Playing the Game: Maneuvering Recruiters and Hiring Mangers to Get a Job

David Forman (photo: Palmer)

By David C Forman, Chief Learning Officer, The Human Capital Institute and UCSB Alum

The pursuit of a job is one of those life activities that we all share.  It is fraught with uncertainty and doubt because control has been ceded to others; and the choice that will be made can have a significant impact on the next years of our personal and professional lives.  While the experience of getting a job always evokes emotions, there are important ways to make the whole process work more smoothly, enable goals to be realized and shift the balance of power to the candidate. 

Every game has its rules or else it would not be repeatable or enduring.  The issue is not the rules, but who knows what the real—written and unwritten--rules are and how the game can be played more successfully.  This picture becomes more complicated because there are people who keep secrets, actively restrict access, and try to preserve their position of power—whether in a game, competition, play, contest or activity such as getting a job in which some will win and others lose.  And the picture becomes even cloudier because past perceptions of, in this case, “getting a job” is no longer based in today’s reality.  It is time to play by new rules.

The Job Context Today

The assumptions behind many “tried and true” hiring practices are being challenged today more than ever before.  It used to be that many jobs on a resume in a short period of time was a warning sign.  It used to be that having different types of jobs was an indication that a person was not stable or focused enough.  It used to be that a person’s grade point average in school was thought to be a good indicator of future job performance.  It used to be that a detailed job description was required before a hiring decision could be made.  And it used to be that individual skills were much more meaningful than team and influencing skills.  But today many of these practices are being challenged and have very different meanings…..and this list is by no means exhaustive.  Let’s briefly look at some of the drivers that have changed conventions and reshaped the job market today.

Expectations of candidates and companies:  Decades ago, a hiring decision could determine a career forever.   The traditional employer-employee compact is over for most of the world, and the reasons are several.  Companies today require more flexibility to deal with uncertain conditions, but so do employees who are seeking more autonomy and options in their lives and careers.  As the contingent workforce rises, so do the numbers of people who have chosen to be project workers, keep their options open, and not have an umbilical cord to a single organization.  Some futurists believe that we will all be project workers within the next ten years.  It is a different time, especially for the millennial generation.  The average employee will have 12 to 14 jobs by the time they reach the age of 40 (HCI, 2013); and this means that the process of finding and getting a job is probably ten times more frequent than in the past.  It is no longer a rare event and is becoming a common part of the employee life cycle that gets repeated over and over again.

Constant change:  The average tenure for CEOs in the second decade of the 21st Century is less than 3 years.  Whenever CEOs change, so to do agendas and strategic initiatives.  Entire industries have been created in the relative blink of an eye.  Today over 1 million people are developing apps for smart phones; seven years ago this industry did not exist.  Today, more people read the Huffington Post than the New York Times.  In an age that values innovation and agility, companies and workforces must be able to reposition themselves quickly…or perish.  Planning horizons shrink and the workforce needs elastic and not rigid expertise to be successful.  Perhaps the best metaphor is the talent supply chain:  to be successful today businesses need the right talent with the right skills at the right time.  Lifetime employment does not compute in this context.

Technology and transparency:  Pink (2013) makes the case that the sales profession has radically changed because of the demise of asymmetrical information:  a condition under which one party has secrets and different information from the other.  He uses the example of a car salesman who is now confronted with an audience that knows more about the condition and sales history of particular vehicles that the salesperson does.  This same condition pertains to the hiring process today.  Candidates have information at their fingertips on salary, job history, open requisitions, competitive positioning, employee ratings, hiring manager profiles and management evaluations.  The old Gallup finding that “people join companies but leave managers” has been true because employees would only know managers by working at the company.  This is no longer the case; one visit to Glassdoor or Vault dispels this information disparity.

The Key Players:  Recruiters, Hiring Managers and Candidates

The hiring process is a play with three primary actors.  These actors all have different goals and incentives even though they are in the same play.  The motivations of candidates are the most straightforward:  to get the job.  The primary interest of recruiters is to keep people out and minimize risk, while hiring managers are trying to address a business problem. 

There is contention among the actors because of these different goals and perspectives.  Recruiters see hiring managers as not devoting enough time and attention to the process of selecting the right talent; and hiring managers believe recruiters are just trying to meet their quota and not address the needs of the business.  It is important to move beyond these stereotypes and generalizations to gain more insights.

Recruiters:  Recruiters are usually the first people candidates meet, and they are tangible representatives of the organization’s employment brand, image and value propositions.  They are critical players and it is important to understand their world.  A typical recruiter serves several business units, has over 30 open requisitions at any one time, spends more than 30% of their time on non-value added administrative tasks, is stretched very thin, and is measured based on hiring efficiency metrics.  They are often viewed more as order fillers than true talent managers.   And they are on a variable compensation plan; as John Sullivan has said “recruiters are sales people with lousy budgets.”

The recruiter’s primary job is to select a slate of qualified candidates to present to the hiring manager for review.   Usually this slate is comprised of the three to five highest rated candidates.  Depending on the job, there may be 50 or 100 applications for a select position, and so the recruiter’s primary mission is to sort candidates, set up barriers, and tell more people “no than yes.” 

Insight 1:  Recruiters primary job is to keep people out.

Recruiters, as we have seen, are busy, risk-averse and focused on making decisions quickly.  They would rather make a good, safe decision quickly than a great decision that takes more time.  This is the game that they play, and you don’t win unless you are willing to jump hurdles and be aggressive.  In this environment, the candidate’s job is to overcome the obstacles and screens put in place so that he or she makes the slate of candidates forwarded to the hiring manager.  This can be accomplished in several ways, some conventional and some disruptive.

There are actually three separate activities in the hiring process that recruiters directly impact.  Each step has its own purpose and objectives.

Table 1:  Recruiter-Driven Steps in the Hiring Process




Key to Success

Initial Screen


The resume review


85% of candidates are eliminated at this stage—without even talking to anyone.


Often accomplished through technology filters that search for key words.

A tailored resume that contains the relevant key words, experiences and qualities.


The goal is to out maneuver the technology filters. 


Enable quick distinctions.

Extensive research and network conversations.


Professional, tailored resume with key words aligned to the job.


The key words are properly prioritized and highlighted to be weighted highly by the technology filters.


Phone Screen

In general, ten or fewer candidates are interviewed over the phone by the recruiter.

There are two types of screening questions that are asked:  knockout questions and fit questions.  You must pass the former before being allowed to address the latter.


Enable quick distinctions.


Make a list of knockout questions and practice responses.


Demonstrate knowledge of the company and its business issues in the fit questions.




A slate of interview candidates is presented to the hiring manager.


This slate is usually comprised of three to five candidates.


This is often the first interaction with the hiring manager.


The candidate that knows more about the company and the hiring manager and can make the “fit connections to company values and business issues wins.


Enable quick distinctions


Extensive research and network conversations on company business issues and culture.


Develop reciprocal interview questions for the hiring manager




Insight 2:  Figure out what can be done to make recruiters look good.

Recruiters are generalists; they don’t often know much about particular jobs.  They may also not know as much about the company’s primary business issues, challenges and competitive positioning as they should.  This presents an opportunity for well-informed candidates, because recruiters are very comfortable presenting candidates that make them look good and who are not risky bets.  The more the candidate knows about the business and the issues faced by the organization, the higher the prospects for success.

Hiring Managers:  The next actor in the hiring process is the manager who has a need, is seeking a new employee and makes the hiring decision.  While the hiring decision is arguably the most important decision a manager can make, many managers approach the hiring process as an imposition on their time.  They often reschedule interviews and take longer than anticipated at each step in the process, much to the chagrin of recruiters   While managers do have many competing priorities;  the irony  is that they  would save considerable time and money  by making better hiring decisions

Insight 1:  Managers do not want to hire anyone

This statement seems counterintuitive, but it is true.  Hiring and onboarding new employees takes time, and managers believe---whether real or just perceived—they are overburdened, resource constrained, work too hard, and do not have time for secondary activities.  Effective candidates understand this reality and do whatever they can to let hiring managers know that they will save them time, make their job easier, be self-reliant quickly and lead to stronger business results.

Insight 2:  How can you solve the manager’s business problem?

The real interest of hiring managers is to improve business results such as boosting productivity, enhancing quality, reducing costs, shortening response time and aligning with strategic initiatives.  They are incented to improve results and they get promoted if they do so.  The primary vernacular for managers and directors is how to improve the business and address critical problems, not the particulars of the recruiting process.  The process of hiring an employee is only a means to the end of improving business performance.

Candidates:   The final actor in the hiring process are the candidates themselves.  For candidates—especially younger ones-- the prospect of finding and securing a job is almost a constant activity today.  There are at least five types of job seekers today.  The challenges and opportunities are relatively unique for each type of candidate.

Table 2:  Types of Candidates

Types of Candidate




Inexperienced New Hire

College graduates.


First time workforce entrants.

Little direct experience


Undeveloped network


Time to proficiency





Experienced Internal Hire

Employee with two+ years of experience with strong performance record and good fit to the job requirements.

Ease of internal

transfers and mobility


Internal politics


Different sub-cultures

Record of performance


Knowledge of values/ culture


Internal network


Promotes open talent marketplace

Experienced External Hire

Experienced employee with a good match to job requirements.

Reason for leaving


Tied to old culture


Time to proficiency

Diversity of experience


External network


Improved skill set

Project Hire




Contingent worker who matches technical requirements to complete the job.

Short-term focus


Engagement and living the values


Relationship to other employees


Legal compliance

External network


Diversity of experience


Flexible deployment

Conversion of Project Hire to

New Hire

A temporary to permanent hire.

Legal compliance


Longer-term focus


Loss of flexibility and options

Demonstrated competence


Cultural fit


The first job of any candidate is to distinguish his or her candidacy from other prospective candidates.  Being a “me too” candidate is not a viable strategy. This is easier said than done because the qualities of other candidates are not known, but it is not so much of a normative distinction as a “goodness of fit” distinction.  In other words, the primary task is to become the best qualified candidate based on what the organization and primary actors are seeking, and then secondarily trying to anticipate how other candidates might respond. 

There are four ways to distinguish a candidacy.  Some of these qualities can be developed, grown and tailored, while others cannot be controlled but must be prepared for.

  1. Experiences:  These are the positions/jobs held and the skills and competencies acquired previously in other companies, organizations and groups.  Increasingly, “experience” is more than required technical skills, but the other qualities that truly impact successful performance in a fast-changing organization and are consistent with the values and culture of the organization.  Anders (2012) talks about the importance of reading a resume “upside down” to really get to know a candidate.
  2. Network Connections:  This quality is referred to as relational or social capital and it pertains to the people that a candidate knows professionally and personally, both within and outside of the current organization.   A candidate’s network connections are a major advantage (for the candidate) in getting a job, but they can also be a great asset to the company by increasing the linkages to expertise. 
  3. Candidate Behavior:  This quality becomes apparent during the hiring process:  it is what the candidate does during the screens and interviews.  It is the most malleable of the four qualities and can be shaped based on preparation, research and competitive differentiation. But unfortunately many candidates never get this far because they are excluded by recruiter screens and roadblocks.
  4. Timing:  There are two aspects to timing: one is outside the control of the candidate and the other is not.  The supply and demand timing for particular jobs has a strong impact on the hiring process.  For example, if the demand for a job is vastly greater than the existing supply then an organization may be willing to hire a relatively unexperienced person and provide more training.   The candidate response timing factor is controllable and it pertains to how quickly a candidate responds to an open job.  According to Startwire research, 54% of jobs are filled within the first 7 days.  To the quick belong the spoils.  Candidates must be prepared to act quickly and decisively, especially for hard to fill strategic and critical jobs. 

When these distinguishing characteristics are superimposed over the types of candidates, some interesting lessons emerge.  For example, it is true that inexperienced new hires do not have the experience or network that other candidates possess; but this does not mean that these qualities should be abandoned—quite the contrary, because they are the source of differentiation.  A college graduate can craft or tailor experiences, not from business positions that have not yet been held, but around the core experiences and values gained from campus, community and international experiences.  If, for instance, a core value in an organization is learning agility, then the task becomes to show how quickly learning occurred when challenges occurred in any context.  Similarly, many businesses are in search of people who have passionate interests; this quality can be demonstrated in a number of powerful ways through hobbies, community projects, faith-based initiatives and volunteer work.

The New Strategies

  1. Recognize that getting a job is a full time endeavor.  It is essential to approach the task of getting a job as a full time job itself.  It requires dedication, focus, hard work and excellent judgment.  There will be ups, downs and disappointments while playing the game, but these cannot cause commitment to waiver.  A part-time or half-hearted approach will not get the job done…or the job.
  1. Understand that the skills for getting a job are different than those for doing a job.  It is easy to mix up these two activities, but they are quite different and have different rules of engagement.  The most important step is to get the job---or else you won’t have the opportunity to do the job.  Be calculating and single-minded on this objective, and be prepared to play by different rules. 
  1. Do in-depth research and prepare systematically.  Make the commitment to know more about the organization and the hiring manager than any other candidate.  There is no excuse to be ill informed, not do your homework or be surprised by unanticipated information in the interviews.  The two primary sources for gaining this information are the Internet and your personal network.  Everyone has access to the Internet and such sites as Glassdoor, Vault, and LinkedIn and these should be mined systematically. The real advantage, however, comes through network conversations with acquaintances and colleagues….people who know people (who know people) within an organization.  Those candidates that work their network diligently have significantly better odds of success.
  1. Find jobs before they exist.  Most candidates are very passive and reactive; and consequently they wait far too long to act.  Through research and network connections, there is real opportunity to anticipate jobs before they are posted (even though organizations have the legal requirement to post jobs).  If an organization wins a major contract, gets new clients, expands to new areas or faces a big competitive threat, there is a high likelihood that talent will be needed to address these issues.  Get ready before the job is posted so that you can strike quickly.
  1. Uncover jobs others cannot find.  Jobs are not just posted on the company career site or on Monster; there are indications everywhere.   Look beyond the obvious to niche job boards, blogs, forums, conference presentations or social media sites.
  1. Don’t wait in line:  Remember that the traditional hiring process means that over 90% of candidates never meet the hiring manager.  Do you need to play by these rules?  In some cases the answer is yes, but in others there is nothing wrong with a brief, targeted message directly to the hiring manager:  Keep it brief, be respectful of the hiring process and make the two points that you want to be remembered for….be memorable.  This is an opportunity to stand out from the crowd of other applicants.   This tactic is especially useful for newly posted” hot jobs” that need to be filled quickly.
  1. Leverage connections.  There is a reason why referral recruiting is the most successful sourcing strategy.  It works and it provides unique information.  In this hyper-connected world, most everyone has two, three or four degrees of separation from a company, hiring manager or even employees working in the same department.  It just takes diligence in discerning these connections and becoming comfortable talking to indirect acquaintances.  Most people will want to help and provide information if there is some linkage involved; and this information becomes a unique asset that cannot be found on a web site or in publicly available research.
  1. Conduct your own interview:  It’s a two way street.  You need to ask questions as well.  In the hiring process, both companies and candidates are trying to make the best decisions they can.  The candidates’ job, therefore, is to prepare for the types of questions being asked of them and to ask the questions that are important to making their decisions.  Come prepared with the questions that you want answered; this often impresses hiring managers and it showcases the preparation and research that has been done.  This can be a very real point of distinction among candidates.

Table 3:  Potential Questions to Ask the Hiring Manager

Possible Reverse Interview Questions to Ask

What qualities do you look for in a new employee?

What aspects of the culture are you proudest of and which would you like to change?

What are the top three challenges that you will be facing next year?

How do you see us continuing to outpace companies XXX and YYY?

How would you deal with a person who was successful from a business perspective but did not embody the values of the organization?

Are people encouraged to speak their mind, be candid and challenge conventions?  How does this happen?

How can I help you be more successful?


  1. Focus on The New Box score:  The book (and subsequent film) Moneyball was a big hit because it challenged baseball convention and changed people’s views on what is important to measure.   Its lesson:  It is important to continue to question the definition of success because it not only changes, but a quality that once defined success could now be an impediment.   In the world of work today, there are a set of qualities that are particularly attuned to the current economic and job context.  While these may  vary from organization to organization, candidates should be prepared to align their experiences and behavior  to the following qualities:
  • Learning Agility:  With so much change in the workplace, this quality becomes paramount.  Technical knowledge becomes outdated quickly; it is all about learning new skills and becoming proficient quickly.
  • Resilience and Flexibility:  Because of unrelenting change, people need to adjust and adapt to help the organization move forward.  Clinging to old practices or job descriptions is counterproductive.
  • Curiosity:  Increasingly competitive differentiation is based on innovation and agility, and the ability to question and challenge past practices is essential to being more successful.  Organizations today are not looking for blind obedience but informed questioning from employees at all levels.
  • Passion:  Passion is contagious and inspiring, and it leads to greater productivity.  It also makes life more enjoyable.
  • Ownership and Accountability:  In large, layered, command and control organizations it is easy to shirk responsibility, hide and expect others to make things happen:  this is anathema to organizations today that emphasize collaboration, participation from everyone and employees as owners.
  • Team Collaboration:  The myth of the one brilliant scientist that leads to breakthrough products is just that:  a myth.  Today it is more about team interactions, responsibilities, communications and working relationships.

Developing a Game Plan

 It is time to put ideas into action.  From the candidate’s perspective, a systematic campaign needs to be mounted for each coveted job.  This is a not a casual endeavor.  This campaign takes a significant commitment of time, research and resources; and a game plan should only be developed for those coveted jobs that the candidate wants to vigorously pursue.     The following fictitious case example is a traditional HR benefits and compliance consulting practice (TalentRx). This company is going through a series of significant changes, and two different types of candidates have targeted this company as a potential employer.  The candidates did extensive research in preparation for the steps in the hiring process.  Their research included:

  • Glassdoor and Vault websites for entries on Talent Rx
  • Network conversations with people who know employees and clients of Talent Rx
  • Talent Rx website
  • Update your own LinkedIn profile and mine LinkedIn contacts for any relevant connections
  • Google searches for Linda Tucker and Rachel Pearson
  • Industry associations and conferences that pertain to talent management for mid-tier companies (e.g., HCI, SHRM and i4CP).
  • Large consulting companies that are moving from HR process improvement to more strategic services (e.g., Mercer, Deloitte and IBM).
  • Thought leaders on HR transformations (e.g., Ulrich, Boudreau and HCI).
  • Review of client web sites
  • Review of competitive web sites
  • Social media and blogs for Linda and Rachel
  • Follow up conversations with colleagues and acquaintances on the culture and values of Talent Rx

Table 4:  Putting It All Together:  The Game Plan for TalentRx

Game Plan

Job 1


TalentRx is a mid-sized HR consulting company that has focused on payroll, benefits administration and compliance practices.  Business has been consistent but not growing.  Linda Tucker, the CEO, has talked to her top 15 clients (small to medium sized businesses) and they are interested in a broader, more strategic relationship with the company than just improving HR operations.  They have talent and competitive issues, but cannot afford the large consulting companies and technologies.  Linda wants to focus her company on these opportunities and has recently blogged about the new direction she wants to pursue.  Her re-branded web site is in beta now.

Organizational Priorities and

 Business Issues

Based on Linda’s research, she wants to reshape her organization to do the following:

1.  Help clients attract and hire the right talent

2.  Develop a more committed and engaged workforce

3.  Ensure a pipeline of critical talent

4.  Retain the best talent

5.  Continue to streamline HR operations

Competitive Positioning

There are a number of payroll and benefits consulting companies serving the mid-market but not many of these organizations can address the talent issues that clients need.

TalentRx Values and Culture

Linda prides herself on the strong values and culture of the organization.  Among the most important qualities are:  customer focus, flexibility, initiative, transparency and team collaboration.

New Initiatives

New web site

New marketing literature

Cross-training of staff

New hires to support different business model

Seeking technology partners to support talent practices

Job Criticality

1.  Talent senior consultants

2.  Talent development specialists

3.  Technology specialists

Hiring Manager Priorities

Rachel Pearson is the Director charged with building out the new talent practices.  Rachel comes from an IT background with an emphasis on supply chain management.  She brings a rigor to TalentRx, Linda trusts her completely and respects how quickly she has learned the HR business.  Rachel is also not afraid to speak her mind and challenge Linda as warranted.

Timing Factors

TalentRx needs to position itself within the next six months or lose a window of opportunity.  Linda is prepared to act quickly to reposition her company.

Candidate Profiles

1.  Andy Kimball:  Just received his master degree in educational design from Syracuse University and wants to move into corporate learning and development roles.

2.  Emma McCandless:  Is currently with an HR outsourcing company and is frustrated with focusing on just the administrative aspects of HR process improvement.

Experience Fit

1.  Andy:  No direct professional experience but linkages can be made to Andy’s 1) Masters thesis on redefining the 70/20/10 model for leadership development, 2) campus work in educational technology, 3) work in a community organization on cross-training staff, 4) starting a campus group for mentoring at risk children and 5) starting a small web site design consultancy.

2.  Emma:  Strong fit as she represents the type of personal change that Linda wants to see in the business.  She has recently completed her HCS certification to gain more knowledge in strategic HR.

Network Connections

1.  Andy:  5 connections have been identified:  Andy’s mother knows a friend of Linda Tuckers; two people went to the same school as Rachel Pearson and three people are related to TalentRx clients.

2.  Emma:  15 connections:  8 are clients of TalentRx,  5  know current employees and 2 were on conference panels with Linda Tucker.

Candidate Behavior

1.  Andy:  Talent Development or Technology Specialists. 

Andy creates a targeted resume with the keywords that should get him through the initial screen; these are:  talent practices, leadership, pipeline, educational technology, engagement, cross-training and web site design.  Through Andy’s connections he discovers that Rachel wants a flexible group of consultants that can do a number of things and that Linda is very serious about a culture of team collaboration.  He decides to emphasize his work in the community, on the Syracuse lacrosse team and the fact that he has skills for both the Talent Development or Technology Specialist position.

2.  Emma:  The Talent Senior Consulting position.  Because of Emma’s role in the industry she had heard about the shift that Linda was contemplating.  Before seeing any posting, she sent Linda a note introducing herself and expressing interest.  Emma’s fit is strong so she decides to emphasize the steps she is taking to improve her skill set, her industry connections, and her desire to be given more responsibility. 

Likely Responses from Other Candidates

Most other candidates will likely focus on the technical requirements for the job. 

Since most of the experienced candidates will likely come from large consulting organizations, the salary range may be a problem and then may expect more support than TalentRx can provide.

Prioritized Hit List of the Distinguishing Factors

Develop the prioritized list of key advantages and prepare and practice an elevator speech to convey these qualities quickly and efficiently.  The list that might exist for this case example:

1.  Andy:  flexible set of learning and technology skills; quick learner and team player, takes initiative, passionate

2.  Emma:  industry connections and knowledge; committed to the new vision of the company; asks good reverse interviewing questions of Linda and Rachel



Perhaps the best way to conclude  is to hear from the people on the front lines themselves.  A major theme of this paper is about understanding the relevant actors in the hiring process and their actions and incentives, all within a different job context and economic reality.   Two important and timely sources for the front-lines perspective are 1) CNN conducted interviews with key hiring managers from the Best Places to Work list, and 2) Thomas Friedman’s recent  articles on ‘How to Get a Job at Google.” 

1.  CNN spoke to recruiters from the Fortune Best Places to Work list on what they are looking for and how to get hired.

"It's about being passionate for a rewarding career, not just a job. [We look for] people who can take full accountability of their own development and the development of others." --Kelly Bartkiewicz, MARS, HR senior manager, talent management

"I want candidates to ask tough questions on how they will be challenged and utilized if they were to select this opportunity." --Maximo Rocha, Kiewit, global head of talent acquisition

"I'm always impressed by candidates who have taken the time to visit one of our stores during the interview process -- and who have visited our What We Stand For blog to understand more about our culture and leadership style. That kind of curiosity and attention to detail is a great fit for our company." --Eva Gordon, The Container Stores, VP of stores, training, development, and recruiting

"Ask questions that demonstrate your knowledge of the company in a unique way. Go beyond just the research that can be found on a company's website and make you sound like someone who has already been working there for 10 years, chatting with a colleague. Reach out to your LinkedIn connections before the interview as a way to further your insight." --Courtney Phillips, QUALCOMM, staffing specialist

"A candidate who can demonstrate smart risk-taking regardless of the outcome often provides us with valuable insight into their ability to thrive here." --Amanda Valentino, Genentech, director of corporate staffing

"We want to get to know the candidate as a person, not just as a set of technical skills. Great candidates are the ones that come in prepared to engage us in conversation, ask us great questions, and are authentic. We have extensive training for employees to learn technical skills, but we cannot teach people to provide genuine heartfelt care to others. --Stephanie Troxel, Kimpton Hotels, Director, Diversity & Recruitment

"We are looking for people who aren't afraid to be themselves, don't take themselves too seriously, and are constantly looking to improve both personally and professionally.  Mike Bailen, Zappos, recruiting manager

2.  Thomas Friedman’s column on “How to Get a Job at Google” was published in The New York Times on February 24, 2014 (Google is the number 1 company on the 2014 Fortune Best Companies to Work for list).  A second column on this same topic appeared in the Times on April, 20, 2014.  Among the insights conveyed by Friedman in his discussions with Lazlo Bock, Head of People Operations at Google, are the following:

  • The number 1 factor we look for is general cognitive ability: it’s not IQ but learning ability; be able to demonstrate logical, structured thinking
  • Second is emergent leadership:  when faced with an issue or problem, do you step up and lead regardless of your title
  • Third is humility and ownership; we want people to have ownership and be accountable, but also have the humility to take a step back and acknowledge the better idea:  it is having a big and small ego at the same time.
  • The least important attribute is expertise.
  • Transferrable skills are essential in such a dynamic workplace
  • Write your resume to say:  “I accomplished X, relative to others Y, for the Z purpose.”
  • In an interview, explain the thought process around why you did something, not just what you did.  Discuss a quality, provide a story behind the quality, describe why you did this and identify the value it provided:  this shows a thought process and an orientation to results and not just activities.

Many “tried and true” hiring practices are being challenged today.  Change is everywhere, old employee compacts are dissolved, career paths are less linear and more asymmetrical, and the motivations of employees are more diverse.  It is a different game.  Finding a new job used to be an occasional activity; now it is becoming commonplace for many.  The balance of power has always been with the employer, but today it is more of a reciprocal relationship in which skilled employees have just as many choices and options.  Emotion will always be part of the hiring process, but some key steps can be taken to make the hiring process more effective, less asymmetrical, and smoother for candidates.

  • Understand the incentives and motivations of the key players
  • Know the business issues and challenges faced by the company
  • Know what the company is looking for
  • Anticipate barriers and how to get around them at each step in the process
  • Approach the task of getting a job as a full time campaign
  • Be more prepared than other candidates through research and leveraging connections
  • Research both the company and key personnel such as the hiring manager
  • Balance the four attributes of experience, network connections, candidate behavior and timing in establishing the best fit
  • Position yourself in relation to the New Box Score and the values/culture of the company.  Many companies today hire for attitude and train for the rest.
  • Prioritize you top three to five advantages as a candidate and practice the elevator speech
  • Be resourceful and don’t get “out worked”