What I learned about job seeking from hiring someone myself

Last week I interviewed and hired a communications specialist for a junior role at my part-time job. It was the first time I’d been in that role for a very, very long time, and it was a real eye-opener for me.

As a consultant, I’ve been on the other side of the hiring process more often than I can say. In fact, being a consultant or freelancer is basically like being a serial job applicant. I always have an up-to-date resume, because even though I have a website with a profile of me on it, I am asked for a resume all the time. I answer Requests for Proposals, Expressions of Interest, job ads, calls for consultants, and all sorts of application processes every month sometimes. I know what it is to apply, believe me.

To hire, well, that’s a newer one for me. But I figured with all my application experience, I’d be an empathetic hirer who could cut right through and find the perfect candidate without any emotion. Boy, was I wrong!

First, there was the shock at the flood of applications. I know the economy has been iffy lately, but I didn’t think PR was hit too hard. But judging from how many applications I got for a very specific role, things are tough out there. I advertised, just with the PR societies and through word of mouth, for someone with 3-5 years experience. But at least half the applications I got were from people with at least double that, some who were as experienced as I was!

I thought I’d find a few people who had most of the skills I wanted, some of the experience I wanted, and who were able to learn the rest. But I actually had several candidates who met every single one of the qualifications with exactly the experience I needed. I think the toughest thing I had to do was narrow down the list to the handful I would interview. Of course, the guy who misspelled “resume” was easy to eliminate.

I’ve decided my pet peeves in the application process are:

1. People who wait until the last day to apply. I was in a hurry to hire and wanted to interview as soon as possible. Waiting until the final resumes came in was a pain. I know, I should have set an earlier end date.

2. Long cover letters. All I want in a cover letter is to know where you heard about the job, where your previous experience is relevant, why you want this job in particular, and that you’d like to talk about this more. Four paragraphs. Not eight. Not a full page outlining every aspect of your experience or interests in 9 point type.

3. Resumes that are organized by skill. I want to know where you worked before and what you did there, not your list of skills. If you’re applying for this particular job where the needed skills are spelled out, I assume you have the general skills. I need to see how your previous work gave you the skills. Maybe this kind of resume is useful when being read by an HR manager (or computer scanning software) but not when it’s being read by the person who would be your supervisor. At least not by me.

4.Don’t spell out your conflict of interest. The job I’m hiring for needs a level of impartiality, as it’s a government issue with a lot of stakeholders. The job ad says that. Telling me up front where your politics lie and your sympathies doesn’t help, in the end it hinders.

I’ve decided I like the style of cover letter where the writer compares the words of my job ad (You asked for…) with their own relevant experience. At first they bugged me, but in the end I’ve decided that this really helped cut to the chase.

Now I’m facing the hard part. I have to tell the other people I interviewed that they didn’t get the job. And I really feel for every one of them. In fact, I feel for just about every applicant. I wish I could hire more than one person. I wish I could help most of the applicants find other work. I know exactly how it feels to be on their side of the table, and I hate that I have to dissapoint anyone. I want to hire them all, but in the end I can only hire one person.

Boy, will I apply for future openings with eyes open wider from now on.

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