8 things hiring managers wish you knew

by Ask a Manager on August 14, 2013

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featured-on-usnHiring managers see a lot of job applicants make the same mistakes over and over again, many of them easily preventable if only applicants knew how hiring managers operate.

Over at U.S. News & World Report today, I talk about eight things that hiring managers wish all job candidates knew – both to help them hire more easily and to end some of the frustration on job-seekers’ side of the hiring process. You can read it here.

{ 65 comments… read them below or add one }

dejavu2 August 14, 2013 at 11:05 am

I learned #4 the hard way. Had a guy in an interview tell me they were definitely going to hire me for a summer internship, that it was just a formality for him to clear it with the other two guys in his office. I idiotically stopped looking for a summer gig because I took his work for it. But I never heard from him again. Wish I’d known about this blog back then.


Lindsay J August 14, 2013 at 4:12 pm

I had that happen to me, too. Super positive interview. Got told that he just had to clear hiring me with his director because it would be the first time they hired outside the company for that position, and that he would be calling me within the week.

I guess the director said no because he never called me back. I called to follow up with HR once and she said that the manager would call me ASAP, and he still never did.


Jessa August 14, 2013 at 8:19 pm

I think we all have one of these stories. I too wish I’d seen this blog when I was far younger.


Bean August 14, 2013 at 11:13 am

I cannot agree more with point #1. While yes, I enjoy knowing a candidate is interested in a position but I definitely do not need them calling twice a week to “follow up” on their application or to stop by the office multiple times to remind me that they applied for a position.

This is especially frustrating when we are not hiring at the moment and I let the candidate know that we are not actively recruiting for the department they are applying within.


JM in England August 14, 2013 at 11:31 am

In England, we call #8 “Does your face fit?”……..if it does, you’ll go a long way. Have seen incompetent employees virtually get away with murder because their “face fitted” !


Felicia August 14, 2013 at 11:36 am

I love that you shared #1 – I know that from reading this blog so often, but LinkedIn of all places just shared an article about how you should disregard instructions saying to apply online and go in person instead, and to follow up by phone almost immediately even if it says not to call. Then the university alumni association posted the same thing! I wanted to comment that that advice is stupid and will hurt people, providing a link to this blog. I’d say that #1 is really important advice, but so much other career advice from “professionals” directly counter it so people don’t believe me when I say it’s important to follow application instructions.


VictoriaHR August 14, 2013 at 11:49 am

I would have definitely posted something in response to that


ThursdaysGeek August 14, 2013 at 11:57 am

Yes, do comment (in somewhat more diplomatic terms). I’ve been linking to AAM from the workplace.stackexchange site. Although, sharing good advice does increase the good competetition for when I’m looking for a job.


Felicia August 14, 2013 at 12:19 pm

I commented something to that effect on the share of that article from my alumni association, but didn’t bother with the original LinkedIn article, which I shared below. And of course I shared AAM which I trust for good career advice:)


Jessa August 14, 2013 at 8:21 pm

Oh, yes respond to that. That is such a bad idea. If they actually go to the trouble of telling you NOT to do something, why would someone do that?


FormerManager August 14, 2013 at 11:55 am

I saw that same article….made me shake my head as a hiring manager.


Felicia August 14, 2013 at 12:11 pm

Here is the LinkedIn article that shared the stupid advice, particularly countering #1 but bad advice in general. http://www.linkedin.com/today/post/article/20130813060654-52594-ten-job-search-rules-to-break . I can’t believe so many people liked it. I don’t know, I always felt like not following application instructions or phoning to check on the status of your application before you ever got an interview are both counter intuitive so I guess that’s why I never followed that bad advice.


Kelly L. August 14, 2013 at 1:12 pm

There are so many things in that article with trademarks on them too–I suspect we’re being sold things. And the example candidate sounded really obnoxious to me.


Anonicorn August 14, 2013 at 2:19 pm

Thank you! My eyes tend to glaze over when I see TM phrases.


voluptuousfire August 14, 2013 at 8:30 pm

Also the graphics in her article are obnoxious.


Anonymous August 14, 2013 at 2:13 pm

I’ve read a few of her articles and they are full of bad advice. Whenever Alison talks about bad advice bloggers, I always imagine she’s talking about her!


Felicia August 14, 2013 at 2:43 pm

I think the fact that it was posted on LinkedIn is going to get a lot of people to believe her. I’ve never read any of her articles before and that’s the most bad advice i’ve seen in one place.


Felicia August 14, 2013 at 2:44 pm

All the people commenting on her article saying it’s helpful makes me sad


Lily August 14, 2013 at 2:49 pm

I was really put off by the example of Linda. When does a manager want to hire a boss? Sure, I want people to think about what they are doing and make suggestions, but I think a job hunter doesn’t have enough information yet (unless I am the manager of HR and am hiring an HR professional). Then #8 comes into play and I think Linda may be prone to overestimating her level of knowledge.


Felicia August 14, 2013 at 2:57 pm

It kind of sounded to me like Linda was imaginary.


Lily August 14, 2013 at 3:19 pm

yes, but wasn’t Linda supposed to be a good example of how to act? If she was supposed to be a bad example, then I can only agree.


Ruffingit August 14, 2013 at 5:57 pm

Linda was a horrendous example because frankly, if someone called the hiring manager and said what Linda said (in italics below), the reaction would not be the hiring manager being reflective and agreeing. The reaction is more likely to be “Screw you. You just received an offer letter, you’ve not even accepted it and you’re already trying to tell us how to do our jobs better? Offer rescinded!”

The idea that this woman would be trying to make changes to the way business is done before even accepting the offer and seeing the business processes in more detail would likely be insulting to the hiring manager and others. I don’t think, in this example, making statements like the one Linda made would be taken kindly at all.

Quoting from the article: “I had left you a voice mail a week ago, hoping to connect and talk about specifics,” she said. “I know you’re busy. I had the impression from you and others in the company that this is a high-priority role. It seems as though a live conversation by phone to talk about the offer details would have been an important step to take before committing anything to paper.”


the gold digger August 14, 2013 at 11:44 am

RE #8: My friend Leigh interviewed someone for her team. Leigh said that this person would have been fabulous at the job, but she didn’t make her an offer because she (the applicant) would have gone insane with the bureaucracy. (It was a government job.) “She was a real go-getter and so qualified, but she would have hated it here,” Leigh said. Leigh has since taken a new job – she, too, couldn’t stand the bureaucracy.


ProcReg August 14, 2013 at 11:58 am

I’ve gotten this. The hiring mgr heard that I don’t procrastinate, and they said, “Oh, I put off everything”.

Glad to know you’re lazy…


MK August 14, 2013 at 12:05 pm

I recently declined a job offer from a government agency due to wanting to avoid being stuck in a bureaucracy. When I first applied, I thought it wouldn’t bother me so much but the interview process was so painful in its bureaucratic slowness that I just stayed in my current employer (which is also huge but alot more agile).


abby August 14, 2013 at 2:00 pm

I, too, recently declined a job offer with a government agency. It was a hard decision, as the work itself sounded perfect for me, but I was really concerned about how I would fit in such a bureaucratic environment, and whether I would even be able to do what I do best. Fit really is so important.


AdamR August 14, 2013 at 11:53 am

On #3 so if you’re filling out an application and there’s a box that asks “May we contact this employer” how likely are they to do it if you put “no”? I’d wondered enough in the beginning if putting “no” for any of those may send red flags, but now I’m wondering if they ignore my request as well. :P


Elizabeth West August 14, 2013 at 9:04 pm

I have a couple of those. The bosses are no longer working there. On the one I don’t want them to call, I put No, and when I type the boss’s name, I attach “-no longer there.” I don’t know if it means they won’t call, but I like to think they won’t bother. It’s old enough now that they probably won’t anyway (and soon, hopefully, will drop off my resume).


Jennifer August 14, 2013 at 11:58 am

Right now I’m hiring for a position and have been gobsmacked by the amount of applicants not even attaching resumes or cover letters which I ask for in the ad. Even odder is a few dozen applicants sent in photos with their applications despite me not requesting them and it not being the norm in my field/country. We have gotten several that have even attached public bathroom cellphone selfies!

As someone who was recently looking for a job I empathize with their search but the first thing I look at when opening an application is if it has the things I requested and if there are extra things attached if they are relevant to the job.


HR Competent August 14, 2013 at 12:19 pm

“We have gotten several that have even attached public bathroom cellphone selfies!”

Please tell me there was at least 1 “duckface” pose.


some1 August 14, 2013 at 2:31 pm

Or embarrassing toiletries such as a tube of Preparation H or box of Depends*

*not to say anyone should be embarrassed if they need products like this, but you wouldn’t take a picture of them and send it to people, either.


Manda August 14, 2013 at 8:52 pm

Having those things visible in a public bathroom is just hilarious!


Meg August 14, 2013 at 3:39 pm

That’s amazing. And embarrassing for the candidate. But for the rest of us, that is pure gold.


ChristineSW August 14, 2013 at 12:12 pm

#4 – I agree with this completely; nothing is firm if it’s not in writing. However, with all due respect to hiring managers and interviewers here, I think you (general “you”, not anyone in particular) might want to back off on some of the enthusiastic talk, especially, “We’re excited to work with you”. I’m sure it’s mostly genuine, but they don’t realize that job seekers tend to take that literally, especially if they’ve been looking for a long period.


ChristineSW August 14, 2013 at 12:15 pm

Annnnd I didn’t pay attention to the consistency of my pronouns (“you” vs. “they”) -.-


JM in England August 14, 2013 at 2:43 pm

I can tell you firsthand how demoralising having your hopes raised then dashed time & again can be!


Ask a Manager August 14, 2013 at 2:45 pm

The thing is, though, you guys have complete control over whether your hopes get raised and dashed, simply by remembering that nothing means anything until you have an offer.


Ruffingit August 14, 2013 at 6:06 pm

True, but hiring managers could certainly help the situation by dialing back the enthusiasm. Job seekers can dial back their hopes and hiring managers can dial back the enthusiasm. It’s helpful for both sides to do that.


JM in England August 15, 2013 at 5:55 am

Well said Ruffingit!

I was referring to my younger (and more naive) days when you did take what people said at face value. Have since developed the thick skin and cynicism that is an essential for the modern jobseeker. One thing I’m working on know is doing my best not to let said cynicism bleed through at interviews.


JM in England August 15, 2013 at 5:57 am

make that “now”……..D’oh!


ExceptionToTheRule August 14, 2013 at 12:19 pm

#5 – Amen. Dear job seeker, take the time to spell my name right. My first name is short, it’s 3 letters. My last name is long & complicated and people I work with don’t spell it right, but it’s right there in my email signature. Copy & paste it if you feel you need to go the whole Ms. ExceptionToTheRule route. Especially for a job that, you know, might require spelling.


Ruffingit August 14, 2013 at 6:16 pm

Same for hiring managers. My name has been continually misspelled by hiring managers. It’s in the e-mail, make an effort!


anon August 14, 2013 at 8:31 pm

A friend of mine once got an email rejection addressed to “Dear Insert Name.” She was unimpressed.


Manda August 14, 2013 at 8:56 pm

Lol. I recently came across an ad for a job with the title, “Generic Template.” The actual text stated the position, but the title was obviously never changed.


Esra August 14, 2013 at 12:26 pm

Ugh #2.

I had to interview for the first time recently, and one of the candidates would not answer any of my questions directly. You have to know specific software/code to perform the role, and every time I asked her if she knew one, she would dance around it, talk about her previous (unrelated) experience, it was awful.

Being in charge of reviewing resumes and contacting candidates for the first time really opened my eyes to #5. The little things so, so matter. Sometimes there’s a little bit of flack in the comments here about not giving candidates who made a bad impression, for whatever reason, a chance. But when I’m faced with a two candidates of equal skill and one made a few goofs and the other was affable and professional? How can you not go with the better option?


Holly August 14, 2013 at 12:53 pm

I just want to point out the absolute level of importance a cover letter has – because I’ve been involved in hiring at two different companies (with completely different missions – one was a college, another a software company) and in both of them, 80% of the time the majority of our applicants didn’t include a cover letter, even though we said we either highly preferred or required it. All of those candidates didn’t get a second look. Just by having one – it should be the best you can make it, but still – already puts you ahead of the pack.


Kristi August 14, 2013 at 3:12 pm

I’m always amazed by so many applicants not including cover letters, or not following instructions. Not to generalize, but do the applicants tend to be younger and less experienced or simply not detail-oriented?


MrSparkles August 14, 2013 at 3:44 pm

If a company specifies that they want a cover letter, I’ll write one. If they don’t, however, I tend not to. Some reasons off the top of my head are:
1. It doesn’t spell sense to spent ample time crafting an unique letter where, chances are, you’ll probably never receive a response. A lack of response could be attributed to anything, not just a lack of a cover letter
2. From experience, a wonderful cover letter isn’t a substitute for hard skills the employer requested/wants
3. Many HR staff have admitted to not even looking at them (systematic reasons or not), or if they do, it’s a passing glance

I’ll admit that I’m a tad bias as all jobs I’ve landed did not involve a covering letter whereas those that specifically requested one tend to place absurd importance on the process than actually hiring qualified candidates (in my case, public sector jobs).
I feel that how one answers the cover letter vs no cover letter question is dependent on their position (i.e. HR vs applicant, employed vs unemployed, etc).
Just my two pennies.


Holly August 14, 2013 at 4:23 pm

All applicants were between late twenties to early fifties, as far as you can tell from their work experience, so my guess is they figured “eh, don’t really need to bother.” You do. Because we have tons of options to pick from, and the one who bothered is getting my attention.


MrSparkles August 14, 2013 at 4:54 pm

“Because we have tons of options to pick from, and the ones who bothered is getting my attention”

I think you may have answered your own question. In your case it matters, but not in every case. Including one may raise one’s chances of a response, but doesn’t guarantee it. Kinda like playing the lottery; buying a ticket won’t guarantee a win, but not buying ensures you won’t win. Perhaps the applicants felt they didn’t have all the needed skills, but at the sametime felt submitting a resume wouldn’t hurt.

In anycase, if it specified that a cover letter was mandatory, then I understand. If it was an “either/or” case , then as a seeker I’d take issue as I’d be penalized for choosing a specified option that’ll unknowingly disqualify my application. I only say this coming from a position where I’ve received call backs without providing a cover letter when given a choice to do so or not.


Ask a Manager August 14, 2013 at 6:12 pm

I just cannot imagine interviewing someone who only sent in a resume, with no accompanying letter explaining why they were applying for the job and thought it was the right fit. Cannot imagine it, not when there are so many other candidates who do bother and who are worth talking to.


Miss Betty August 14, 2013 at 7:16 pm

Unfortunately – and I wish I could remember where I read this; it was just last week – there are people giving the advice that cover letters are unnecessary and that HR staff hate them because it’s extra work to read them and all your qualifications are covered in your resume anyway. The article I read specifically said that, unless it’s specifically requested, a cover letter is a bad idea. (I, of course, being an Ask a Manager reader, knew better!)


ExceptionToTheRule August 14, 2013 at 8:26 pm

I hire entry level and I’m seeing a lot of resumes with very short cover letters that basically say: “here’s my resume for this job posting.”


MrSparkles August 14, 2013 at 10:05 pm

I think you touched on something that plays a huge role in obtaining employment but isn’t always mentioned: subjectivity.
What you may deem ‘sufficient’ and what another may not can be two different things, and vice-versa. Using the cover letter as an example, some may feel that a resume is incomplete without one, whereas others may feel that a cover letter isn’t necessary. As an applicant, odds are we have no idea which HR rep we may be dealing with (assuming a human even looks at your application, but that’s another story).

I guess my point it this: including one probably won’t hurt one’s chances, but it may only marginally increase the chances, if at all, at obtaining a call back. Given that job hunting is, to some extent, a numbers game, crafting one may not always be worth its associated opportunity costs from the applicant’s viewpoint.
From a HR/employer’s viewpoint…well..they usually dictate the rules, arbitrary or not. Much of obtaining success, even for those with the skills and effort/ability, is dependent on series of events and circumstances that applicant usually has no control over, but must fall their way. This includes how the employer acts/believes to be sufficient or not. That has been my experience at least.

For what it’s worth, I greatly appreciate your time and effort with the site and thank you for providing it. I usually agree with your assessments/suggestions; this just happens to be one of a few I disagree with, that’s all. :)


Anonymous August 14, 2013 at 1:53 pm

“Of course, if you just need a job at any costs, this might not resonate with you, but if you want a job where you’ll excel and be happy, it should.”

I get your intent here, but I don’t know that it’s fair to say that this doesn’t “resonate” with people who simply need a job–any job. Many people, for many reasons, find themselves without a ton of offers but do have financial or family obligations that make a job–any job–a necessity. And I don’t think it should be characterized as either “you’re a person who wants a position where you’ll excel and be happy” OR “you’re a person who is willing to hide flaws or say anything in order to be offered a job, even if it’s a bad fit.”

I want a job where I’m happy and can excel, and in this economy, I also cannot afford to wait for that perfect fit. We don’t have to set one situation against the other. It leaves a bad taste in my mouth.


Ask a Manager August 14, 2013 at 2:30 pm

Whenever I talk about the need to be honest in an interview about your strengths and weaknesses and who you are, some people reply with, essentially, “That’s nice if you have the luxury, but sometimes your need for an income doesn’t allow it.” That’s what this is about. Some people aren’t interested in showing interviewers who they really are; they want to find a way to come across as whatever will get them hired.


Rich August 14, 2013 at 2:04 pm

#1 is my biggest peeve. By far. You don’t think I see all those missed calls from you? Why are you phoning my colleagues trying to get everyone to track me down? Get outta here!



Carrie August 14, 2013 at 2:43 pm

As soon as I saw that this article was one of those click-through articles, I closed it without reading it. This is my least favorite internet invention. When an article lists 15 things, it really doesn’t need to use 15 different pages to do it. Half of the time this feature wind up crashing my browser or does not translate well to mobile devices. My preference: one article, one page, regardless of whether it is a “list.”


Chandra August 14, 2013 at 3:40 pm

@Carrie. do you mean that the article linked to by Allison is a click one to go from point to point? Because it’s all listed on one page on my computer (from work, using the standard MS Explorer browser). In fact I’ve never seen an article linked to here, in that format (and I agree with you, I can’t stand having to click through each “slide” almost as much as I can’t stand being forced to watch a video when I could just read the text).


Meg August 14, 2013 at 3:53 pm

But it’s not like that … I just read this article and everything was on one page. Either you’re mistaking this for something else or your browser did something funky.


Lily August 14, 2013 at 3:16 pm

#1 If you can’t follow the instructions in the ad, I figure you won’t be able to follow instructions on the job. If you take for granted getting an exception during the hiring process, I figure I will need to modify processes in my department and intervene with other departments in my company, so that you can feel that you are special. But if I arrange everything around you, what do I do for the next new hire?

#2 I will be honest and warn you of the limits of our bureaucracy and hope that you will select yourself out if you can’t live with them, because I don’t want to waste my time and your time training you and having you leave.

#4 One of the hardest things for me to learn as a manager was to conceal negative emotions (but who wants their manager to blurt out, “how could you let that happen?” when you confess a mistake?) So, I can now listen to job hunters tell me negative things and continue being pleasant. I am trying to gather as much information as possible and will judge later, so being cordial does not mean that I am about to hire you.

#5 The only way I can explain the behavior of some job hunters to me is to assume that they assume that the name of the person listed in the ad is some HR person or secretary who they think they can give a hard time rather than the name of their future manager.

#8 So true!


DMP123 August 14, 2013 at 3:53 pm

#1 Drives me crazy! I just turned down a candidate due to her calling 3 times everyday day. I informed her, I was meeting with our hiring team and would contact her when final decisions were made. Two hours later, I had a voice mail from her asking how our meeting went…and then 3 more calls that day. That’s too high maintenance and she doesn’t even work here! She went from a possible candidate to the reject pile immediately.


Ruffingit August 14, 2013 at 9:30 pm

Geeze, that woman moved from over eager to harassing stalker pretty quickly. Amazing that anyone would think that much contact was appropriate. Makes me wonder what she’s like in her personal relationships.


Ed August 14, 2013 at 4:45 pm

For #5, at a previous job our receptionist used to meet the candidates and walk them to our area which somewhat difficult to find. On the way she would make small talk, ask about their drive in, offer coffee/water, etc. I’ll just say that more than a few candidates lost offers because of that short walk. On the other hand, if we were casually discussing a candidate, she would also enthusiastically say how much she liked them which I’m sure had at least a subconscious influence on us. Why would you treat *anyone* poorly, let alone someone who might be working with you or possibly even reporting to you. Not trying to make a positive impression on every person you come into contact with during an interview, from the landscaping crew to the receptionist, shows a lack of common sense (or possibly just means you’re a jerk).


Elizabeth West August 14, 2013 at 9:11 pm

I used to leave little sticky notes on the applications if I liked the applicant. Things like, “Very polite, dressed well!” If they were really horrible, I would walk it back there and make a face. I don’t know if it made a difference–people we ended up hiring were mostly nice to me, and I guess they were also nice in the interview.


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