Wanna get hired? Get your foot in the door

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Want to work at Taoti? CEO Brent Lightner gives some tips on what he looks for when hiring new employees.
Brent Lightner 2

Brent Lightner

CEO | Founder
Ready for the longest ‘about page’ bio you’ll ever read?? I’m Brent.  I run this shop.  I started it out of a college dorm room back in the late nineties…

As CEO of a digital agency (Taoti Creative), the most important thing I do is hire people.  We’re in the business of custom solutions, so our work is only ever going to be as good as the people doing it, so getting top-notch people is directly related to our success — much more so than I think a lot of people realize.  That’s why I still do most of the hiring myself, despite a lot of people telling me that I need to let an HR person do this stuff.  As we have grown and attracted more of a following, our job ads tend to be more fishing with a net than hunting with a rifle.  A single ad recently yielded over 300 applications. And I take personal pride in responding to everyone who applied, one way or another.  I think it’s just respectful, frankly.  But it also forces me to look at everyone, even if just very briefly.  And I’m glad I do because there are some real diamonds in the rough now and then.

Anyway, I was sharing some of the highlights and lowlights and the outright ridiculous (anonymously, of course) with my team on Slack this morning, and someone suggested I write a blog.  I figured why not?  Maybe it helps you the applicant, and me the reviewer, cut to the chase a bit more quickly.

These are not necessarily philosophies about how I think people should apply for a job.  Instead, here is a list of some realities that I’ve come either appreciate or realize as I go through the mountain of applications.

  1.  We don’t require people to submit a desired salary range, but we do ask for it because it tells a lot.  We know about what this person should cost.  If we see a number way too high or way too low, I move on.  If left blank, you probably get passed over.  I know some will argue that that’s not fair.  Maybe it’s not.  But with so many applicants, even my narrowed-down list is usually really a great set of applicants to pick from.  I don’t need to work harder on someone who left out this critical data point.  So know your worth and say it.  It just makes it easier for people like me to pass you through to the next round.
  2. When did people stop putting their address on resumes?  Your location matters.  As a firm that is almost split evenly between in-house and remote employees, it’s not like we don’t get teleworking.  But where you are is still a factor.  I don’t need your home address, but certainly your city and state.
  3. I’m going to google you at some point anyway.  Make it easy for me and include your social media links.
  4. Formatting really matters.  We’re a digital agency, so everything we do has to be polished.  If you can’t take the time to polish your application, I figure it’s unlikely you’re instinctively someone who polishes things before sending them off.  And that’s a problem for us.
  5. Job titles matter.  This one surprised me because internally, we’re not much on job titles.  But I’ve come to appreciate why they matter to employees more than I think they should.  What you did and for whom you did it is probably in my top three list of things to look for.  And you need to cover it in the bold headline.  The bullet points or paragraph under that will matter in the 2nd or 3rd passes, but when I’ve got 300 resumes to read, I’m only looking at the bold headlines.
  6. Longevity at a job also really matters.  This one is not an easy one to fix, but when I see someone last less than a year or two at a job, it’s a red flag for me.  Conversely, when I see someone that has been some place more than 5 years, I definitely give them subconscious extra credit.  Bonus points if you do the math for me and show how long you were somewhere (like LinkedIn does for me.)
  7. One of the things that I’m most interested in is why you want to leave your current job.  Covering a bit of that in your cover letter really helps.
  8. Speaking of cover letters… I’m not all preachy about either you MUST submit a resume and cover letter, or you MUST be creative and do some sort of video or anything like that.  For me, it’s about making an impression and standing out.  I read an application today that was a ‘chose your own adventure’ kind of interactive PDF file.  I’ve never seen anything like it.  The whole company spent 20 minutes talking about it.  And I think it’s fair to say that on resume alone, this guy didn’t make the first cut.  But he’s now on our short list, just based on the creativity and effort he put into the application.
  9. An introduction on the top of a resume is very useful, but I think the days of “Objective:…” are probably done.   Think about what you’d write if you had to sum up who you are and what you’re looking for in one paragraph.   Stick that at the top of your resume under a heading called, “A summary of me…”  Be yourself. Be genuine. Be personal.  I guarantee I’ll read it.
  10. Follow up.  I can’t tell you how important this is.  Because I’m usually behind the 8 ball when it comes to getting back to candidates, those who send a personal email make it back to the top of my list, even if just mentally.  In one case, someone that got rejected in the first cut got back on the list as a result of a thoughtful follow up.  I was too hasty in the first cut, and by sending a follow-up note, she made me take another look and legitimately worked her way back onto the short list.

So there you have it.  If you take nothing more from my musings here, remember this: especially if you are applying for a coveted position, be short and sweet (not like this blog) and do something to stand out.  75% of the challenge is just making it through the first cut, and admittedly, you probably don’t get a thorough or fair look in that first round.  There are just too many other applications that stand out, so people like me don’t have to look harder to find the best because the best know how to float to the top and make it easy to see that they’re something special.

Good luck job hunting!

-Brent  //  Founder & CEO

PS: Be wary of recruiters.  Sometimes they do more harm than good to your job hunting.  I’ve definitely lost otherwise good hires because their recruiter got in the way.  Sure, there are some good ones, but most just make you more expensive and riskier to hire.