Say the Magic Words

What if I told you that for any job you apply to there is a set of 🪄magic words🎩 that guarantees you get an interview?

No more getting ghosted by recruiters; your resume will jump straight to the top of the stack, like an expertly palmed card in an up close magic trick. ♠️

It’s not as simple as “abracadabra” or “prest-o change-o”, but these magic words really do exist.

Whenever I open up a new position on my team, I review dozens, hundreds, sometimes thousands of resumes. But what you’ve heard about hiring managers is true: optimistically, we spend about 30 seconds looking at your resume. Usually far less. It’s really not that different from scrolling Twitter: you’ve got a brief moment to grab our attention before we move onto the next thing.

Typically my internal monologue during the process of sifting through resumes is something like this:

“no.. no. no. ugh, NO. no. may—…no. no. no. no. hmm…”

If you trigger a “hmm..” response, you might just have a shot.

I’m building up a picture, trying to imagine how your skills might fit the role I’m hiring for. I look a little closer. Where did you go to school? What did you study? What was your most recent job title? Have you worked on problems similar to the ones my team works on? In short, do you kind of make sense for this position?

But when you say the magic words, I spring into action.

My stream of noes becomes an emphatic YES. I cannot wait to interview you. I am nagging my recruiter on Slack and over email to get something scheduled for us to chat as soon as you’re available. We haven’t even met yet, but I’m very bullish on you. All because you said the magic words.

But here’s the tricky part.

For every company, every team or hiring manager, and every position, the magic words are different. Your job is to figure them out. This isn’t some rhetorical trick. Every hiring manager has some specific problem, and they are looking for the right person, the perfect person, to solve it. The magic words are the key phrases, skills, and experiences that signal to me that you just might be able to solve my problem.

Ideally, that you’ve solved this problem before somewhere else, and you can bring that expertise to my team.

I’m looking for something very specific. I know what it is, and I’m really hoping that you have it. I’m rooting for you! But my job is to build the best team to deliver what my company needs, and that means I need to find the people with the right experience and skills. Your job is to use your resume to instantly signal to me that you have the skills and experience that I care about.

A lot of people will have worked on something like what my team does. Or will have solved similar problems or used similar tools. That’s great. I interview and hire a lot of people that are solid candidates, and they often turn out to be excellent hires who make big contributions to my team. But there’s a certain amount of luck (on both sides) involved in finding those people.

The people with the magic words on their resume? They stick out like a sore thumb, and almost always get interviews as a result.

I don’t want you to feel like you’re leaving empty handed, so I will tell you what my (current) magic words are, though bear in mind these are hyper-specific and they shift over time as my needs (e.g. the problems I have to solve) change.

Developer Experience. Bazel. Buildkite. Static analysis. Compiler toolchain.

These things probably mean nothing to you (unless you also happen to work in software tooling/developer experience), and that’s okay. The specifics don’t actually matter. What matters is that you can always find my magic words in the job description for the role I’m hiring for.

If you have specific, hands-on experience with these tools and I’m hiring, I absolutely want to talk to you. You’re just about guaranteed to get an interview with me. That doesn’t mean you’ll definitely get hired, but it moves you from a group of hundreds into a group of maybe 10-20 people that will be actively considered for a role.

So, how can you ✨teleport✨ your resume out of the towering, shuffled stack and into the hiring manager’s front pocket?

Read the job description. Really read it. Study it and try to figure out what pain points my organization has. Try to envision what the role might look like (although the job description should say this, too) and how your past experiences might allow you to contribute to solutions. Then tailor your resume to clearly convey that you can help solve those problems.

I’d love to interview you. All you have to do is say the magic words.

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