Last week I finished the process of hiring a new Product Manager to my Product Team our Post11 (with the support from our HR Manager and my boss). If everything goes well, she will be the fourth person I have had the opportunity to hire during my career.
Just last year I was the one applying for the Product Manager role in Post11. At that time, I didn’t know how my “competitors” presented themselves, how their CV’s looked, or how much salary they asked. I could only try to give my best and hope that other candidates suck.
Searches for new team members have allowed me to validate dozens of job candidates and have conversations with many of them. Seeing how they approach the job search has been a very interesting and eye-opening experience. Job-seekers’ methods have varied a lot: some send 10 pages long CVs, some write cover letters, some curse their previous employees, others are wearing a black suit for an online interview. I reckon this to be normal, as people come from different backgrounds and have different self- presentation tactics.
But I got to say, I have mostly been disappointed with how candidates have been prepared.
Tips to stand out in your job search
At the end of the hiring process, there is always one question – who to hire? Of course, we value each candidate based on their skill set. But to understand their suitability, we also try to understand their character, communication skills, motivation, and fit to our team.
My recent experience inspired me to write down some tips for job-seekers. All these steps require some extra effort, but as much as I have seen, putting more effort into the application process is the main way to gain an advantage over other candidates.
- Design your resume (CV) and keep it max 2 pages long.
First, try to avoid using default CV designs that are provided by CV portals, these all have the standard looks and don’t make you stand out. Well designed CV is the first impression the hiring team gets from you, it needs to be visually nice and easily readable. Also, try to fit your CV into 1 page, max 2 pages – with CV’s, the size matters. PS! Make sure your CV is up-to-date.
- Write a short cover (motivational) letter, even when it’s not required
It’s probably the hardest task in the application process. Still, it’s essential to do it. The cover letter allows you to tell more about your suitability to the job offer than a fact-based compact CV. Write about your motivation, tell why you think the job is right for you and what makes you so special that the hiring team wouldn’t want to miss out. But as with CV, keep it compact – max 1 page – to make sure the hiring team takes the effort to read it.
Also, the cover letter is a good way to present your writing skills. The Knowledge Project podcast episode with Basecamp CEO Jason Fried has inspired me to evaluate writing skills on candidates. Ability to write and communicate clearly and effectively is nowadays needed in almost every position.
- Update your social media platforms and check your google search results
As you are googling about the company you are applying to, so is hiring team googling about you. Hopefully, they will not make a decision solely based on the findings, but some controversial info could play a role in the decision process. Just make sure the results aren’t embarrassing and aren’t revealing something you wouldn’t want. Also, an updated LinkedIn account shows professionality.
- Prepare relevant questions to the hiring team before the interview
If I could give only one tip, this would be it. It’s more important to prepare your own questions than to prepare perfect answers for the potential hiring team’s questions. Through asking questions you get to know more about the job offer and the company you are applying to. There’s a quote “Choose a boss, not a job”, challenge your boss with good questions. No need to waste time applying to the wrong job with the wrong people.
But what’s more, people love to have an opportunity to speak. It also applies to people in the hiring team. Sometimes a good question can trigger an explanation so long and thorough, that it will fill most of your interview (happened to me). Later the hiring team will think you are a good conversation partner, very interested in knowing more about the job, and know how to ask good questions. For Product Managers, the ability to ask good and difficult questions is essential.
- Make notes during the interview
After you have asked a bunch of good questions, do yourself a favour and write down some notes about the things you hear. Often, there are many rounds of interviews, and it can be quite embarrassing if you have forgotten some essential information discussed in the first interview. Also, a moment of writing could give you a small pause to the interview and a possibility to think a bit if needed. As a bonus, you look professional and organized with a notebook.
- Be yourself in the interview
Companies with the right values understand that employees are not only skills and assets. They understand the complexity of human beings and understand the dynamics of people working together. That’s why it’s important for the hiring team to understand what kind of person you truly are and how you fit into their existing team.
It’s important in both ways – you don’t want to fit into the collective you don’t like either. So, be open about your interests and values, your strengths and shortcomings. Be honest. Sometimes your imagined faults can turn up to be your strengths, there is no right fit for every job.
That’s the view from the hiring side of the table, which is actually just my portable bedroom table, where I had all my online interviews.
Based on personal experience, if your professional background is supporting you, then basic personal marketing and a bit of preparation give an advantage over the majority of candidates. Add some luck, a good vibe with the hiring team, and the job is yours.