Listen to the Episode
Looking to stand out in your job search? In this episode, we dive into the minds of hiring managers to uncover what they really want and how you can increase your chances of landing that dream job. We hear from hiring managers at Gusto, Meta, Shopify, IBM, and a user experience recruiter who share their top advice and insights.
The key lesson from HR and recruiters is that they simply don’t have time to read every word on your resume or LinkedIn profile, so your materials need to instantly showcase your skills and experience. Hiring managers, on the other hand, want to see proof of your abilities through rich examples and evidence, so make sure your cover letter, resume, and LinkedIn are filled with specific accomplishments.
And when it comes to the interview stage, be prepared to provide details about your work and the story behind your projects, as this will help your potential colleagues and team members get a sense of your skills and character. Join us as we uncover these five lessons from hiring managers that will help you stand out in the competitive job market.
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Discussion Questions About The Episode
- How can you leverage personalization and storytelling in your cover letter to make it stand out to hiring managers?
- In what ways can you customize your resume, portfolio, or other career materials to connect the dots for the reader?
- How can incorporating video in your portfolio or job application help showcase your thinking process and personality?
- What do you think are the main differences in expectations and priorities between HR/recruiters, hiring managers, and interviewers during the hiring process?
- Reflecting on the episode, how might you adjust your approach to your job search strategy to better align with the needs and goals of the different stakeholders involved in hiring?
Sarah Doody [00:00:00]: What do hiring managers want to see from candidates and how can you stand out? This is one of the top questions job seekers ask me. So I went to the source and talked to hiring managers from Gusto, Meta, Shopify, IBM, and a recruiter who works in the field of user experience. So today I want to share some of their top advice and takeaways so you can avoid making these mistakes and increase the chances that you stand out in the sea of candidates out there. But first, in case we haven’t met yet, I’m Sarah Doody, founder and CEO of Career Strategy Lab, the career incubator for UX product and tech professionals who are determined to grow their careers in the field of UX and product development. Okay, get ready to get inside the head of hiring managers so you can finally understand how they think, what they look for, and a little bit more about their process and approach to hiring. Before we dive into this, I want to challenge you to consider something that you probably haven’t considered before. You have to think of the users or stakeholders involved in the hiring process. And just like users and stakeholders of projects you work on, the people involved in hiring have various needs, goals, et cetera.
Sarah Doody [00:01:37]: For example, in terms of the level of detail they look for when reviewing resumes, portfolios, LinkedIn profiles, et cetera. So let’s break it down. The three stakeholders in the hiring process. Number one is human resources or the recruiter. So after you apply for a job, someone in the HR department or a recruiter will decide if you should move along to the next step, which is normally a screening call. And at this point, they are likely dealing with a really large number of applicants and more if they are hiring for multiple roles. This is why they literally can’t read every word on your resume, LinkedIn, et cetera. They just don’t have the time to read every single word.
Sarah Doody [00:02:31]: This person will be familiar with what you do, key terminology related to your field or role, but it’s likely they haven’t necessarily worked in your position or industry before, and this is a significant differentiator between them and other people you might encounter in your interviews. This is why career materials such as your resume, cover letter, work samples, and LinkedIn profile need to instantly spotlight your skills and experience. All right, so the second stakeholder or user is hiring managers. If you make it past the screening call, you’ll move into the interview phrase where hiring managers get involved. At this point, there are less candidates, and as a result, you can assume people are spending a little bit more than 6 seconds with your career materials. Now, based on your resume and LinkedIn profile, hiring managers have confidence you have the experience, but they want to hear about the examples and see evidence of this. They need to see proof that you have the skills and experience they’re looking for. This is why it’s crucial that your cover letter, resume, and LinkedIn are filled with rich examples of what you’ve already done.
Sarah Doody [00:04:02]: All right, so the third stakeholder here is the people interviewing you. So if you make it beyond the first interview, you’ll encounter people who may be your future peers or colleagues, as well as people from other teams. And this is meant to help the team and manager gain further understanding and confidence in your hard and soft skills. People who are from the team hiring or have the same job title as you want assurance and evidence that you can do the job, do it well, and that they’ll enjoy working with you. They want to hear the details about what you’ve worked on and the story behind a project or two to get a sense of the depth of your skill set, how you work, and how you think and how you approach problems. People who are from other teams are less focused on your qualifications and more focused on your character. This is why it’s crucial that your career materials and what you talk about in interviews goes beyond just what you did and also covers why you did it, how you did it, and what happened. That’s the story these people want to hear.
Sarah Doody [00:05:25]: Okay, so back to the topic for today, the five lessons for your job search from hiring managers. Okay, the first lesson has to do with COVID letters. I spoke with Amy Taboto, head of creative at Gusto, the SaaS company for HR and payroll type stuff. And here’s what Amy had to say about how to stand out with a cover letter. So when I’m going through applications you’re going through a lot of applications, and you’re going through a lot of profiles. This is going to sound really obvious, but make sure your LinkedIn profile is up to date. Make sure you explicitly say why you think this is the right role for you and personalize it. I would say less than 10% of the time does an application come in with a cover letter.
Sarah Doody [00:06:19]: And I may be old fashioned I’ve been in this industry a while, but 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, like the bare facts that you happen to have listed in your CV. And 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 before we even talk. And so a cover letter that is personalized, that really looks at the company, the things that we’re looking for, and that personalizes, the opportunity to why it makes sense for you really stands out, because not many people do it anymore, rarely do it even for senior leadership roles. I’m hiring for a head of research right now, and maybe one out of every ten applications has a cover letter on it, right? Our second lesson is to customize your materials and connect the dots. I spoke with McLean Donnelly, who is currently a professor of UX Design at Savannah College of Art and Design. But when I spoke to him, he was the director of UX at Shopify. And McLean and I discussed the principle of don’t make Me Think from the really well known book by Steve Krug and how that principle applies to your job search.
Sarah Doody [00:07:43]: One of the best things you can do is customize your resume, portfolio, et cetera, to each role to help summarize and connect the dots so the reader does not have to read every single word. Here’s what McLean had to say about this. There’s such irony because I find like, the UX of the actual portfolio seems to be just forgotten for a lot of people because I’ve thank you, Sarah, that’s exactly it. I’ve reviewed so hundreds and hundreds of portfolios, whether they are a website or a PDF version or something. It is truly shocking and sometimes makes me very sad for the future of our profession because I think if we can’t get this right, what are we doing? And I guess I’m a little bit exaggerating. I think that the skill of, to your point, making a presentation, whether that is a website or a PDF, I think it’s kind of just an afterthought. But this is potentially the most important quote product you’re going to work on. And my other pro tip there is use video.
Sarah Doody [00:08:54]: This is the world we are working in right now. And just record a three minute video of you talking through your thing. Put a nice background. That is the best way to hear how you think, get a feel for you. There’s no subtext in portfolios. Record a nice little 1 minute video on your homepage setting up this project. Video is the new mobile, right? So put a little video in there. I think that can take a lot of strain off of kind of all the text and words and let’s use some new mediums as well.
Sarah Doody [00:09:28]: And I think those really they do stand out to me. I click on a lot more of them. So that’s kind of a pro tip as I see things where I’m sitting today. Okay, so this is a great kind of segue because the other day someone asked me about this, what I thought of making a video. And I said, yeah, for all the reasons you just said. And their question was really, should I link to or embed my figma, Adobe Envision, whatever prototype of like 50 screens on the website? Or what do you think about making a video? And I said, well, if you look at it from the hiring manager perspective, sure, they might click through a few of those screens, but it’s a lot more valuable for you to select two key user flows or like, the five most complex screens and kind of talk through them exactly as you described. So have you encountered these embedded prototypes before and what’s your gut reaction to that when you see those? I don’t feel very strongly either way. Figma is great and it’s changing everything, but everything looks like figma now and it’s gotten too easy and too standardized and you don’t even know what people have done because you can just pull a file and drag it over and change some colors and it’s not new.
Sarah Doody [00:10:42]: So I don’t put a ton into kind of clicking through in someone’s. I do value prototyping. Inevitably, there’s a huge skill that we’re looking for, and I’m not saying you need to be a database engineer, but even just like a six screen, cool little thing, a little video, a talk through, I think that’s actually way more intentional and easier on the viewer than me clicking into your figma and all that. So if it’s an in depth project and it requires it, then yeah, but otherwise, good to have, but not essential. Our third lesson 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.
Sarah Doody [00:11:49]: 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 like resumes. It’s hard to see red flags, but as a yeah, if there’s not good information architecture and I can’t read your resume very easily, I’ll be like, why are you a designer then? Being cognizant of font, like typeface weights and how you want things to be indented or bullet points help me get through this easily and parse very quickly and just making sure you have action words at the beginning and people will just be like, oh, responsible for blah, blah, blah. Tell me the hardcore deliverables that you brought, why were you successful? My leadership yielded this many more users or really actionable insights, so I’m just curious about the good actionable, tangible things from your pieces or from your experience. Our fourth lesson is that job descriptions are a wish list. So Alec Bundrett, 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 wish list and not a hard set of requirements. Here’s what Alec had to say.
Sarah Doody [00:13:23]: How much of what we see on a job description know, set in stone, you must match everything versus, here are some possible things we would like to see in a candidate know, we’ll see who we get. Because the real question is so many people don’t apply to roles or feel like they cannot apply to roles because they don’t have the minimum of three years experience or they don’t know figma or something like that. So what’s your take on job descriptions? Yeah, I have a tremendous amount of thoughts about this, and you said my favorite word, which is wish list. And that’s really what I think many job descriptions are. Okay, speaking broadly, not every job description is written by the person who’s hiring for that job. And 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 ones drafting the job descriptions, or they might be going off of templates for when the last time they hired a designer. They kind of pull that Word document out, dust it off, and then post it again, particularly when you look at tools.
Sarah Doody [00:14:34]: So, like, do you need to know figma? My perspective on tools is that it is very easy for me to teach a new hire any tool, especially in this day and age where we have a wealth of information on YouTube or skillshare, you name it. If I need to get someone ramped up on a tool, it’s really not a big deal for me. I think if the right person applies for the role and we interview them and say they don’t know, maybe more specialized software, if they really are the right fit, then that’s a really low cost. During their onboarding period, have them watch some training videos and learn a new tool. And our fifth lesson is that your career materials and interview skills are a preview of how you’ll perform on the job. Lois Siegel is director of recruiting at UX Hires, a recruiting company that specializes in tech and user experience. She brought up a great point about how candidates often mess up the first impression because they don’t consider the UX of their materials. If you can’t write an effective resume, then someone won’t have much confidence that you’ll be able to write once you’re hired.
Sarah Doody [00:15:48]: Or if you can’t communicate in an interview, they won’t have much confidence that you can communicate once you’re hired. Here is more of our conversation where we discuss why the UX of your resume and portfolio matter to creating that first impression, thinking about everything that goes into forming that first impression. You said the portfolio is pretty heavily weighted, and it sounds like what you’re saying is a lot of times maybe these people are almost neglecting the UX of their own portfolio. Yes, I think that if nothing else, a portfolio is their opportunity. It’s another design asset. So how they organize their portfolio is a reflection of how they might do work for the company. Maybe you can’t display all of your work, but the work that you have that you can show should be the best example of your work. I’ve had designers saying it’s never done.
Sarah Doody [00:17:01]: It’s like you’re a designer, your portfolio is just never done because you’re always tweaking it. But get it to a point where you’re proud of it. Right. And I think you bring up a good point, being proud of it, because if you’re not confident in your portfolio, that’s going to come across in your interviews and how you talk about these projects as well, I think. And if you can be proud of your portfolio, then you go into those interviews with a lot more confidence, not just in the actual portfolio, but the story about each project, because you took the time to actually think that through. Right. And for an interview, they should practice their presentation skills and talking through their user cases or their process. Even if you’re like talking to your dog or a picture on the wall, because clients are going to make inferences about your ability to present and persuade.
Sarah Doody [00:18:06]: Designs don’t go through if you don’t have stakeholder endorsement. Right. If the higher ups don’t see the value of the design, they’re not going to do. You’re not going to push things out. So it’s important to practice those skills, even for a mid level role. Practice articulating what you do. Sometimes you do something long enough and what you do becomes second nature. And you don’t think about something and you just do it in an interview.
Sarah Doody [00:18:40]: Regardless of what you’re interviewing for, you have to think about the steps that you’re taking through the process and be able to articulate it and practice describing your designs. And you brought up a great point. It’s about how are you going to gain the trust of the stakeholders once you are hired and have them buy into these decisions you’ve made and what you’ve created for them. But it’s also about your colleagues and your peers as well. Right. And being able to work and communicate effectively on that team. Because so much of this is team driven, especially in these larger companies, and especially now, because everything is remote. That’s a great point, too.
Sarah Doody [00:19:23]: I mean, you have to be really well versed in written and verbal communication and make sure nothing gets lost in translation. Right. Especially if you’re working in asynchronous work environments where you’ve got people in different time zones and all those complexities. Exactly. All right, so to recap, Amy told us about why cover ladders matter and why they aren’t dead. McLean shared why it’s crucial to connect the dots and not make people think. Tyler taught us that we need to sweat the details. And Alec explained job descriptions and how they are a wish list.
Sarah Doody [00:20:08]: And finally, Lois shared why first impressions matter and why the UX of your resume and portfolio are so important. All right, I am Sarah Doody, founder and CEO of Career Strategy Lab, and this has been a glimpse inside the heads of real life recruiters and hiring managers. I hope now you feel like you have a better understanding of how they work, how they think, and what they are looking for. If this content has been helpful, I’d really appreciate it if you left a review, clicked the like button, shared this with a friend that maybe you think would find this helpful, and you’re always welcome to learn more about Career Strategy Lab by going to Careerstrategylab.com, you can find out more or apply right on that page. Or if you want more content and tips about the UX job search, your career, et cetera, check out my YouTube page, my Twitter, my Instagram, or you can search for me over on Lincoln. All right, I hope you have a great rest of your day and I will talk to you soon.