5 Things Hiring Managers Want From Job Seekers

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By Arnie Fertig

Has your job search only been met with frustration in 2014? Wouldn't it be great to start the new year with a new job?

Let's assume you have all the experience, knowledge and skills necessary for role you seek. You might think that's all that should be important. But then your applications get ignored, and the answers you do get amount to a pile of rejections. You might ask yourself: "What's wrong with this system?"

Step back, and use this season to get a better sense of the process in which you are engaged. Try looking at it from the vantage point of human resources screeners and hiring mangers. When you forget your own frustrations and focus instead on how to make those of the hiring manager disappear, you'll turn your résumé and your presence into presents that every hiring manager will prize.

The intent here isn't to garner pity for those who control the hiring process, but rather to understand the world as they experience it and use this understanding to create a professional persona that will be both refreshing and valued.First and foremost, remember that for all the talk of nameless, faceless hiring processes, behind the veil are real human beings who are besieged by far too many things to do in a day, with limited resources to get them done. They see scores of cover letters daily, each boasting how great their authors are for the job. But rarely do these letters actually build the case and lead them to make that conclusion for themselves.

Hiring managers see candidates who present themselves variously as entitled, desperate, inarticulate, rude and disrespectful. Hint: When you can avoid all of these things, you are well on your way to making friends and allies among those who can really be of great help to you.

Keep in mind that there are a few elements that HR staff and hiring managers regularly have to deal with:

  • Applicants blithely sending in their résumés for jobs for which they aren't remotely qualified.
  • Applicants bending themselves into pretzels to try to be whatever the hiring manager wants them to be, rather than telling their own story in a compelling fashion. For example, take the person who at one moment describes himself as a self-starter lone-wolf type, and then goes on to talk about how he relishes working as part of a team. Define your narrative and stick to it, and don't contradict yourself!
  • Almost every candidate claims to have excellent communications skills – and then they demonstrate quite the opposite by making simple spelling and grammatical mistakes.
  • Applicant tracking systems are stuffed with résumés that are slapped together with little care and others using the same standard Word templates that everyone else uses. There are countless résumés that convey lots of data but offer no clear narrative. At the other extreme, hiring managers encounter over-the-top, professionally composed résumés with form and content clearly not those of the candidate himself.
  • Hiring managers cringe when they take the trouble to actually phone screen a potentially good candidate, only to find someone who is "too smart by half." These are the people who say that something like salary is "negotiable" without giving a more reasonable, if not more revealing, answer.
  • Hiring managers are bored out of their minds when someone talks for five minutes nonstop in response to a simple icebreaker question like, "tell me about yourself."
With the above factors in mind, here's what you can do to make yourself a truly valued candidate:

1. Can the canned or over-produced cover letter and résumé. Take pains to make sure each sentence actually conveys information in a compelling, articulate fashion. And avoid the overworked cliches, like, "I was excited to see your opening."

2. Don't play games or waste time. Listen carefully for clues to the kind of information that the decision makers need, and respond in a forthright, honest fashion. Yes, they want to get to know you, but they probably don't care about what you minored in when you we in college in the '80s.

3. Do your homework. This is true not only at the interview stage, but even at the beginning. Show that you've researched the company and why you want to work there. (Hint: It's more than a paycheck!) Don't ask about things you can and should find out for yourself!

Job interviews are anything but casual "get to know you" networking meetings. If you are invited in, you can bet that the HR team, hiring manager and perhaps others have thoroughly evaluated your background. They expect you to research them, the company, their challenges and competition. Failing to do so can be seen as a sign of disrespect and laziness – neither of which are highly valued qualities for potential new hires.

4. Understand and convey your personal brand and value. Don't just claim you are different and better than your competition. Show how and why this is the case. Demonstrate how you can make a difference and why you find the job interesting.

5. Tell your story – not the story you think someone else wants to hear. This is partly about being authentic, but it's also about creating a clear narrative that portrays the arc of your career bending toward the opportunity at hand.

When you present your case in a clear and compelling way and focus on meeting the needs of the hiring authority, your job search will take giant strides toward a happy conclusion.

Happy hunting!

Arnie Fertig, MPA, is passionate about helping his Jobhuntercoach clients advance their careers by transforming frantic "I'll apply to anything" searches into focused hunts for "great fit" opportunities. He brings to each client the extensive knowledge he gained when working in HR staffing and managing his boutique recruiting firm.
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