Reverse-engineering the Hiring Process: Start With Your Offer Letter and Work Your Way Back
When I’m coaching clients on taking the next step in their career, I’m always surprised at how our instincts can steer us down the wrong path. Looking at their resumes, most people write a document that lists every job, every skill, every foreign language, and every piece of software they can claim. Their resumes are over-stuffed and smell of desperation. “Hire me, I can speak beginner French and juggle three apples for over 15 seconds!” The thinking is that they’ll throw everything they have to offer against the wall and see what sticks. Can it work? Sure. Is it the best approach? I’m afraid not.
Instead, I ask them to reconsider the way they see their resume, cover letter, and the interview process. Rather than seeing this as an opportunity to list everything they have to offer, I ask them to instead focus on what an employer needs to see to feel confident hiring you. Let’s start at the goal and work our way back to now, which should show us the measures we need to take to ensure success!
Remember that no matter how unique of a person you are, with varied strengths and hopes and dreams, an employer is hiring you to fulfill a role and put forth a result. Most of the things he’s looking for are simply ensuring you will do the job well and for some reasonable length of time (without quitting after three months because you were overqualified, for example). So when you’re thinking about applying for a new position, ask yourself what kind of things your hiring manager needs to see before he can make an intelligent decision. List them. Once you have 8-10 good attributes, experiences, etc, it’s time to write your resume.
Sample Case: A hiring manager needs to hire a project manager to help with a major auto manufacturer. Most projects will involve leading a team of 11 employees and networking with up to 50 contractors. The average budget is going to be roughly $4.4M per project, and the applicant can be expected to juggle up to three projects concurrently. How do we work our way back to the resume stage with this job description in mind?
For starters, it would probably help to have domain experience in auto manufacturing. If you as an applicant have experience here, consider that box checked. If not, we’ll need to show strength elsewhere. You’ll definitely need to have previously managed a team before. If you’ve only been an individual contributor, this type of position involves far too many moving parts to trust a brand new manager. As a hiring manager, I’d also want to make sure you’re not afraid of the large budget we’re working with here. I’ll probably need to see that you’ve managed projects with at least a $1M operating budget so I know you can be trusted with that kind of money. It would help to know if you’ve worked with and managed both employees and vendors, since those relationships can be quite differently. Finally, it’s important that you have experience managing multiple projects simultaneously, or at least convince me this wouldn’t be a problem. An advanced degree or PMP certification would probably help me feel better about your overall candidacy as well.
So now we have our list! Instead of listing every project management position you’ve ever held, often using similar (or even identical) bullet points to describe your day to day duties, we actually have a purpose. We’ll take our position with the highest budget, and make sure to mention what kind of budgets we worked with. At our 2nd job, we didn’t really plan on calling attention to the fact that we often had 5-6 projects concurrently, but judging by this job description we now know this is a wise thing to mention. We’ll always mention how many team members we worked with, and definitely be sure to mention that one of our jobs involved working with vendors. Our bachelor’s degree in business administration coupled with our PMP certification are going to play nicely here as well.
This was an easy example, but I hope it helps you think about things along the lines of what a hiring manager needs to see. Build your resumes with purpose. Identify what’s important to your new company and spend time re-working your resume to accent those qualities. Resumes should be disposable documents, tossed in the trash as soon as you get the job. We’ve been trained for so long to think of a resume as a living document that encompasses our entire career, but that’s not what hiring managers need (or want) to see anymore.
So before you hand in that magical piece of paper, take a moment to envision the offer of employment sitting in your inbox. Now work your way back!