Career Matters

By Lily Whiteman

To get hired, think like a hiring manager

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Want to understand how to impress hiring managers? It takes one to know one, as the saying goes. So the best way to understand hiring managers is to become one. You may be able to do so by volunteering to serve on a hiring committee.
If you serve on a hiring committee, you will be shocked, outraged, entertained, horrified, humored, impressed and enlightened by how job seekers present themselves. But more importantly, you will be rewarded for your service with insider insights about how hiring managers think and how job seekers fail and succeed in their job quests — information that may help you land your next job.

One of the important lessons I learned by serving on hiring committees is how fast hiring managers operate. Indeed, hiring managers don’t read applications as they read suspense novels — savoring every word while cuddled up with their cat, sipping wine, beside a cozy fire.

Instead, they race through applications solely to whittle down the pile (which they invariably should have finished reviewing yesterday) so they can get back to their “real work.”

My observations about the speed of hiring decisions have been corroborated by more than 100 interviews I have conducted with hiring managers about their hiring decisions. Typical was a response from a hiring manager after I asked him how long he spends reading the typical résumé. “Ten seconds at most,” he said. I chuckled in response. So he emphasized, “No really; I’m impatient and busy — always. So that’s all the time I can give. Plus, I can tell almost instantly whether an applicant has what I’m looking for.”

The lightning speed of hiring decisions means that to be successful, your résumé — your personal marketing document — must serve as a verbal one-two punch that instantly knocks out hiring managers. To design your résumé to score an instant knockout:

  • Tailor your résumé to each of your target jobs. Interpret the job description of each target job as a question that asks, “Could you do this job well?” Answer with a big “YES!” by showing that you have already done so — by describing in your résumé your credentials and achievements that parallel the demands of your target job and by describing the positive feedback and objective validation your accomplishments drew.
  • Don’t expect hiring managers to look for a needle in the haystack — just give them the needle without the haystack. Ask yourself whether each of the credentials and achievements in your résumé mirrors the demands of your target job and whether it would realistically help you land the job. If necessary, purge irrelevant information from your résumé — no matter how personally significant it is to you.
  • Craft each job summary on your résumé to review your achievements — not inventory your assigned duties and responsibilities. After all, reading a series of job descriptions is just about as interesting and memorable as reading someone else’s “to-do” list. (Snooze!) What’s more, your job descriptions only reflect what you were supposed to do (Who cares?), rather than what you achieved (Wow!).
  • Structure each job summary as a set of snappy, fast-read bullets that will send your hiring manager’s eyes flying down the page — not as dense paragraphs. Begin each bullet with an action, achievement-oriented verb, such as led, developed, initiated, managed, presented, created from scratch, designed, completed, trained, streamlined, saved $XX,000 or wrote. Eliminate mealy, vague verbs, such as helped, participated in and contributed, by explicitly stating what you actually did to help, participate or contribute. Find lists of action and achievement verbs by Googling action verbs for résumés.
  • Sequence bullets for each job summary according to their relevance to your target job — not according to how much time you spent on the achievements they describe. By so sequencing your bullets, you will hit hiring managers with your best shots up top and thereby maximize their “wow” power.


Power of validation can lift you above the rest

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Which of these statements is more persuasive and impressive?

  • “I am an excellent swimmer. I know you will be impressed by how well I swim when you watch me.”
  • “I won an Olympic gold medal in swimming.”

The first statement — unsupported by any objective validation — could easily be dismissed as self-serving propaganda and an empty, presumptuous promise. By contrast, the second assertion is impressive because it incorporates objective, inarguable, universally respected validation: an Olympic medal. The second assertion meets the gold standard, literally.

You can similarly use the power of validation to prove that you have met the gold standard of your profession and thereby impress your boss, hiring managers or others who will judge your background when you apply for annual bonuses, jobs, admittance to the Senior Executive Service, promotions, awards, grants, academic programs, speaking engagements or other honors. Do so by incorporating into written and spoken descriptions of your achievements your own personal versions of Olympic gold medals: solid, objective, inarguable, universally respected evidence of your stature and success.Some potential examples of your personal gold medals:

  • High academic grades, high grade-point average, merit-based scholarships or fellowships.
  • Positive annual evaluations.
  • Praise you’ve received from professors, supervisors, senior officials, clients, contractors, customers, staffers or mentees.
  • Bonuses or other awards, including team awards.
  • Security clearances.
  • Grants.
  • Publications in professional journals or popular press.
  • Positive media coverage of projects that incorporate your contributions.
  • Improvements in survey results that you helped generate.
  • Promotions and rapid advancement. For example, “I advanced from a clerk to a program manager in six years.”
  • Your years of experience.
  • The size of audience of a document or event you produced or the prominence of your audience. For example, were your work products distributed to senior managers or Congress?
  • The size of your budget.
  • Repeat requests for your services from senior managers or stakeholders.
  • Position on a management team, acting positions or prestigious details.
  • Record of meeting non-negotiable deadlines and completing projects on budget.

You may generate other personal gold medals by asking yourself: What proof do I have that I have been successful? How did I improve the operations of my organization? What evidence shows that I wield a lot of responsibility? How have I saved time or money for my organization or improved its reputation? Why is my work important?

See the power of validation in action in the two real-life openers from cover letters:

  • “I am writing this letter to express my sincere interesting in obtaining a writer/editor position with the United States Mint. I am completely confident in my professional abilities and I am certain that my employment would benefit your company as well as myself.”
  • “I would be eager to contribute my 15 years of experience as a writer/editor to the United States Mint as a Public Affairs Officer. My credentials include two awards of Excellence from the Association of Government Communicators, two recent merit-based promotions in four years and a security clearance.”

The second opener belonged to the winning cover letter, largely because it incorporated impressive validation.

One way to brandish your gold medals in your résumé is to copy a technique evident in ads for movies that splice together praising quotes from good reviews they have received. Similarly, consider splicing together quotes from oral or written praise you have received from bosses, managers or other stakeholders in your résumé — either in a summary of qualifications or under the appropriate job description in your résumé.