We asked a vice president of marketing at a business software company to give us tips on how to impress HR—and how to avoid horrible mistakes when hunting for a job.
To ensure honesty, we’ve granted anonymity to this informant, who hires for marketing, public relations, and writing positions. Here are his/her thoughts about résumés, cover letters, and interviews, as told to Aaron Weber.
YOU HAVE 30 SECONDS TO CATCH MY EYE
It is important for applicants to understand what they are up against. I spend about 30 seconds scanning a résumé during my first pass through a stack of candidates. I then spend a minute or two on the résumés that made the first cut. Tell your story quickly and clearly or risk getting passed by!
When I review a résumé, I look for relevant experience and clear success indicators. Can they do the job I need done? Or can they grow into it?
I READ RÉSUMÉS BEFORE COVER LETTERS
If I like the résumé, then I’ll read the cover letter. If it includes specific information about the job or about my company, it’s a sign you’ve done your homework—which gets more of my attention.
It is important that both your cover letter and your résumé tell your story without the other document being available. Don’t rely on a hiring manager reading both.
ACCOMPLISHMENTS ARE MORE IMPORTANT THAN WHERE YOU WORKED OR STUDIED
I am not usually concerned about specific industry experience. I try to understand if the individual has actually done something similar to what I need done.
So, for a product marketing director or manager, I want to see that they have developed messaging, designed creative briefs, and so on. For a field marketing role, it would be an understanding of business metrics, direct mail, and marketing automation software. For a writer, designer, or Web professional, I’d want to see samples, plus the platforms that they worked on.
Describe your accomplishments in tangible terms—how large was your budget, what were the demanding requirements, what were your business results.
Yes, I notice the schools that a candidate attended, and I notice the companies where a candidate worked. But I am more interested in what a candidate has done.
DO YOUR HOMEWORK, ASK GOOD QUESTIONS, LISTEN
With Google, it is inexcusable to not know my company’s market, market trends, competitors, and latest news. If you want to work here, you should know about us before you walk in the door.
Candidates who come to me that understand my business and have provocative business questions make an impression. When a candidate has done their homework, we quickly start talking about what might be possible working together. That’s a great conversation to get into!
In an interview, I’m looking for transparency, not smokescreens. If you were laid off, be prepared to discuss why you were laid off. If you haven’t been in the workforce, explain why. The manager/employee relationship is built on trust, and that trust has to start at the first interview.
An honest appraisal of a situation that went badly for you is a useful sign that you learn from setbacks and mistakes. That said, I’d say you should generally leave any personal life storm clouds out of the conversation.
And remember that an interview is a conversation—and that conversation requires listening. Make sure you understand the questions, and make sure you’re hearing and paying attention to what they’re telling you about the job.
Have a question for a hiring manager that you want an honest answer to? Leave it in the comments.