Ask a Recruiter: Expert Tips on How to Stand Out as Top Tech Talent

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When job hunting, the listings all start to sound the same: Hiring the best and brightest. Seeking team players and thought leaders. Must be passionate about the latest and greatest tech trends.  

That’s you, right? You have the experience, you have the references, you have the drive and ambition, and you know you’d be perfect at the company. And yet, you’re still one of hundreds (maybe thousands!) of applicants. So how do you stand out from the crowd?

In this two-part series, we asked a handful of IT recruiting experts and talent acquisition specialists about common job-hunting blunders and quality tips that can get your resume to the top of the pile. We also got answers to commonly asked questions and solid expert advice on what job seekers can do to outperform and outshine the competition.

Meet the Experts
Lara HourquebieLara Hourquebie is a talent success manager at The Mom Project, the career destination for moms. The Mom Project connects professionally accomplished women with world-class companies for rewarding employment opportunities.

headshot_Betsy Joyce-koch

Betsy Joyce-Koch is the AVP, director of Perm Services at Robert Half Technology, a company that specializes in placing application development, systems integration, information security, infrastructure management, networking, database development, help desk and technical support professionals in project, contract-to-hire and full-time positions.

Josh Schukas

Joshua Schukas is the operating partner for Gochkeys Professional Services, a boutique executive recruiting firm serving manufacturers in the medical device industry.

Ryan Sullivan is a talent acquisition manager at Isobar in Chicago. He has 10 years of technical recruiting experience in front/back and full stackrsullivan development, e-commerce, mobile, CMS, SEO/web analytics, data architecture (cloud), experience design (UX) and visual design.

Your Initial Application
For the IT industry, being up to date on the latest tech is imperative. What are some approaches that candidates are using to successfully stand out?
Betsy Joyce-Koch: Many tech and IT candidates use Github (for example) to showcase their coding projects and abilities. UX/UI design candidates should be the only ones using a more detailed format as that in and of itself could showcase some of their talents. Some of our strongest candidates get involved in coding meet-up groups where they can continue to grow their skill sets with the latest tricks.

Ryan Sullivan: On top of [a resume], it helps if a technologist has code examples or an active Github account that they can share. Some candidates might be put off by sharing their code early in the process, but we want to see you’re passionate about coding, and that you like dabbling in newer tech that might be outside of your current role. That is exciting to us. It’s great to see a variety of work ranging from anything like digital product, mobile, e-commerce to even virtual reality or augmented reality to go along with a campaign or branding-type work.

Other than making sure it's free and clear of anything offensive, does a social media presence help or hurt a candidate?
Sullivan: I think it’s very important to keep a conservative social media presence when you decide to start looking for a job. LinkedIn is the most important site to sell yourself in a positive light, so you need to learn how to use the platform correctly. Lastly, this isn’t rocket science, but if you’re not comfortable with potential employers seeing what you put on social media, do not put it out there or make your account private.

Joyce-Koch : I’d say having zero presence is a curse, frankly. It draws more questions than answers. In a world of transparency thanks to social media, I’ve had clients question why candidates aren’t active at least in a professional capacity (like on LinkedIn). Other social media outlets such as Facebook would be at the discretion of the candidate. My best advice is to make sure you’re being as respectful as possible in all posting activity.

Learn how to go "all in" on LinkedIn

Getting Your Resume Seen
How do you make sure your resume gets into the right hands?
Lara Hourquebie: Make sure to read through the job description entirely. Sometimes the hiring manager's email or name is listed at the bottom of the posting and you can decide if reaching out directly via email or phone is a good idea. If you are working with a recruiter, set an alert in your calendar to follow-up with them directly. It shows that you are interested in the position and also helps them remember you.


Josh Schukas: Many—if not most—of the IT professionals I work with believe the measure of a resume is how many relevant keywords it holds. And there is some truth to that: If your resume or profile doesn’t have information relevant to what I’m hunting, I’m not going to find you.

What if a candidate doesn't have a personal contact at the company?
Hourquebie: If you are applying directly to a company's post and do not have a direct contact there, you can always try sending a message on LinkedIn introducing yourself after you have applied to the role. It's a risk though because everyone is busy and might not be receptive. Always make sure the message has a respectful tone, though, no matter what.

Sullivan: Cold calling a recruiter, company or sending LinkedIn requests without any messaging isn’t effective. Take look at mutual connections on LinkedIn and see if anyone would be up for a phone call to discuss the company or their role. If it feels right on both ends, the employee could end up referring you to their company. Referrals are always taken very seriously in any organization and most companies offer some large referral bonuses for employees. I’m sure they’ll give you the time! Also, many companies these days sponsor tech meetups or have networking events in or outside their office. This is a great casual way to drop off your resume, meet some folks in your field and even check out a future work space.

What if it’s not clear to whom to address a cover letter?
Hourquebie: If you do not know who to address your cover letter to, "To Whom it May Concern" is just fine. The cover letter should clearly state in four or five bullet points how your skills align with that job description in particular.

Stay tuned for part 2 of Ask a Recruiter.
Using these tips and highlighting your best assets to the company will shine a spotlight on not only your resume but most importantly, on YOU as someone worth meeting. Next up: The interview and beyond. We'll dive into what takes a candidate from lackluster to blockbuster and how to out-navigate the follow-up uncertainties.