How To Impress A Hiring Manager

If you follow this blog, you know I work for NPR. As you might expect, I get to work with some smart people. Mensa smart. After 18 months at NPR I’ve grown accustomed to the intelligence in the building; but am also reminded of thoughtful, caring and compassionate employees we have quite often.
One of these colleagues is Matt Thompson, our Director of Digital Initiatives (and Mischief). Yes, that is his real title. Yes, he is cool enough to carry it. Matt wears many hats at NPR, but one of them is to be the lead resume reviewer on a new hiring initiative building our new Race, Ethnicity and Culture team.
We’ve had over 1300 applications for four open positions. Matt and the hiring team will be reviewing every one of them. He recently penned an article for Poytner detailing what he’s learned in an effort to help journalists seeking jobs - 10 ways to make your journalism job application better than everyone else’s. You should read it. The tips and points he lists are valuable for all job seekers, and transcend journalism. It was one of the more thoughtful collections of advice from a hiring manager I’ve read. I wanted to highlight a few tips that really stood out:
  • Read between the lines of my job description. Yes, I know the prose is hardly gripping — wordsmithed, as it almost always is, by committee. But there are secrets buried in our bureaucra-speak. If you see an adjective twice, pay attention, we’re probably trying to tell you something. Even the boilerplate can sometimes speak volumes. I know it’s hard to discern which of the approximately 300 “essential” skills and characteristics we’re most concerned with, but read them all twice. Highlight the ones that apply most strongly to you, and underline the ones that pose a bit of a problem. In your cover letter and interview, I’m going to want you to emphasize the former and give me reasons not to be concerned about the latter.
  • There’s more than one way to skin a resume. I know what a pain it would be to customize your resume for each job, so I have no complaints with a reasonably generic resume format. But do make sure to emphasize the aspects of your experience most suited to the jobs you’re applying for. Hierarchy in a resume is all-important; the stuff you want me to notice most should go at the top. If you’re fresh out of school and your academic accomplishments are your calling card, lead with them. If you’ve been a longtime freelancer for a variety of high-quality news outlets, the names of the organizations may be most important to emphasize. If you’ve steadily moved up in seniority from job to job and held some impressive positions, then foreground your titles and make that progression stand out.
  • Don’t hesitate to get one of our mutual colleagues to recommend you to me. I value a good recommendation; it’s one more piece of information I can draw on in my evaluation of your work. But the mere fact that you and I know someone in common doesn’t really help me out at all. The best recommendations have a few qualities in common: 1) They come from someone with a genuine, first-person sense of how you work. 2) They come from someone with a decent understanding of our aims for the position. 3) They don’t just tell me that you’re great, they tell me why and how.
  • The very best interviews feel like great conversations. This may be one of my quirks as an interviewer, but I’ve found this to be true both as an interviewer and as an interviewee. Interviews often start out as interrogations — a back-and-forth series of questions and answers. But great interviews don’t tend to end that way. With the interview, I’m not merely trying to unlock the bits of knowledge in your head, and I’m certainly not trying to see how well you anticipate the answers locked in my head. I am trying to assess how you think, what you’re passionate about, how we gel as colleagues. If I veer away from asking questions and start riffing off your ideas or telling stories of my own, don’t wait for the interrogation to resume — join in. Your questions, reactions, asides, brow-furrowed musings and rejoinders are all just as interesting to me as your answers, and if I’m trying to elicit them, it’s a good sign.
Matt signs off on his article with the following quote, “Again, when I wish you the very best of luck, I mean it sincerely”. He does, and it’s another reminder that some manager’s are in your corner. Read his full article here.
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