How to Impress a Hiring Manager

By eweek  |  Posted 2002-07-31

How to Impress a Hiring Manager

Almost all the mail about my last column discussing how to evaluate a job offer was from people wishing they had an offer to evaluate.

While theres no guaranteed method of getting a job offer, I thought it might be worthwhile to examine the process I just went through recently to recruit for a new desktop manager. I have several open positions, but current economic conditions allow me to fill only this one.

Over three months, I interviewed 42 candidates. I cant even guess at to how many resumes I looked at. Of those I interviewed, 64 percent were out of work. Of the 42, six were invited back for second rounds. Half of those progressed to the third and final round, and only one of those three received an offer (which was accepted). You can interpret these numbers any variety of ways to infer what you will about the current job market, the candidate pool, and my recruiting and screening techniques, etc. Although its probably a safe bet that, within 42 interviews, I failed to recognize more than one, and probably several, ideal candidates.

There were the usual memorable candidate/interview moments: Many candidates made a point of saying that they had visited my companys Web site prior to the interview. Yet a few still asked me what business my company was in—which is either a commentary about our Web site or their cognitive skills. Only one researched me and commented about my articles and book. But that didnt get him the job.

There was the candidate who couldnt explain the difference between DNS and DHCP, and the candidate who tried to snow me by explaining Windows group policies as "policies for groups"—and variations on that two-word theme. There were candidates willing to take far less than they were making previously, including one prepared to take a 50 percent cut. One candidate seemed to have a problem with women. During the interview process he met with two female managers, both of whom took an immediate dislike to him. Interestingly enough, the male managers were very positive about him.

One interview was interrupted twice by the candidates pager. On both occasions, he stopped talking in midsentence to remove the pager from his belt clip, looked at the message and keyed in a response. On neither occasion did he feel the need to say something like, "Excuse me."

More than a handful of candidates showed up 30 minutes, or more, early. While I appreciate punctuality, it seems to me that when you show up that early youre essentially asking me to adjust my schedule to accommodate you. All were left to warm the bench in the lobby.

I learned that one candidate who was disappointed by not being invited back for a second interview thought I had my own agenda: never filling the spot as a way to protect my own job. (In a future column Ill talk about those job openings that seem to have the cards stacked against candidates.)

Several candidates seemed well-qualified in terms of skills, background and expertise—but "too nice." I kept trying to picture these candidates in meetings with some of our executives who have a reputation for being loud and demanding. In my mind, these candidates would end up cowering in the corner.

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However, the most interesting thing I noticed about the process was something I noticed about myself: how I was looking at resumes. I learned that the very first thing I looked at was the candidates job history—how many jobs they had in the past few years, and how often they changed jobs. If the candidate had a history of only staying two years or less at their previous few jobs, he or she was immediately discarded. Invariably, the headhunter would explain that the candidate was "now ready to settle down and take something for the long term." Ive heard that refrain far too often (and been burned in the past by it).

On the other hand, Id be just as leery of candidates with extended tenure (e.g., 15+ years) at one company—for fear they only have one view of the world.

The very last thing on the resume I looked at—meaning I never looked at it—was the candidates education. In fact, I had to check his file while writing this to find out that the candidate I did hire does, in fact, have a degree.

Does this mean I dont value education? Thats unlikely since I myself obtained an MBA—mostly at my own expense, and while I was working full-time. My tendency to disregard formal education really means that I believe the weight of educational credentials diminishes over time, as experiences, accomplishments and expertise are accumulated over the years. In the case of the candidate I hired, what has more value: a degree he got six years ago, or the skills and experience hes accumulated in the years hes been working in IT?

Of course, life is cumulative. Would my preferred candidate have gone as far as he had without his degree? It is quite likely that his degree was a key factor in getting him one of his prior jobs. And that allowed him to accumulate the experience and skills he now possesses. There are many companies that insist on a four-year degree (even in an unrelated field) as a requisite for employment consideration. And, certainly, a degree can be a critical factor for someone looking for his or her first job.

I generally believe that degrees and certifications demonstrate exposure to certain concepts and ideas, and the candidates ability to see an endeavor through to the end. But, they do not indicate anything about skill level or competence.

What was outstanding about the winning candidate? Probably nothing. He simply had the right skill set (in fact, he had more technical expertise than I was looking for), experience, background, personality, and levels of maturity and professionalism. The things that he saw as important closely matched my own priorities.

No matter which side of the desk youre on, you can (and should) learn from every interview.

Brian D. Jaffe is an IT director in New York, an eWEEK contributing editor and co-author of the "IT Managers Handbook: Getting Your New Job Done." He can be reached at

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