Thursday, March 11, 2010

Advice from the Trenches

Did you know that I am a recruiter? Not the agency headhunter kind.  I'm an in-house recruiter.  My job is to recruit and hire people, and I like it very much. 

I have a professional certification in Human Resources, but recruiting is the only thing I really like to do.  Right now, I work for an architectural and engineering services company. 

Architecture is a field that's been particularly hard-hit by the recession, and for every job opening, I get hundreds of applicants.  We're in Maryland, but at least 20 percent of my applicants are in Michigan, and another 20 percent or so are in Florida.  I also get far more frequent phone calls than was once common. 

You might have heard that recruiters don't like phone calls, but I actually don't mind phone calls at all.  I will always take a call from an applicant.  If I'm busy and I'm letting calls go to voice mail, I will always call back.   So if you're job-hunting, and you've submitted an application somewhere, and you're not sure if you should call or not, here are some reasons why you should call (exception: if the posting says "no phone calls please," then you'll probably be automatically disqualified if you call.  I don't do "no phone calls" postings, but some companies do):

1.  To make sure that they actually have your resume.  I use an online applicant tracking system, and applicants apply and upload their resumes through our Careers page.  It usually works pretty well, but it's not foolproof.  So if you haven't received any kind of auto-response, then just call to make sure they have your resume.
2. To make sure that someone has actually read your resume.  I actually read every single resume that comes in, but sometimes it takes me a few days to get to all of them.  If you call, I'll read your resume while you're on the phone with me, and I'll tell you what I think right away. 

If I tell you that you don't meet the minimum qualifications for the position, it's definitely OK to say something like "well, I know I don't have the 5 years of  project management experience, but I've researched your company's projects, and I did exactly the same kind of work for some of your clients, so I'm very familiar with your projects and your client base".  Maybe I didn't read your resume carefully enough the first time, and your pointing this out will make me realize that we definitely should consider you.   You can also ask me to pass your resume along to the hiring manager anyway, just in case something suitable for you opens.  I will always say yes when someone asks me to do this, and I will always actually do it. 

What you don't want to do is argue about the validity of our requirements.  My firm works exclusively for federal government clients, and for most (not all) positions, we're looking for applicants with experience in the federal sector.  If you don't have that experience, you probably won't be considered for most positions.  If you tell me that "there's no difference whatsoever between federal and commercial work, and if anyone tells you that there is, then they're crazy or lying" (near-verbatim quote from a recent caller), then I promise you that you absolutely won't be considered for any position. 

Read the job description very carefully.  If you can, revise your resume to highlight the experience you have that's directly relevant.  If you don't quite meet the minimum qualifications?  Go ahead and apply anyway.  If the posting says you need five years of experience, and you only have three, two things might happen:
1.  I'll have a ton of applicants who meet the minimum qualifications, so I won't consider you, but I won't think badly of you for trying, OR
2.  I won't have nearly enough applicants who meet the minimum qualifications, which means I'll revise those qualifications and reconsider the resumes that I've marked not qualified.  Then, I'll have your resume and you'll have a chance at the job.

While I recommend trying for the position that's a level or two above your qualifications, I don't recommend applying for a position that has nothing to do with your background.  In particular, I really recommend that you carefully read the job description for any job containing the words "Project Manager" or "Program Manager" in its title.  If you are an IT Project Manager, and you submit your resume, along with a cover letter declaring that you are ideally suited for the position, to a posting for an Architect Project Manager, or a Site Planning Project Manager, you will not only not be considered, you'll be immediately labeled an idiot by the recruiter who has 200 resumes to read.   For those who will point out that "Architect" can mean "systems architect" or "software engineer" and that there are "planners" in lots of disciplines, I will say again: Read The Job Description.  The title doesn't always say it all.  

What was that?  You want more advice?  Of course you do!  Here's more:

If you're applying for a position in a distant location, and it's a position for which relocation assistance is not typically offered (staff-level architect or planner or engineer, for example), you should state in your cover letter that you're either interested in moving to that particular area, or that you're searching nationwide, and that you're open to moving without assistance.  It's also helpful to tell me how long it would take you to move.  Here's why you should do this:  I receive a ton of resumes, and I read all of them.  For most positions, I have enough local applicants.  This means that if you're applying from Michigan, and I have 200 applicants, and at least 30 qualified applicants right in town, then I will not contact you to ask you about your relocation plans.  I just don't have time.  I might contact you if I don't have enough local applicants, but that's a rare occurrence.  If, however, you are qualified for the job, and you tell me right up front in your cover letter "Hey!  I want to move to Washington D.C. to be with family.  I don't need relocation assistance and I can be available within two weeks of receiving an offer!", then I will consider you right along with the local applicants. 

Most companies use automated applicant tracking systems, and applicants are asked to submit their resumes online.  I have seen and heard harebrained advice suggesting that jobseekers ignore these instructions, and submit their resumes through the "Contact Us" link, or via fax or mail, because then they'll stand out!  Yes, they will stand out as resumes of people who don't read instructions.  In some companies, applicants have to apply as instructed, or they're disqualified.  I will not disqualify applicants who send their resumes outside the system, but you still shouldn't do it.  What happens is that resumes submitted via the "Contact Us" link are delivered to a general email box monitored by a marketing assistant.  She gets 150 or more emails a day, so it will take her several days to get to your resume and forward it to me.  When I get it, it goes into a "candidates" folder in my inbox, and I only get to those resumes when I have enough downtime to read them and upload them into the system.  It might take a week and it might take a month.  I will read your resume, because again, I read every resume, but by the time I get to it, we might have filled the position.   Why risk missing your chance at the job? 

Finally, you should know that most recruiters are pretty good at remembering names and personal details.  I seldom know where my phone is at any given moment, but if you called me six months ago, I can almost guarantee that I will remember you when you call again.  I'll be very happy to hear from you, and I'll also be very happy to hear about any new experience you've gained in those months that makes you suited for a job with us.  The whole process of applying for jobs in an electronic environment can feel very remote and dehumanized, but there's a person on the other end of that internet connection, and she is reading your resume and wishing you well, even when she can't hire you.


Steve said...

what a bunch of great advice!
we have an IT recruitment company in our building and they are vicious just about the cash of getting someone placed and hoping the lat time frame X so they can get thier cash.

this was a great post

Dr. Monkey Von Monkerstein said...

I love your tags for this post.

Fran said...

An ASTOUNDINGLY good post.

Wow, I have no doubt that you are good at what you do. And I know why you like it.

When I was an executroid at a Really Big Company my favorite thing to do was hire people. Our HR folks were sadly not as enthusiastic about recruiting as you are. One was great, but most sucked.

Anyway, it gave me the chance (this was in the days before application tracking etc) to really get into and learn a lot about this. I used to always joke that if I did not do what I did do that I would be a recruiter.

I love that you answer your phone and return calls. You rascal! Seriously, I think that is great and not done enough.

This is excellent advice for any field really- and I thank you for putting it up.

The Lady Who Doesn't Lunch: said...

This is all terrific advice - thank you so much - it's good to hear from the otherside of the job hunting game.

What a great post!!

Matty Boy said...

Damn, I was going to leave a comment in Chinese, but now I've read the instructions and I see TSDW.

I know a lot of people in the job search mode who should read this post. I'm going to put up a link on my regular blog and on Facebook.

Mauigirl said...

What a helpful post! I'm sure many people will benefit from it.

dguzman said...

Very helpful! I think we should all do these kinds of posts--these "in the real world I do this, so here's some helpful insider advice" posts. It's a good way for us all to learn more!

I've been in search mode for a full year now, and it's been exhausting. This helps me regain some perspective.

CDP said...

Steve--thanks! Who are they? I've worked with two firms in Baltimore and one of them is just like the one in your building.

Dr M.--Thanks! Tags are one of my favorite things about blogging.

Fran--Thanks! Delia's post about what goes on in banks inspired.


Matty--I'd take the time to translate your comment. Thanks for the link!

Maui--I hope so!

Dguzman--see my comment to Fran. Your post about what goes on in banks led me to think about writing this one.

Virtualsprite said...

This is wonderful advice! I'm so glad you posted it. I'm not in the market for a job (at the moment) but I'm definitely going to refer this to people I know who are.

enc said...

What great advice!

It is so reassuring to know there are people like you out there who follow through and who have the interest to follow through. Lots of people are so overloaded that they just can't.

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