A Font Won’t Get You Hired

I used to obsess over details on my resume like which font looked best, how much whitespace I had, and whether I should list my college coursework or not. I’d apply to 100s of jobs and rarely get a reply.

I started getting interviews by focusing on these things instead.

I made sure I understood what they were hiring for.

For a long time, I had a single resume that I would blast out to any job that looked interesting. Sometimes, I’d apply to dozens of postings in a single go. Usually, I’d either get no response. Occasionally ’d get the standard automated rejection email within a few days.

My luck changed dramatically when I started doing deeper research into companies, teams, and roles.

Novice job applicants will do what I was doing: just blindly submit their “generic” resume to anything even mildly interesting. Those with a little more experience will read the job description, identify some key skills and points of experience, and maybe slightly tweak their resume to frame it as a better fit.

Advanced candidates are playing an entirely different game.

I wasn’t just looking at a single position anymore. Instead, I would take a broader view. What was going on at the company (if it is small or medium sized) or within the group/division (for very large companies consisting of thousands of people.) You can often get a sense of this from any headlines about the business, new products they’re launching, etc. What problems are they trying to solve? What team is this position on, and how does the team support the overall strategy?

By building this deeper understanding, I could identify what skills would allow me to really make an impact, even if they weren’t specifically outlined in the job description.

I told a coherent story.

Once I knew what they were hiring for, I needed to tell a coherent story about why I made sense for the position. More importantly, I needed to paint a picture to help the recruiter, hiring manager, and other interviewers understand that I can solve their problems.

The better you understand the environment, team structure, etc. the easier it is to layout a vision of their future that includes you. The research that you do to understand what they’re hiring for will then give you the information you need to describe how you fit into that picture.

A key part of this is telling an straightforward, coherent story.

I’ve found the best way to make the story that you’re telling very clear is to explicitly spell out the path you’ve taken in your career while emphasizing how your skills have built upon one another and compounded over time. You need to be very direct and concrete about this.

You may be thinking.. “But my jobs haven’t looked like that.”

And sure, not everyone’s work history is a smooth upward arc with no setbacks. However, you’ve almost certainly learned something in each new role, company, or industry where you’ve worked. Even if you were the most junior person, doing customer service or cleaning up, you probably had opportunities to observe how the business runs, see what is/isn’t working, understand what the day to day challenges are for the business and the customers.

These are all valuable lessons that, when built upon one another and expressed as a single narrative, give you a unique perspective and set of skills to offer.

I filled in the gaps.

If a job description mentions a skill, I would find a way to get that skill onto my resume.

A little bit of initiative can go a long way here. You can get a lot of mileage out of watching some YouTube videos, installing a copy locally, and running through some tutorials or sample projects. Mind you, I wasn’t lying. I would never say that I had 3 years of experience using some piece of software I had never touched. But I would at least shoot for being conversationally competent in any topic that might come up in an interview.

You may not be able to develop true expertise, but you can at least equip yourself to have an informed opinion and basic familiarity, and avoid an awkward “Um, no, sorry.. I’ve never worked on that before..”

I used my network.

Companies love internal referrals.

An internal referral is no different than getting a recommendation from a friend. If you needed to hire an electrician or a plumber, there’s a good chance you’d either read some reviews online or ask someone you know for a recommendation. LinkedInis the closest thing employers have to Yelp for people they might hire. But getting recommendations from current employees can lead to some great hires.

If I had someone in my immediate network that was working at a company I was interested in, I’d reach out and see if they could refer me for a position.

But sometimes, I wouldn’t have a close contact working at a company, so I’d have to get a bit creative. The next level of referrals is also pretty basic: friends of friends. Often, you can get an acquaintance to give you a warm introduction to a recruiter or hiring manager. While this isn’t as good as someone personally vouching for you, it still gets your resume out of the black hole and into the short stack of “people we should probably talk to.”

These folks can also often help you understand the current state of the company, which as noted in #1 can be a great resource in both how you craft your resume and preparing to interview.

Lastly, you can go beyond your existing network.

Often, people are afraid of bothering recruiters or hiring managers. They think it would be pushy to send a direct message inquiring about openings. It’s important to realize that a big part of a recruiter’s job is trying to find qualified talent to fill open roles. You shouldn’t be shy about reaching out to recruiters at a company you’re interested in. Just don’t expect them to do the legwork for you.

There is a big difference between these two things:

  • A message from someone who has obviously done some research on the company, identified a few positions that might be a good fit, and is looking for a warm handoff to a hiring manager
  • “Are you hiring???? Here’s my resume. Do you think I’d be a fit for anything?”

Most people would happily help the first person. Almost everyone will ignore the second.

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