8 Job-Getting Tips from a Guy Who's Hired 500 People in the Past 5 Years

By Chris Birk on 21 December 2010 (Updated 16 December 2011) 6 comments
Photo: bgottsab

August Nielsen has hired about 300 people in the last 20 months.

Seriously.

He's the Human Resources manager for one of the nation's fast-growing private companies. In the spirit of full disclosure, let me say upfront that I work for the same company (VA Mortgage Center, which happens to be the country's largest dedicated VA lender). Part of dealing with rapid growth is bringing new faces into the fold.

Needless to say, Augie has been busy. His work over the last five years includes a stint as a recruiter at a giant insurance company, where he helped hire 200 more folks. All told, he's been involved in hiring about 500 people since 2005.

The guy knows job interviews.

Given that, I asked him to step back and retread some familiar ground. He's seen his share of good, bad, and downright bizarre from his side of the interview table. Here are eight of his tips and hints for successfully navigating the job interview and hiring process. (See also: How to Recognize and Answer Illegal Interview Questions)

Do Your Research

"This should go without saying, but you might be surprised by how many people (even in this economy!) don't conduct even cursory research on our company. With everything everywhere online, there really is no excuse for not doing your due diligence. Beyond that, if the position that you're applying for is not familiar to you, do some digging. If the job duties in the job posting are not sufficient, search similar titles on a job aggregator like SimplyHired.com or Indeed.com. The bottom line here is to be prepared — know the company and know the job. We take notice when an applicant references our company values."

Write Worthwhile Cover Letters

"Most cover letters are so generic that they're of little value. And it's amazing how often applicants forget to change the company name from the last place they applied. Don't bother to provide a cover letter unless you're putting serious effort into it."

Apply Online

"A lot of corporate HR/recruiter types generally do not like resumes dropped off in person and unannounced. Sorry, but paper resumes went out of fashion around 2001. They're incredibly likely to get lost. Second, most HR people are extremely busy. It's tough to remember the sum and substance of a quick, impromptu conversation with a stranger after a hectic work day."

What to Wear

"We have a very casual dress code, but that doesn't mean prospective employees should show up in a T-shirt and flip flops. When in doubt, dress up. It conveys a degree of seriousness and preparation. Sure, you'll stick out to employees in the office as someone interviewing, but that's about the worst of it."

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Interview Time

"Be on time or early, but not too early. HR folks can get a little on edge if their 11 a.m. interview shows up at 10:30. Five to 15 minutes is usually enough."

Don't Push for Promotions

"Be humble and don't ask how soon you can get promoted — unless the interviewer brings it up. In fact, if they do bring it up, that's also a good indicator of a competent manager with an eye for talent. The reality is most hiring managers want to hear how interested you are in their job, their department and working for them. They want to hear that you're going to be there for the foreseeable future and that you'll be happy. There will be plenty of time to scheme and game plan your promotion after you get the job. There is a time and place for those things, and the interview is not one of them. But, again, there's that caveat: Feel free to walk through that door if the hiring manager opens it."

Send Thank You Notes

"A good handwritten thank you note to the hiring manager can go a long way. Emails are OK but not as effective. Pick up a business card after the interview and send a note within a day or so. Cite a couple reasons why you're an ideal candidate and possibly reference a discussion point from the interview. It can do wonders. Be sure to use your best penmanship. Sloppy handwriting looks, well, sloppy. There's no need to send a separate note to the HR rep or recruiter. It can't hurt you, but they get plenty as it is."

Accepting the Offer

"When you get that call from HR offering you the job, hopefully you've thought about it and are ready to accept. Playing hard to get in this economy is likely to get you moved down the list. Make no mistake — there's a lot of competition out there for good jobs and employers are generally in the driver's seat here. If you have multiple job offers or serious job prospects, that's great. If you receive a job offer from Company B while still waiting to hear from Company A, be sure to let the HR rep at Company A know of your new offer — and that you would gladly turn it down to work for them. When I get those calls it's a signal that my gut was right and confirmation that you are indeed a great candidate. I will usually try to get an answer from the hiring manager a little quicker so that I don't lose out."

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Guest's picture
Beau

Hi Chris. I wonder if August Nielsen could answer another question. I frequently find that an interviewer rarely has seen my resume before I've arrived for an interview - the most common scenario is the interviewer reading my resume while I sit in the chair across from him. This makes me wonder about the value of writing a cover letter. If the interviewer hasn't had time to read my resume, why would he bother reading my cover letter? I feel pressure to include cover letters with job applications but I can't justify spending any quality time on them given my interviewing experience. Are applicants ruled out by the absence of a cover letter? Is a bad cover letter better than no cover letter? I'd love some feedback on this if available. Thanks.

Guest's picture
Guest

Covers letters are rarely read by hiring managers. I have been in recruiting for 10 years (the past five as a corporate recruiter).

Chris Birk's picture

Beau,

I ran this past Augie. Here's what he told me:

"Well, I would rather be safe than sorry on this. You never know who's going to be reading these. Perhaps the HR rep or resume screener passed you on to the hiring manager because of your great cover letter. Hard to tell. You can't control the interviewer's lack of preparation. You should concentrate on what you can do to put yourself in the best light possible so that you emerge as the best candidate.

Regarding your other question, unless the company has asked for a cover letter specifically, I don't think they'd necessarily screen you out if you didn't have one. A bad cover letter is worse than no cover letter in my opinion."

Hope that helps. Thanks for reading.

-cb

Guest's picture
iluvhatemail

going to a job interview today. I will be wearing a tshirt and some pants. I am very thankful i'm in the creative industry since i hate wearing ties. I find if you act comfortable and confident thats most of the interview right there. I do a lot of job hopping, since thats the easiest way to get promoted and a raise. I always feel like my experience and portfolio get me in the door, but my personality and a normal conversation with the interviewer gets me those jobs. Dont go all stressed out and desperate, relax, have a good chat but dont ramble. Practice makes perfect.

Guest's picture

Good post! Too many perspective employees don't prepare for the interview, send thank you notes or practice interview questions. When they treat this very important interview too casually, the result is failure.

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Bran

This is an old post, but if an HM could answer this question it will be awesome. I have read about graphical CVs and I think they're pretty nifty. I just want to know how effective they are, such as those that can be created via SHINE app (http://goo.gl/vhZ2q), from the point of view of a hiring manager.