how hiring managers decide who to interview

Ever wonder what hiring managers are thinking as the read over your resume, and how they choose who to interview and who to reject?

I’ve screened thousands of candidates for jobs, and I can tell you that this early screening is generally pretty straightforward on the employer side of the process. Here’s a look at what most hiring managers are thinking about as they read through your resume and cover letter, and how they decide who to invite to interview.

How closely do you match the must-have and nice-to-have qualifications for the job? Every job has certain “must have” qualifications – core requirements for skills or experience that you must have. Most also have “nice to have” qualifications that the hiring manager would like to find, but which are more flexible than the must-have’s. The first thing most hiring managers will look for when reviewing your resume is how well you match up with each of those lists. If you’re missing a must-have, you’re probably not moving forward in the process. If you’re missing some of the nice-to-have’s, you still might move forward – but that will depend on the rest of the candidate pool.

What’s your work history like? If your resume is full of short stays at past employers – a year here, 18 months there, eight months over there – most hiring managers will be concerned that you won’t stay long with them either. One short stay on its own isn’t concerning, nor are quick departures because of layoffs or a move to another city. But if you’re work history is spotty overall, employers are likely to worry that you’re a flight risk.

On the opposite end of this spectrum, if you’ve stayed at your current company for 20 years, in some fields some employers may worry about whether you’ll be able to adapt to a new culture and way of doing things. Most won’t reject you outright for it, but it’s something they’ll usually note as a potential concern and balance against other factors.

Did you follow directions? You’d think this would be an easy box to check off, but a surprising number of candidates don’t follow application instructions. If you didn’t include a cover letter when one was requested, mailed in your application when you were directed to submit it electronically, or otherwise disregarded clear instructions, you’ll lose major points with most employers.

Does your resume make it easy to find relevant information quickly? Hiring managers are busy and when they’re screening resumes, they generally just skim rather than reading every word. A concise, well organized resume of one to two pages, focusing on a clear chronological job history presented in easy-to-skim bullet points, will grab more attention than a lengthier document with dense paragraphs of text, or one where it’s hard to figure out what the candidate did where and when.

What can they learn about you from your cover letter? As a candidate, you’re more than just your work history —  you’re your personality, motivations, and habits as well. Otherwise, we’d hire people based on resumes alone and not bother to interview them. Your cover letter is where you can start to flesh out who you are, beyond the work history on your resume. When done effectively, your cover letter sends important signals about how you communicate, why you’re interested in the job, and ways that you might excel at the job that aren’t immediately evident from your resume. It can also provide important context, such as why you’re applying for a job you seem overqualified for or the fact that you’ll be moving to the employer’s city next month. Speaking of which…

Are you local? Some employers are happy to consider candidates from any location. Others strong prefer local candidates, and still others won’t even consider long-distance candidates. Most often it comes down to how strong the local candidate pool is; for a hard-to-fill job, employers are often more open to talking with candidates from out of town. For a less skilled, easier-to-fill job, they may choose not to deal with the potential inconveniences of far-off candidates, such as needing more advance time to schedule interviews and paying interview travel costs (and sometimes relocation costs).

Were you recommended by someone they trust? If a mutual contact put in a good word for you, most hiring managers will give your application extra attention. A recommendation from a trusted source can carry enough weight to get you an interview (or at least a second look) when your application on its own might not have stood out from the competition otherwise. The closer the relationship – and the more the hiring manager trusts the contact’s judgment and understanding of what she’s seeking in candidates – the likelier this is to pay off for you.

What’s the rest of the candidate pool like? This is often a much bigger factor than candidates realize. You could be an excellent candidate for the job, even a line-for-line match with the job description, but ultimately your chances of getting interviewed depend on who the other candidates are. As the strength of the overall candidate pool increases, the bar for getting interviewed gets higher and higher. That’s one of the reasons you can feel like you’d be perfect for a job and still not get invited to interview – there may be other perfect candidates in the pool too.

{ 83 comments… read them below }

  1. Lemon Zinger*

    Such a helpful list to have on hand this week! We are conducting phone interviews. Last time we spoke to some… unique… candidates. Perfect timing!

  2. designbot*

    Another thing that I’ve had to look for a lot lately is how this person’s experience and expectations fit into the existing team and its hierarchy. Often candidates assume that more experience is automatically better/more qualified, but if what I need is someone who can draw all day and not be bothered yet about whether they have a seat at the table in meetings, someone with 15 years of experience who expects to be an art director (a role we don’t even have in our structure) already won’t do.

    1. stej*

      This is actually super important and less mentioned. Especially for lower level positions that need to take a good chunk of grunt work, the hiring manager doesn’t want to put someone there who will be bored and frustrated in a matter of months.

      I’ve only experienced my first round of being on the interviewer side of the table recently, and it amazed me how many different factors go into the final decision.

      1. Clever Name*

        Yep, there’s a guy in my network who has 20 years of experience in the field and lists himself as a Principal Scientist on LinkedIn contact me about an entry-level opening at my company. I had to tell him that no, really, we are looking for an entry-level person because the work we need done is entry level and we pay an entry level rate. It really isn’t better for a company to hire someone vastly overqualified.

        1. CloudCuckoo*

          I’m curious why you think he contacted you? Do you think he’s clueless and has no idea that it’s a low-level role with a low-level salary? Or do you think he might be experiencing age discrimination or some other issue in finding a new position and so he’s open to working for a lower salary so he can continue to, you know, eat. And not be homeless.

          1. debbiems*

            I would also like to know why someone would pass up someone with MANY years of experience just because it’s an entry level job. There are people out there who have been laid off and they are applying for these type of positions just so that they can keep working and make a living. I think you will continue to see this in the future. I would love to also hear from other hiring managers on why they would pass up someone with many years of work experience for a novice, even though the job description says its for a entry level. Let’s assume that the person would take the entry level pay.

            1. esra (also a Canadian)*

              There are people out there who have been laid off and they are applying for these type of positions just so that they can keep working and make a living.

              That’s exactly the problem, though. They’ll accept entry level pay… until the second they can find better, and I wouldn’t even blame them. But if I want a junior to work a junior role and grow in the trajectory we’re looking for, I’d like someone who fits the bill.

            2. designbot*

              I have HR call someone if they are otherwise a good fit and have a frank conversation with them about what their expectations are regarding pay, responsibility, etc. If someone said they would be willing to take entry level pay, wouldn’t have a problem reporting to someone their same age or younger, etc. I’d probably proceed albeit with caution.
              I have sympathy for folks in this situation because my own mom has been there, but guess what she bounced from her “just getting by” job as soon as another opportunity was offered. Why wouldn’t she? I’m looking for a junior designer right now and my ideal fit would stay 2-3 years, and after that hopefully move up to a mid-level role if we had the work to support that. If someone’s so overqualified that they’re taking a cut from what they’ve made before, I’m concerned that they’ll be moving on super quick. The only exception to this for me is if they have a specific reason why they’ve decided they don’t want the stress of upward mobility, they just want to keep doing the easy work and check out when they leave for the day.
              On the other hand if they’re not taking a big cut but they’re just trying to upsell us, tell us that they know we advertised for a junior but we should really take them because they’ll bring so much more value, they’ll become dissatisfied really quickly. When I need them to be drawing, they’ll want to be in meetings having more of a say in things. They’ll want somebody else to do boring work like image cropping or basic file setup, and there literally won’t be anyone else because they are that person. I just had to reject someone like this because while her skillset was very nice, there was no way for her to fit into our team structure that wouldn’t leave everyone pissed off.

            3. Amtelope*

              We probably wouldn’t hire someone with many years of experience for a true entry-level job, because it would be really likely that they’d both get incredibly bored and find a better job elsewhere quickly. We have hired someone overqualified (we were hiring for a Teapot Specialist, and she had been a Teapot Manager at a larger, more prestigious company) and had it work out well, but only after establishing that she really did want to step back to Teapot Specialist work in a more laid-back environment to make it easier to care for an ill family member. But our first reaction to her resume was “she looks great, but why is she applying for this job?”

            4. Julianne*

              One other risk is some overqualified candidates misjudging their own fit for a lower-level position/compensation. When I moved to a new state, I took a position that I was overqualified for (not nearly to the extent described above) because it made the most sense. (I had missed the major hiring window for my field in my new location, lacked the requisite state certification [I had an equivalent certification in another state], and I was also attending grad school full time – so there were lots of reasons for that choice.)

              It was harder than I thought. Sometimes the people who delegated work to me asked me to use Process X even though, based on my knowledge and experience, I thought Process Y would be better. But, not my call to make. Some people refused to delegate work to me because they assumed I would have no idea how to do it (since most people with my job title didn’t – it was an honest assumption, but still frustrating to me). I frequently got asked to do relatively unskilled work, like filing and organizing; I did it because I understood it needed to be done, and because I wanted to ensure that people thought highly of me so that I could have a shot at more skilled tasks, but I loathed it.

              I take responsibility for my role in this. I knew I was accepting a job that I was overqualified for. My supervisors knew I was overqualified for it. But I honestly did not think I’d be as bothered by it as I wound up being. If I were on the other side of the table, I wouldn’t write someone off solely because they were overqualified for the role, but I’d be probing to ensure that the candidate understood what the role would truly look like.

            5. Modernhypatia*

              We had this come up with the last round of hiring with more than one person (hiring for an assistant position split between three different but related areas) and we got applications from people who had been working full-time in the field 5-10 years.

              What I really wanted in those cover letters (and didn’t get) was some gesture that they understood this was an assistant position, that they’d carefully read the job duties. And then a sentence or so that gave me some idea of why they wanted this job (rather than any job) and how they felt they’d fit into the existing structure. Our ad was pretty clear about the duties and split of tasks, so they had something to work with.

              The people who did get interviews are the people who acknowledged all three areas, and thought about how an assistant role would fit there, given what the ad said.

    2. k.k*

      A great example of why cover letters are so important. That candidate could be sick of all the meetings and really justs wants to draw all day in peace, but you wouldn’t give them a second glance if they sent a generic cover letter.

      1. designbot*

        Exactly! If someone said that they’d done the high-flying, high-stress thing and were over it, or that they had family commitments that made them realize they should take a step back, I could totally understand how that person would fit into my team and better know how to proceed.

    3. Annonymouse*

      I agree. I was an office manager and head caramel coach in my niche industry and took a job as a receptionist at another company with less hours.

      Well I explained:
      1) I had some bad knee injuries that meant coaching was off the table until I recovered – recovery being at least 6 months to a year.
      2) I liked the more flexible schedule and having weekends off
      3) I really enjoy and have a knack for customer facing/service roles and thats where I’m happiest. Management isn’t my bag, baby.

      Given those circumstances it made sense that I would apply and be serious about the role. The money was only 1.5k less than the full time job I had with part time hours too.

  3. Not Today Satan*

    The cover letter is pretty important for me. I work for a mission-based nonprofit, so I need at least some interest in the mission indicated in the application/cover letter.

    The biggest negative for me is cover letters (or even “objectives” in the resumes) that show you’ve clearly been sending your application everywhere. E.g. a cover letter that emphasizes people management when this job doesn’t include managing people. I don’t expect a completely personalized application, but give me a break.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Same. A tailored cover letter can be a make-it-or-break-it item for me at the paper cut stage in hiring.

      1. fposte*

        I can’t tell if you’re meaning “making cuts in the pool by reading resumes” or just referring breezily to the stage involving paper as a phase that gives you paper cuts. I’m hoping the latter, but even if you aren’t, I’m using it that way now.

        1. JulieBulie*

          Oh, fposte, why’d you have to bring a pool into it? Now I’m picturing all of this happening by a lovely kidney-shaped swimming pool out back of a mansion, and there is an attendant standing by with a silver tray full of adhesive bandages. Not Today Satan and Princess Consuela Banana Hammock are floating around in inflatable chairs wile leafing through a stack of cover letters and resumes.

          Regarding cover letters, I will say that as a (not recently) job searcher, I put a lot of effort into the cover letter, and am disappointed when I can’t (or am told not to) include one.

        2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          I’ve missed you, fposte :)

          (The paper cut does often give me paper cuts, unfortunately.)

    2. Koko*

      I once received a cover letter that I could easily tell was a form letter the candidate had only slightly altered for the job because the snippets that were customized (job title, company name, and so on) were in a different font and size than the rest of the letter. There’s nothing wrong with tweaking a form letter – I do it myself! – but it showed a real lack of attention to detail/presentation. It was a job that involved managing a donor portfolio and I can just imagine a donor being offended by a “personal” note written in a way that made it clear that the personal-ness was a charade.

    3. Rincat*

      I work at a large state university, and it’s the same for us. I’ve received tons of applications where the candidate didn’t even bother switching out the school name in the cover letter.

    4. finderskeepers*

      So here’s something I don’t understand about your explanation. You check the cover letters for interest in the mission and if its customized to your position. But doesn’t that mean you end up spending a LOT of time going through the cover letter in addition to the resume?

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I put a lot of weight on cover letters, but I’m only skimming until I see that someone is of real interest — and I look at resumes first. If the resume makes it clear they’re not qualified, I’ll still glance at the cover letter in case there’s something there I should see, but that’s like five seconds.

      2. Not Today Satan*

        I don’t really understand the question. Sifting through applications is time consuming, yes. I work in a niche field where there’s very few people whose resumes jump out to me as a perfect fit. I see a LOT of “meh, maybe could work, maybe couldn’t” resumes, so I look at a lot of cover letters.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I know that’s not addressed to me, but yes — at least for many positions! If it’s junior-level positions that don’t require specialized hard skills, not necessarily. But for more senior and/or specialized skills where you really do have rigid must-haves, I would definitely cut based on resume alone. Like I said above, I’ll still glance at the cover letter even after realizing from the resume that they’re a no, because maybe there’s something there I’d want to see, but there are definitely lots of jobs where the work history alone will be disqualifying! (For example, if you’re hiring a lawyer and you get an application from someone with no legal background, you don’t need to read the cover letter to know they’re a no.)

    5. Where's the Le-Toose?*

      Totally agree Not Today!

      On deciding who gets an interview, cover letters and the other candidates applying are the two biggest factors. Don’t get me wrong, a resume matters, but after a while, you will see that applicants generally have the same level of experience, e.g. if we want a person with 2-5 years experience, we’re getting resumes from people with 2-5 years experience. What pushes people to the top of my list is a great cover letter. And a bad letter can sink you to the bottom of the list.

      For example, we had an applicant who listed “attention to detail” as a strength in the cover letter, and attention to detail is really important in our line of work. But the cover letter had so many grammatical and spelling errors (like using “insure” instead of “ensure”), that the person got a rejection letter.

      A good cover letter tells me something I’m not getting from a resume. It’s referencing that project that shows a great attention to detail (“at Teapots, Inc., I drafted a 150-page teapot manual with no errors”) or it’s revealing something that you don’t have space for in your resume but it’s relevant to our work (“I won the Alison Green no-typo award at Teapots, Inc. seven years running.”)

      We can tell when you basically use the same cover letter over and over, and just change the name and job title. It’s painfully apparent. And I usually read the cover letter first. Applicants, please, spend time writing a great cover letter personalized for each employer. Spending 20 minutes on a cover letter is better than 20 months without a job.

  4. Clever Name*

    I’m involved in hiring at my company, and all of Alison’s points are absolutely true. And I know folks don’t like to hear this, but yes, multiple short stays can indicate a problem. We recently hired a summer technician. The role is advertised as temporary summer work, but it’s not unusual that we hire our summer workers permanently; we’re a growing company and often we need additional help when the field season ends. The individual we ended up hiring for the summer had multiple short-term jobs on his resume. Most of them were seasonal jobs, but some were temp-to-perm, and he was never hired permanently. And there’s a reason for that. He lacked some pretty critical skills. He made it through the summer okay, but we decided not to hire him at the end of the season, even though we needed the help. I contrast that with one of the people we did hire, and she also had multiple seasonal jobs, but they were with the same company, meaning the company invited her back to work for them multiple times. And she’s so amazing. So yes, employers really do take note of many short-term stays.

    1. Anonymous Job Seeker*

      But what about jobs that are temporary by design, such as political campaigns or other contract jobs, which are becoming increasingly common these days? Myself, I’ve tried to make a career out of doing electoral and campaign work, decided it wasn’t for me (the average tenure in that field is around 2-4 years max. anyway) and that’s all I have on my resume. It makes it really, really hard to get your foot in the door anywhere else.

      1. Annonymouse*

        If a job is supposed to be temporary and is indicated as such in your resume it shouldn’t be a problem.

        It’s when you have lots of short term jobs that are meant to be long stays without a really good reason (medical issue that was sorted out, you live with your parents/partner and they’re in the military and move a lot but are now out of active duty) that it becomes an issue.

  5. Anonymous Educator*

    What’s the rest of the candidate pool like? This is often a much bigger factor than candidates realize. You could be an excellent candidate for the job, even a line-for-line match with the job description, but ultimately your chances of getting interviewed depend on the quality of the other candidates.

    This goes both ways. As someone who’s been involved in hiring committees, we love it if we have tons of top candidates vying for the spot, but sometimes you have to interview the folks whose cover letters are atrocious, because they have the “best” (better than the rest) experience… or the people with little experience but great cover letters, for the same reason.

    I’ve found hiring tech support in schools to be tough. You want people who can do technical things but who are also people people, but schools also tend not to pay industry rates for technical roles, so the candidate has to have a reason to take this school job over an industry job that will pay more.

    1. Koko*

      There’s a similar issue that seems to come up with IT and HR at nonprofits. I’ve been lucky to work with some good IT and HR people in my years in the nonprofit world, but unlike the fundraisers or the policy crafters, the truth is you can do pretty much the exact same IT/HR work for more money at a for-profit corporation, so the nonprofit world becomes in part a fall-back for people who couldn’t successfully compete for those higher-paying jobs.

      1. Anonymous Educator*

        the nonprofit world becomes in part a fall-back for people who couldn’t successfully compete for those higher-paying jobs.

        But, truth be told, at least for schools (I’d assume it’s the same for non-profits?), you don’t have to be on the cutting edge of technology to be a good hire, as long as you’re competent, knowledgeable, personable, and willing to learn new things. But, yeah, it’s tough to find someone who checks even all those boxes… and wants to work in schools (or non-profits). I choose to work in schools, because I used to be a teacher, and I have a heart for education. Otherwise, I’d be gunning for a position at a tech company, for sure.

    2. Rincat*

      Yep, I know this well. I work at a large state university in the IT division, and we are FINALLY restructuring our pay scale to make it more competitive. It’s pretty much always going to be lower than corporate, but if it’s laughably low (which historically has been), then even the good benefits won’t make up for it. This causes us to get a lot of hires that stay for just a few months so they can get some “IT experience” and then they jump ship for higher pay. However we have a good CIO now who understands this and is making good changes.

      1. Anonymous Educator*

        This causes us to get a lot of hires that stay for just a few months so they can get some “IT experience” and then they jump ship for higher pay.

        Yeah, we have a peer school who keeps losing its tech talent to tech companies (I’m in the Bay Area).

  6. ReadItWithSpanishAccent*

    For me, “following instructions” is key. If I say “apply by email only” and you come knocking on the office door, you are out. It is difficult because you don’t know how many of those simply can’t/don’t care to follow instructions, and how many have been told they need to come/call/insist to make themselves “noticed”.
    I also disregard those who blatantly didn’t read the job ad or did not care for the minimum requirements (Like having a valid working permit or being a registered lawyer).
    I can be pretty flexible with cover letters and CVs, though. I have interviewed and hired great people with crappy cover letters.

    1. Antilles*

      I also disregard those who blatantly didn’t read the job ad or did not care for the minimum requirements (Like having a valid working permit or being a registered lawyer).
      To be fair to the candidates, there are a lot of job ads which are blatantly ridiculous when it comes to listing required skills and qualifications. If the job ad lists more than about half a dozen requirements, odds are at least a few of them are actually on the “nice to have” list rather than “must have”. But from the outside, it’s absolutely impossible to tell which is which…and probably the smart play for a job-seeker to apply anyways and roll the dice on “meh, maybe those last two ‘requirements’ aren’t really needed”.
      As the interviewer, YOU shouldn’t hesitate to toss out resumes that don’t match what you need of course.

      1. Naruto*

        Agree! If I really don’t meet the requirements, or if I’m not one of your interview-worthy candidates, fine, toss my application. But in the legal field I see a lot of jobs posted with requirements (not just preferred qualifications) that almost certainly can’t all be actual real requirements. So I think people should apply for those jobs if they think they’re plausible candidates, and while hiring managers should not interview people they don’t want to, I don’t think you should be judging people for submitting an application.

        1. nonymous*

          But I do think it’s a bit of know your audience/industry situation. Like if that job classification routinely presents cases at court or treats patients, the applicant had better be certified appropriately. While I’m perfectly confident in my ability to administer basic first aid for my immediate family, I wouldn’t consider myself qualified to triage wounds in a work capacity.

      2. all aboard the anon train*

        Agreed. I see a lot that have 10 or 12 requirements and if I match 8/10 or 10/12 of them, I’m applying. Partially because if I ruled out everything where I didn’t meet at least 3/4 of the requirements, there would be no jobs to apply for and partially because I think it’s a bit naive for employers to think they can find multiple candidates who match all 12 requirements perfectly.

    2. ReadItWithSpanishAccent*

      For “requirements” I mean requirements absolutely sine qua non, like “have a valid working visa” or “be a lawyer”. Of course if there is, let’s say, a 3-years experience requirement which you do not fulfill but otherwise you think you have a strong application, please apply. But if I am searching for a lawyer and you haven’t finished high school, Jesus! Don’t apply (<– this has happened)

  7. all aboard the anon train*

    Two things:

    1. I’m going to assume short stays don’t apply to promotions, right? So if I was in position A for 1 year, position B for 8 months, and position C for 1.5 years at the same company, it’s not working against me? (I break out the jobs on my resume with the relevant dates, which is why I’m wondering). I only ask because I have heard advice that this looks just as bad.

    2. I know some of the recruiters for my current and previous publishing firms tend to trash cover letters that are overly personal about the industry. There’s a lot from people who go on and on about how much they love reading or their favorite authors, and love of books is nice for the job, but those cover letters come off less as enthusiasm for the job and more like the applicant is looking for an “in” to what they think will be days of readings books or interacting with authors. A friend who works for a big TV station has the same issue with applicants talking about how much they love certain shows or watching TV.

    1. designbot*

      1. No, this works in your favor. You stayed, you advanced. You win!
      2. One of the things I’m seeing from reading here is that cover letters seem to be one of the most industry-dependent things. I really only care about cover letters if there are some dots that need connecting. The commenter above who is in non-profit work sounds like she might love these “overly personal” cover letters that speak to someone’s dedication to the cause. Seems like one of those things where you really need to know how to dial it in for your field.

      1. all aboard the anon train*

        Cover letters seem to be such a subjective thing. I’ve applied to jobs where people read them and also applied to jobs where the recruiters admitted they didn’t read them at all.

        I’m sure other publishing houses may be different, but I know from speaking with some of our recruiters/HR people that there’s such a wealth of “I LOVE BOOKS” cover letters or ones that just want to work for COOL COMPANY/INDUSTRY. I think there’s a difference there. I know I appreciate letters that might mention an interest in the company, but I’ll be more likely to be interested by a letter that says, “I love what X Company is doing with Y genre” rather than “ABC book series is my favorite and I’d love to work at the place that publishes it because I love books and reading is my favorite thing in the world!!!!”

        I sometimes feel bad for recruiters or HR people in “cool industries” or companies because I’m sure they deal with a lot of people who want the cool aspect of a job, not the actual job. I know I get annoyed when interviews get into someone’s favorite books or how they’re an aspiring author (ugh not appropriate), but it must be ten times worse for the people weeding through applications.

        1. nonymous*

          I would say that the cover letters are doing their job, then. Clearly the individuals have no sense of the industry, and having that sense – imo – is a reasonable threshold for companies to have.

          As I read your quotes, the question comes to mind regarding how high maintenance or immature this employee would be. It’s a sign of professionalism that no one gives tons of feedback about new haircuts, weight loss/gain, new boots, hobbies, etc. I mean, great if there’s someone in the work group that you can chat about marathon training with, but if not that’s okay too.

        2. myswtghst*

          It’s an interesting line to walk, with cover letters, and I think you’re hitting on something important – enthusiasm for the job / industry / employer is good, but it should be realistic about the role the person is applying for. I’ve definitely seen cover letters with a lot of enthusiasm but an unrealistic understanding of what the role entails, which really makes me question if the applicant would be happy in the role as it is.

          I was in a really unique situation last year – applying for a role that involved both my current career and my college major / internship (I do employee learning & development, but went to school for zoology and interned as a zookeeper, and I was applying for an L&D role at a zoo). It really made me think about how to include my college experience in my cover letter, and demonstrate my enthusiasm, without it coming across like I thought I’d be out hanging out with the animals all day every day.

          1. all aboard the anon train*

            I think this is a problem that certain industries face when they’re perceived as “cool”. I have friends who work for all types of entertainment industries – from Vanity Fair to Marvel TV/Movies to ESPN – and they see the same problem with people wanting to work somewhere because they think it’ll be fun to have a job that aligns with their interests. And sure, there are cool perks and sometimes you get to meet famous people or work on popular content, but at the end of the day, 99% of the job is business, not sitting around enjoying that content as if it were a hobby. I don’t think a lot of people realize that.

            I feel sympathy because it’s really hard to be enthusiastic without coming off naive, especially if it’s for a job in an industry you think you’d love. I’ve seen one too many job candidates or interns think they’ll spend the day reading or talking about books only to realize that most of the job doesn’t even touch that (or worse, that most of the talk about books is all business and profits instead of anything borne out of love of literature).

      2. nonymous*

        re: the nonprofit perspective, there are a ton of positions which staff are remarkably underpaid and over worked. The whole industry is driven by leveraging employees and volunteers who are able to work for below-market compensation over an extended period. In order for this to be remotely sustainable, there has to be some other factor that drives the employee.

        this can be true in other scenarios as well. For example, my husband’s parents lived near Yellowstone park which really is an idyllic place to be in the spring/summer/fall. Winters are horribly isolating, so there was a lot of turnover with first year hires unless they had family locally or had experienced that climate before.

    2. Artemesia*

      all the jobs for one company should be grouped — you are at Global Octopus from 2009- 14
      The specific roles are then listed below that.

      1. Murphy*

        I think it depends on how different the roles are. (I work at a university, and people sometimes transfer within the university and take on vastly different roles.)

    3. Antilles*

      1 – No, absolutely not. If you’re so good that they literally can’t keep you in the same spot for more than a year without feeling like they need to move you up…well, shoot, good for you! Only caveat here is to make sure your resume is clear that they’re with the same company.

      1. all aboard the anon train*

        Yeah. I have them all grouped together under one company heading. The only place they’re truly broken out into separate entries is LinkedIn.

  8. Sr. IT Manager (Contractor for U.S. Gov't)*

    I would have added that computer algorithms are used to pick out applicants whose resume matches the must-have and nice-to-have qualifications for the job. If you do not match them, then I will never see your resume. But that does not mean you should lie about your experience.

    I would also have added that I do pay attention to the spelling on your resume. Please spell your name correctly. One candidate had their name in their email address, and they misspelled it so that email to them bounced.

    Eight open positions; four interviews this week.

  9. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

    I have a bias toward strong writing, so the overall, general quality of the cover letter is really important to me. I try to temper this inclination, though — not all jobs require excellent writing, and I shouldn’t apply that lens across the board.

  10. Kathleen Adams*

    I am no longer in charge of hiring, thank God (I’m in charge of projects, not people), but back when I did, I often got the feeling that many, many applicants are under the impression that if they meet the criteria as laid out in the job posting, the company is obligated to interview them. Like there’s some sort of legal requirement or something. It’s so odd.

    1. Recruit-o-rama*

      I know, right?? AND they think they are entitled to know the reason why they were not interviewed. Our recruiting prides itself on our responsiveness to email and phone inquiries regarding application status. We’ve set up a process that has multiple ways a candidate can check their status but I still probably field 5 calls a week with candidates demanding to know why they are not being interviewed.

  11. Ask a Manager* Post author

    I deleted a thread debating whether it was okay to comment on the looks of the model in the photo because it became derailing.

    To address the issue that was being debated: I would not be okay with comments here objectifying women. I do think comments about men’s looks aren’t exactly the same; women are dealing with massive cultural baggage around physical appearance that men simply don’t face to anything approaching the same degree. You can’t ignore that comments about women’s looks happen against a deeply rooted cultural and institutional power imbalance, and that women’s looks are still used against them in a bunch of harmful ways. That said, I’m not a fan of objectifying men either, and it became a derail so it’s been removed.

  12. OtterB*

    I haven’t done a lot of hiring, but generally look to the resume to tell me the person’s skills and experience. The cover letter should show the ability to string together coherent English sentences, neither so vague nor so filled with jargon that I can’t tell what the writer intends. A cover letter that shows some personality is not required but is a plus. It also helps when the cover letter addresses things that might otherwise be an automatic weed-out (e.g.” I am relocating to City for personal reasons as of date” will bypass my concerns about interviewing someone.

    We’re a small not-for-profit with no automated resume processing.

  13. Amtelope*

    What’s the rest of the candidate pool like? This is often a much bigger factor than candidates realize. You could be an excellent candidate for the job, even a line-for-line match with the job description, but ultimately your chances of getting interviewed depend on the quality of the other candidates.

    Yeah, this is huge. We just hired from a very strong candidate pool — I would cheerfully have hired three of the four candidates in the final round of discussion (and may in the future, if we ever get more budget), but one of them had specifically worked as a Strawberry Teapot Specialist, and we have a huge Strawberry Teapot project coming up for which we’re understaffed. If we’d been hiring six months later or six months earlier or had happened to have a Hazelnut Teapot project instead, we would probably have made a different call.

  14. Drama Llama*

    Following directions: I wish I could include this as an auto reply email to every job applicant who contacts us! When we recruited a marketing coordinator we specifically mentioned good communication skills and attention to detail. Every resume, except for maybe two or three, contained typos from head to toe right next to a statement saying how detailed oriented they were. I couldn’t believe the number of people who do not proof read their resumes.

    1. Kathleen Adams*

      You are so right. The organization I work for (“Teapot Producers Association”) is affiliated with a for-profit organization (“Teapot Insurance Co.”) that has, admittedly, a similar name. And that’s why when we advertise for full-time employees or interns, we’re very careful to identify ourselves as a non-profit that does not participate in the business of the for-profit. We will literally say “This is for the association, not the insurance company.”

      And yet every single time, at least half of the applicants will talk in their cover letters (and sometimes even in the interview) about how they have always had an interest in teapots and an yearning to help them get the insurance they need. I just don’t get why so few have taken even the routine gesture of googling “Teapot Producers Association,” finding our website and discovering what it is that we do and that we do not, in fact, insure teapots in any way, shape or form.


  15. Countess Chocula*

    I wish more people would believe the “candidate pool” answer–sometimes you really do have several great people to choose from.

    1. Anonymous Educator*

      I think a lot of people who haven’t been involved in hiring still think of applying to a job like applying to school—you have a certain chance based on your GPA, test scores, etc. The truth with jobs, though, is you have no idea what will work out. There are no “safety school” jobs. Every job is a reach job, even (and maybe especially?) jobs you are “overqualified” for. Usually there is only one opening, and there can be several outstanding candidates.

  16. Daphne*

    Sometimes it really feels like a crapshoot. I’ve had the same part of my resume praised and criticized by different interviewers.

    One guy liked that I included my then-in-progress graduate program, claiming that it showed initiative in improving a skill set that bridged several aspects of my field. Another guy apparently missed that I wasn’t done yet (I had listed the degree as “in progress, graduation anticipated fall 20XX) and said it was “deceptive” that I included a degree I “didn’t actually have”.

    (FTR, I included it both to show that I was working to grow into up-and-coming parts of my field, and also to weed out companies with a workaholic culture, since it was a big time commitment.)

  17. GlorifiedPlumber*

    Whoa… could you possibly clarify the concern regarding longevity at a job as a red flag? The statement of “On the opposite end of this spectrum, if you’ve stayed at your current company for 20 years, in some fields employers may worry about whether you’ll be able to adapt to a new culture and way of doing things.”

    I have to admit, I am really quite concerned about whether or not hiring managers are actually using that as litmus test at the resume screening level. What industries will do this? The leap from “Had a stable job for 20 years without being laid off, fired, demoralized enough to hop ship, being dissatisfied with job growth enough to quit” to “Can’t learn new tricks…” seems to be an awfully big jump.

    I work (and plan to continue to do so) for a leader in my industry for the last 10 years in an era where most resumes coming through probably show 2-4 continuous years. They pay me really well, they give me new opportunities, they promote me, they give me somewhat free reign of what projects I want to work on. I fully intend to stay here until something non work or non performance/opportunity related drags me away. Maybe my wife and I move, maybe I just want a career 2.0 doing something else, maybe the clients I work for decide they’re not going to use my firm anymore and work locally dries up, maybe we get bought and I dislike the new culture, maybe the leadership changes and I dislike them.

    Either way, I would be very sad if some hiring manager chooses to NOT proceed past the resume step for a candidate with 20 continuous years experience because in this era of “people job hop so much and that is bad for MY company cause I don’t want to waste money training someone who will leave or is a dud” suddenly stability is a red mark. E.g. “this person stayed at one place for 20 years, why weren’t they job hoping like everyone else?”

    How can I doctor my resume in such a way to avoid that perception?

    If I show 20 years of increasing responsibility and promotion, I.e. E1, to E2, to E3, to E4, to E5, to E6 with non lead to lead to business group leader shown CLEARLY, is any hiring manager worth their salt going to get the picture that, “Gosh maybe this GREAT candidate stayed because they liked it and something non performance related is going on… I should check in with them, they might come HERE and stay for 20 more years!”

    1. Annonymouse*

      Also there’s a big difference in being at a company and getting promoted every 2-3 years and being in the SAME position at a company for 6 out of your 12 years.

      Why have you been in that same position so long?

      Is it because there is no upward position you can take?
      Like if you’re c suite that makes more sense than say if you stayed the receptionist at a small company for that long.

      Or is there upward mobility but you keep getting passed over?

  18. Pam*

    I just went through resumes for an academic advising job. We had several good candidates and a handful of applicants who had spent serious career time at now-closed for-profit institutions. They didn’t make my cut.

  19. Quirk*

    A big one when I’m hiring which I don’t see mentioned here: how difficult was their last job?

    For context, I’m in software. Frequently people who have the “same” skills vary quite a lot in where they’ve had to employ them. One person may have worked in a start-up and had to create the company’s software almost from scratch, another may have worked in a field which incorporates various mathematical complexities (e.g. computer graphics), yet another may have worked in a large company writing user interfaces. Generally people who’re used to having to take more initiative and who work in more conceptually challenging areas are good fits for practically any software role, while people who work with less autonomy and more constrained problems head into interviews for more difficult roles with a question mark over their heads.

    In tech, also, how long people have stayed in their last role is judged somewhat differently.

  20. Question*

    Alison – about the part regarding local candidates. If someone really could be in town the next day for an interview, and could move to town asap for a job, is it ethical to ‘borrow’ a friend’s local address for your resume and say you’ve just moved here? What if you used to live in the area so you could handle random questions?

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