has it installed – can open a PDF file and see exactly what you intended them to see. Most ATSs read PDFs just fine. Most any Mac application can print/export to PDF. If your Windows apps won’t, go download one of the many free PDF creator applications and PDF your resume. It’s so easy. It’s so free. It’s so appreciated.
10. When you get a job, don’t job hop. Finally, here’s one last piece of advice that goes far beyond the job application. When you get a job, try your very best to stay at it for at least two years, preferably more. We understand that the job market is fluid and you are not likely to stay with us long enough to get the gold watch. However, we do want to get a couple years of productivity from you if we’re going to invest in training and mentoring. One of the first things I look for on a resume is some demonstration of tenure. Had three jobs in your first year out of college? Reject. Four jobs in your first five years out? Reject. I’ve got to assume that you were fired repeatedly or you’ve got a bad case of career ADD. Got a good story about all that job hopping? Unfortunately, I can’t afford to take the risk.
I know I sound like a grumpy old man. I just can’t help but share this inside scoop on our screening process. I know it might reduce my screening effectiveness if I share my criteria. However, if you read this and fix your application, that tells me you are coachable and you care. Let’s interview.
If you are an A player, I hope you’ll get a good laugh out of this. Moreover, I want you to know that there is a company out there working hard to find you. We’ll hire you. We’ll appreciate you. We’ll reward you handsomely. Please apply! Just take your time on the application.
Thumbnail image created by striatic.