If you think filling out job applications and stressing over resume and cover letter drafts is tough, imagine having to sift through hundreds of such applications in an effort to recruit, interview and hire qualified candidates. That’s exactly what HR managers do on an everyday basis. Not to mention conducting orientations, offering training and overseeing employee growth to enhance onboarding and reduce turnover.
Data collected by the Department of Labor indicates that in 2016, one in three human resources managers worked more than 40 hours per week. HR managers are busy, and recruiting, interviewing and hiring qualified candidates is no easy matter, so if you want to be a candidate who hears back from HR managers and moves forward in the interview process, you may want to rethink your current application and interview strategy.
I had the opportunity to chat with Vanya Kaloferova, HR officer at the International Monetary Fund and Certified Professional by the Society of Human Resource Management, and she shared insights that can help candidates be ready for the entire job application process.
Job candidates rarely “know how much time managers spend to recruit, develop and appraise their employees,” Kaloferova says. Reviewing all applications, identifying the right talent and onboarding them as smoothly as possible takes effort and hard work. To show understanding of what it takes, you may want to spend a similar amount of time and effort preparing the application materials and practicing for interviews. Avoid simply uploading your documents and hoping for the best.
Your preparation starts as soon as you identify a target position. I know that when you find a job you really want, you probably cannot wait to click the "submit application" button. I encourage you, however, to slow down, carefully review the job description, and align content on your resume with the position requirements. “Your resume has two main goals: Content and delivery,” Kaloferova points out. “You want to both highlight your education, skills and experiences AND convince the employer you can efficiently organize critical information in a digestible and convincing manner.” Documents that are easy to read and focused make HR managers’ jobs easier, which increases the likelihood that your application will be added to the to-call pile.
To prepare, you may also want to research the employer: Read through the employer’s mission and goals and familiarize yourself with the work and projects the team does. Think of this as doing your homework before sending in your application or showing up for an interview. As a career coach, I often hear from students a day or two before their interviews, asking me to help them prepare. Scheduling an interview before you start preparing is like trying to make it to the Olympics before you start training!
When you draft your application documents and prepare for interviews, stay focused on your background, skills and experiences that relate directly to the job you are targeting. Hiring managers may receive hundreds of applications per job posting, which forces them to spend only a few seconds on each application. If you want to stand out and make a great impression, polish your documents so that they highlight only the most relevant details. “Going the extra mile and customizing your resume according to the specific job shows commitment and flexibility, which is a great sign for the employer,” Kaloferova says. It may take you longer to do that, but the return on investment will be higher.
The same applies when you make it to the interview. From the opening inquiry of "Tell me about yourself," you are expected to stay focused and mention background, skills and experiences that directly relate to the job. The opening question is not an invitation to go through your life story and lose the HR manager along the way. In addition, you may want to show how your values align with those of the employer, and you won’t know what their values are unless you conduct research online and speak with employees beforehand.
During the hiring process, HR managers look to identify qualified talent that can be trusted with the role responsibilities. As such, you may want to carefully review information on your resume and confirm that all details are truthful and you are able to share details if asked. Misrepresenting your background or your skills is a risk you don’t want to take. As Kaloferova emphasizes, “Managers know how to see through the embellished accomplishments -- prepare to have realistic and situational examples for a potential interview!” You will hurt your chances more if you lie than if you own up to what you don’t have and emphasize your ability to grow.
To show hiring managers that you are someone who reflects and grows, evaluate your experience so far and identify challenges and failures you have encountered. Being vulnerable is an integral aspect of being human. Even if you have found your ideal job, things sometimes don’t work exactly as planned and companies look for candidates who know how to respond in such situations.
The above is not to encourage you to complain or offer too many personal details during the interview. Rather, you want to focus on stories that take HR managers through your journey of overcoming a challenge and learning valuable lessons. “During interviews, don’t be afraid to give examples of what you have failed in and what you have learned from the experience,” Kaloferova says. “The ability to learn from mistakes is an important skill employers seek in a candidate, especially at the beginning of their professional career.”