Ask a Recruiter, Part 2: Expert Tips on How to Stand Out as Top Tech Talent

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Welcome back to the two-part series on how to stand out in the crowded technology job market. If you’re just joining us, don’t miss part one of Ask a Recruiter, where our experts share application assets and solid must-dos to showcase your best talents. Part Two tackles the two next biggest parts of the process: the interview and what to do after.

Meet the Experts
Lara 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.

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.

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 stack development, e-commerce, mobile, CMS, SEO/web analytics, data architecture (cloud), experience design (UX) and visual design.

Nailing the Interview Process
How can outstanding candidates show they are leaders, eager to move up, management material, etc.?
Joshua Schukas: The most impressive thing I’ve ever seen a candidate do was create a business plan for himself in the open position. The candidate won the role because he created and submitted an unprompted proposal for his 1/5/30/60/90/180 and 365 days of work. It included target activities, goals, metrics, etc. It was brilliant—the equivalent to a collegiate independent study proposal. The client loved it, and I was so impressed, I’m still talking about it eight years later.

What are some common blunders or myths to dispel?
Ryan Sullivan: You’d be surprised how many typos are in resumes, though I still don’t think that is a 100 percent deal breaker if you find one—it depends on what position you’re applying for. If it’s for a quality assurance position, I wouldn’t want any typos in the resume. If you’re a back-end developer and English isn’t your primary language, there is some leniency.

Betsy Joyce-Koch: Proof your resume! I can’t stress this enough. You should only cover the last 10 years of technology experience to portray your most recent and relevant technical experience. Make sure the technologies you are listing have appropriate capitalization in the proper places. For example, VMWare is correct, but vmware or Vmware or VM Ware is not. Right off the bat that can ruin your technical credibility if you appear to not know how it’s spelled or abbreviated.

Schukas: Remember beauty is in the eye of the beholder—you may think your initial phone interview didn’t go well, but if you are prepared, enthusiastic and excited for the position, it is likely the best one we received today. Also, it gets easier every time you do it.

Following Up
What are the “dos” and “don'ts” for candidates following up after an interview?
Lara Hourquebie: The best way to follow up after an interview is to know the next step before the interview ends, so ask! If you feel like you are having a good interview, be confident about asking the hiring manager, "Is there any reason you think that I would not be a fit for this role?"

Sullivan: I have no problem with candidates shooting an email to me for updates if they haven’t heard anything. I usually tell candidates from the start that they should not feel nervous about checking in via email—you’ll end up getting a faster response via email.

Joyce-Koch: I suggest a thank you within 24 hours, a follow up within 48 hours.

Are mailed thank you cards still a good idea or does an immediate email suffice? 
Hourquebie: When following up with a phone interview or video interview, an email thank you should be sent to everyone you met. If you don't have their emails, ask your contact who set it up. If they prefer not to share their contact info, have the HR contact or recruiter send thank you’s on your behalf. If it is an in-person interview, a written thank you card should be sent the same day or next day at the latest. Stationary should be professional and the message should indicate your interest in the position and your appreciation for them taking time to speak with you.

Sullivan: Written thank you cards are a very nice touch, but they are not expected. In 15 years of recruiting, I’ve probably received a total of 10. A nice, short thank you email works great to your recruiter and to the people you have interviewed with (hopefully you’ve asked for their business cards). If you don’t have their email addresses, contact your recruiter who will pass along your email thank you note to the team.

Joyce-Koch: Email thank you notes within 24 hours to help you stand out from other candidates they may be interviewing.

What about phone calls? Is there a time that's too soon or too late to follow-up? How about LinkedIn connections?
Schukas: Call the recruiter! On average we receive less than one phone call for every 100 digital responses. Most people simply aren’t comfortable picking up the phone, calling a stranger and telling them why they’d be a good fit for an open position. Bad news for them, but great news for you!  That “call reluctance” comes from not knowing what to say, so develop a short script with a few of your highlights. Productively inviting someone to discuss how you can help them is impressive and will certainly separate you from the competition.

Hourquebie: Just remember, everyone is busy, including the hiring manager. That's why they are interviewing you; they need more help! Be respectful when following up—once per week at maximum via email or phone until you hear from them. Also know that sometimes hiring managers change their minds, budgets freeze or people go on vacation. These things can take time and that is not a negative reflection on you or your skills.

Sullivan: This is a tough one. I’m up in the air on whether a candidate should shoot a LinkedIn request to someone they’ve interviewed with. If you’ve developed a really good rapport with your interviewer or recruiter, I don’t see it as a bad thing. It’s nice to add a short note to say, “It was a pleasure meeting you. I hope to stay in touch and I look forward to networking,” or something to that effect. If the interviews went horribly, please don’t make it awkward by sending a request.

Joyce-Koch: Calling too soon can signal desperation. Allow the company or hiring manager an opportunity to finish interviewing and collect feedback. If a hiring manager is expressing an urgent need to hire, 48 hours would be enough time, especially given this extremely tight market in terms of talent. If it’s taking much longer than that, I would question the company’s urgency.

What’s some overall good advice?
Hourquebie: In general, the best way to stand out is to make sure your resume is

  1. Up to date.
  2. Is written in only PAST or PRESENT tense; never both.
  3. Does not have spelling mistakes.
  4. Is tailored to the job you are applying to.
  5. Is only one page. Yes, just one page.

Joyce-Koch: LinkedIn is also more important than ever as many prospective employers use this as a back-up resume. I highly encourage candidates to fill out their LinkedIn to the best of their ability. And, make sure it matches your resume!

Schukas: Make sure your resume/online profile/interview separates your highlights from just your responsibilities. I’m much less impressed with what you had to do—your responsibilities—and much more interested in what you did with it—your highlights. Look at your resume right now. How many of your bullet points are responsibilities and how many are highlights? Highlights always have a time frame associated with them. For example, “Josh Schukas, Recruiter of the Year, 2018.”