11 min read
How can I stand out from other candidates? What do hiring managers actually look for when it comes to deciding if they’ll interview someone, move them along in the hiring process, or give them a job offer?
With tech layoffs still happening, there are thousands of job seekers in the tech industry looking for a new role right now. However, many job seekers, maybe even you, are frustrated with vague job search tips from random people online.
If you want to know how to stand out to recruiters and hiring managers, you must understand what they’re looking for. That’s why I went to the source and talked to hiring managers at Gusto, Cash App, Meta, Shopify, and IBM. The job search tips from these hiring managers will help you avoid making mistakes and increase the chances that you stand out in the sea of candidates out there and get hired for the job.
Job Search Tip #1: Don’t discount your cover letter
I spoke with Amy Thibodeau, Chief Design Officer at Gusto, the SaaS company for HR and payroll, and here’s what Amy had to say about how to stand out with a cover letter.
“I pay attention to cover letters. I pay attention to the storytelling around why this role is for you because in the absence of that storytelling, all I have to go on are the facts that you happen to have listed in your CV. When I look at those facts, if I can’t see really clearly why this role makes sense for you, then I’m probably going to move to reject you before we even talk.”
She goes on to explain that a personalized cover letter that addresses the specific company you’re applying for goes a long way. Many people do not include cover letters with their job application and they are likely ending up in the no pile.
Job Search Tip #2: Your interview is really your first day on the job
Next, I spoke with McLean Donnelly, who is currently a professor of UX design at Savannah College of Art and Design.
When I spoke to him, he was the director of UX at Shopify and McClean, and I discussed the importance of the interview and the way you prepare for and conduct yourself in an interview is a foreshadowing of how you’ll perform once you are hired. Here’s what McClean had to say.
“People perform at the company like they interview. When you interview, you’re really starting the company, you’re building your peer group – it’s really setting the tone is not just like getting the job, it’s actually how you’re going to step into the company. And so if you’re upbeat, positive, well prepared. That’s kind of how people work, too. And so really think of it as almost like you’re starting your job. I really think there’s a correlation between how you interview and how people perform. And for me, I do keep an eye on that as we go through the interview process.”
To help take the pressure off during interviews, try to imagine that you’re having a conversation with someone who’s already a colleague. Try to create opportunities for back-and-forth dialogue rather than you rattling off answers and waiting for the next question.
Job Search Tip #3: Sweat the details of layout and design
Our third job search tip from hiring managers is to sweat the details of layout and design. This one comes from a chat I had with Tyler King, who is currently a senior UX researcher at SAP, and when we spoke, Tyler was a UX research lead at IBM.
Tyler mentioned the importance of not neglecting the basics such as spelling and grammar, which seems so obvious, but as someone who’s done hiring myself, I can say with certainty, a lot of times candidates miss these details. Another thing she mentioned though, is the content and design of your resume.
So many resumes are either overly designed or frankly unreadable due to small font sizes, poor layout, et cetera. Here is what Tyler had to say.
“Most of the time it’s hard to see red flags in resumes, but as a designer, if there’s not good information architecture and I can’t read your resume very easily, I’ll think, why are you a designer?
Help me get through your resume easily and parse very quickly, and make sure you have action words at the beginning of each statement. An example: “My leadership yielded… X amount of new users.”
Job Search Tip #4: Understand that job descriptions are a wishlist
Our fourth job search tip from hiring managers is that job descriptions are a wishlist.
Alik Brundrett, a Head of Design at Cash App and previously a Product Manager at Meta shed light on how job descriptions are written, why sometimes they aren’t written very well, and why candidates need to see job descriptions as a wishlist and not a hard set of requirements. Here’s what Alec had to say.
“Speaking broadly, not every job description is written by the person who’s hiring for that job.
I think that that’s one big thing to keep in mind is that, at many companies, there’s a HR person or a recruiter that’s actually helping the hiring manager, and they might be the one drafting the job descriptions, or they might be going off of templates for when the last time they hired a designer.
As an example, if I need to get someone ramped up on a tool or software, it’s really not a big deal for me. I think if the right person applies for the role, we interview them and they don’t know a specialized software, if they really are the right fit, we will definitely consider them.
Most hiring managers view that as a low-cost way to hire the right fit as it takes minimal cost for us to include training videos on a new tool.”
In the world of career and job search advice, there is a lot of conflicting information out there. However, one thing that stands out is a lot of the advice lacks context and explanation. Next time you hear career advice that you’re templated to follow, ask yourself “why” to understand the strategy and context – just as we’ve heard from these four people involved in hiring.