Monday, June 4, 2018

Be the Right Candidate: Tips from a Hiring Manager

I’ve hired a lot of people and over the years and developed a reliable sense of what makes a good candidate and a great employee... and it isn’t necessarily what prevailing wisdom suggests.  For example, I’ve hired moms returning from extended maternity leave, people currently without a job, people in remote locations, contractors, and people who applied for completely different roles.

They were all very different but had a few traits in common that made them stand out during the application process.  Before I share these traits, your basic hiring manager typically has up to three motivations you should be aware of:
  1. I’m really busy: Particularly in organizations that have limited HR support for hiring, the hiring manager has limited time.  In addition to their demanding day job, they may have to write the detailed job spec, make sure the job gets posted, review dozens of CVs, coordinate recruiters, schedule and conduct interviews, and even manage the offer process. 
  2. I'm in a hurry: I want to get through this process fast so I can get back to my day job, plus if this process drags out I may lose my headcount.  I won't hire someone I don't believe can do the job, but I want you to be the one.
  3. Make my problem go away: There’s a decent chance the headcount approval came only after an organizational gap became impossible to ignore any longer, and although really three people are needed to do the job I only get to hire one.  To be that one, you must radiate: I understand what you want and will make you successful.
What will differentiate you from the other candidates is how well you convey that you value the hiring manager’s time, will fit into their team and can solve their problem.  Specifically, here are the traits of a great CV, and then we’ll move onto standing out in the interview:

  • Clarity – It takes me an average of 20 seconds to skim a CV.  I don’t have time to pore over every word you painstaking wrote about your job experience to get to know you - see point 1 above.  If I don’t see what I’m looking for immediately, I assume you aren’t able to communicate clearly and move on.

  • Brevity – I’m a marketer with a highly tuned BS radar, so unless you personally founded multiple successful companies and cured cancer, there's no good reason for your CV to be longer than two pages.  If you have examples of past successes, great, but keep it short, simple and to the point.  
  • Layout – You CV should be as attractive and polished as a solution brochure.  After all, you are the product.  Spend time making your CV look good, especially if you hope to work in marketing, and don’t forget your best friends proportion and white space.
  • Accuracy – Typos, spelling mistakes and grammatical errors scream sloppy so be sure to run spellchecker and have a couple of people read and comment on your CV.  I’ve hired plenty of people who spoke English as a second language, and a few non-native turns of expression can be charming, but easily correctible errors are not.
  • X Factor – If you have a catchy video, TED talk or portfolio of work you can link to in your CV, do it but never share proprietary information.

Now let’s talk about the interview.  Here are the qualities – besides the obvious ones like friendliness, courtesy, and professionalism - that help candidates stand out and make a positive impression:
  • Preparedness – Great candidates show a clear understanding of the business and have thought about the job, what they would bring to it, and why they want to do it.  Thorough preparation demonstrates you want the job and are willing to work hard to produce high quality work.
  • Confidence – One of the best product marketers I ever worked with was a bit nervous during her presentation, but her slides were superb and her confidence re-emerged because she was so well-prepared.  If you’re a nervous presenter, practice until you know your material cold. 
  • Pride – It’s OK to take pride in the work you have done, as long as you aren’t unpleasant about it.  In fact, pride in your work is a signal that you care about results and are motivated by a desire to succeed.
  • Positivity – There's a reassuring optimism that comes through in people that believe in their ability to master any situation and get the job done.  It’s OK not to know everything going in, your unique experiences will help you bring something special to the role.  Believe in yourself: You can do this.
  • Flexibility – I’ve hired people for completely different roles than the ones they applied for because they displayed other characteristics I was looking for, such as outgoingness (for customer facing roles), clarity (for training), creativity (for strategy), etc.  Keep an open mind and stay in touch if it doesn't work out, because there may be other open roles.
  • Authenticity – No matter how successfully you portray yourself during the interview, you’ll be miserable if the real you is in the wrong job.  Once during a skype interview my toddler ran in and started banging my keyboard.  It was a difficult situation, but I ended up impressing the hiring manager by staying calm.  Do yourself a favour and be yourself - within reason, of course : ). 
  • Readiness – A great candidate is ready to take the next step into more responsibility.  As a hiring manager, I look for these folks because I know I can help them grow professionally and they’ll work hard to prove themselves.

I know it’s a lot but here’s the good news.  Great candidates stand out.  You’d be amazed how many candidates don’t prepare properly, can’t articulate what they bring to a role, or deliver a clear and articulate account of themselves with quiet confidence.

One last thing: The hiring manager is choosing you (hopefully) but you are also choosing them, so my next posts will be about how to choose the right manager and how to persuade great people to work for you.

Thank you for reading.  I hope this was helpful and as always, comments are welcome.

Working Girl


  1. Hiring manager is a boss who decides to hire you. The HR person works in the HR department. Sometimes HR hires people, but more often, they find qualified resumes for the hiring manager.

    1. Thanks for commenting Maria. I’ve hired for roles with and without recruiter/HR support and definitely prefer with! Unfortunately HR isn’t always staffed to support hiring managers. Cheers, Laura


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