Hiring a full-time employee for my Los Angeles office has been an eye-opening experience, as both a hiring manager and a career consultant.
Granted, I have hired for hundreds of jobs over the course of my recruiting career, and am used to the influx of under-qualified applicants. But when you own the company you are recruiting for, it’s a different experience in terms of the candidate selection process.
Here’s the amazing thing – I am hiring for a senior-level resume writer role. This means I expect the person to have at least several years of experience directly matching the core functions of the job description (writing and HR experience), as well as other secondary skills critical to the role. They must be able to manage an office, build and maintain client relationships, and balance multiple concurrent projects.
Over the course of my search, I have found that there were 3 distinct groups of candidates who responded to my job posting:
1) Strong matches with the potential to move into the interview phase
This is the holy grail of the hiring process, and also the minority group. This includes the most qualified candidates who provide a comprehensive resume tailored to the requirements of the job, as well as an introductory letter or email thoroughly describing why they consider themselves ideal for the role.
This told me 2 important things:
- They read the job description, and understand not only what the job entails, but what is required to be successful, and what my company actually does.
- They care about their presentation – taking time to craft a targeted letter describing their qualifications and speaking to the concerns I would have as an employer looking for someone with those skill sets.
2) People who have transferrable skill sets that could be a match.
The majority of applications I received were candidates who had not held the exact role or hands-on experience the description calls for, but who had transferrable skill sets that could be valuable to the role, nonetheless. These included HR professionals with prior hiring experience and skill in writing job descriptions and professional writers who had a talent for crafting impactful documents, bios, and storytelling narratives. While they lacked the direct experience of being a solid resume writer, their skill sets are still quite valuable, and worth having an initial conversation.
Unfortunately, few very of them sent me an application that included a cover letter or email outlining why their skills were transferrable, and how I could be sure – as the employer – that it would be a good match. Sure, the HR managers have plenty of experience hiring, reviewing resumes, and working with candidates or clients – but without more context around their experience, I have no idea whether they’ve ever written a resume, or consider themselves strong enough writers to create one.
Some of them even went as far as to say that they were applying to this role because they were “looking to do something different” – an aspect that has zero value to me, and potentially a lot of liability, as the employer. Don’t talk about what you want – talk about what the employer receives.
This told me 2 things:
- They probably read the job description and focused on either 1 of 2 key components – writing skills and hiring experience.
- They did not put the time and energy required of a senior-level expert into their application, because had they done so, I would have walked away with a very clear understanding as to why their skills were transferrable, why they were prepared to make that transition, and how they could ensure their own success in a job title they’ve never held.
3) Candidates with no relatable skills or experience
I received a number of applications from people who have neither hiring experience, nor writing experience, let alone a direct background writing and reviewing resumes. Many of these people came from backgrounds where the secondary requirements from my job description – such as client management, project management, sales – were skills they had to some degree or areas they specialized in. These included marketers, PR folks, sales people, social media managers, and other groups.
These people are clearly not a fit for the role, or even in the realm of being called in for an interview, as they lack any of the core qualifications that would make them successful in the role – writing skills and hiring experience.
And this told me 3 things:
- They likely skimmed the job description, pulled out a couple of secondary skill sets they had, and considered it enough of a match to send their resume on a whim.
- They are not interested in either the job or the company, because they clearly have no idea what the role entails and what skill sets are necessary to work with the types of products and services we offer to our customers.
- They don’t consider themselves top candidates for the job, because if they had, they would have put together a compelling letter or email explaining that – regardless of their lack of experience – they bring something else unique or of value to the role that might be worth considering.
Perhaps the most surprising element of this entire experience was how few candidates across ALL 3 buckets made no effort to write a formal cover letter or email message introducing themselves, what they were applying for, and why I should read their application. Many sent a form letter that had no reference to the skills I was asking for, and that had clearly been copied from a template. Many others sent a blank message with a generic resume attachment – which was promptly thrown in the trash.
Moral of the story
Hiring comes down to relevance, insurance, and persuasive argument. From a hiring manager’s perspective, a generic or irrelevant cover letter (or resume) is almost no different than including no message at all. If you really want to stand out in the crowd, make a solid effort that shows you truly want the job, and feel confident in your ability to bring value to the organization.
You don’t have to have the best resume or credentials – but you do need to communicate why you’re the right candidate for the job. And convince me you’re right.