It doesn’t matter what job you apply to and it never has.

OK, I may be overstating that a little bit but hear me out. I'm always talking about what *good* recruiters do. I also give a lot of advice to candidates that want to get noticed by these *good* recruiters. Earlier today, I mentioned that resumes do not sit in a stack on a desk (seriously..I hope that was an illustration used to make a point). They go into a searchable database. Now think about this: do you think it's more productive for a recruiter to a) go into the database and review all candidates who have applied for a specific job or b) go into a database and search for candidates with specific key words on their resumes? Was that question too leading? Do I need to tell you that the answer is "b"?

There are a couple truths that I know, that you might not. The first is that, generally speaking, candidates are not good at self selection. Frankly, I don't expect them to be. They are motivated by what they want, not what their prospective employers want. It's kind of like when you are applying to apply to the pie-in-the-sky schools, you apply to some some solid state schools, you apply to your tier 3 schools. That way you have your bases covered and are prepared for a clerical error at one of those top rated schools that results in your admission (just kidding guys!). You don't say "hmm, I'm not going to apply here because they won't like me". When you look for a job, you apply for your dream job (would love to do it but your qualifications don't really match), apply for jobs similar to your own but with enough differences to make them interesting, apply to jobs similar to the one you already have but where you don't have to sit next to someone that talks about their cats non-stop even when you are on a phone interview (not that this has ever happened to me though...really).

Like I said, candidates have certain selection criteria based on their own self-interest (as they should). They are applying to the jobs that look the most exciting to them, that were relatively easy to find on the careers page, that have a well-written job description. None of these are filters that weed out qualified versus unqualified candidates! If a recruiter looks at the resume of every person that applies to a particular job, they are doing the equivalent of searching through a pile of resumes on a desk. A haystack analogy here seems too obvious. Now, for a company or group without a dedicated recruiting function, or with a small number of daily job applicants, that might be OK (seriously, not casting's just a different job when you work with a very large number of applicants). But for people doing any kind of volume, it is absolutely necessary to apply some intelligence to the process BEFORE you get into the business of reviewing resumes. So this is truth number 2: recruiters do not now, nor will they ever, have time to review every resume against every job without the aid of technology. Word.

For the record, we do in fact track which jobs people apply to here. But here's the thing...I'm not sure I really care (this is just me...I don't want to see someone talking about what Microsoft's recruiting function does and does not care about...this is me talking here). If you apply to position A, but I recruit for position B and reviewed your resume and I think you could be a fit, I am so totally going to call you and let you decide whether you want to discuss it (position B) and I am so totally going to say things like "so totally" and "dude, love your resume" and "sweet work experience" (OK, I am just making a little fun of myself there...I promise I won't do this). That's not to say that the recruiter for position A might not be interested. I would just want to present you with any/all options available to you at any certain point...the roles that appear to be a good match for your background based on your resume. To do that, I search based on keyword matches between the resume and the job. For this, it does not really matter what job you applied for.  The most important thing is that your resume is in the database with key words indicative of your skills.

So here's where I give advice some of which I think you may have heard here before:

 1) Still go ahead and apply to specific jobs that interest you, but don't worry too much about whether your application to any one job went through (it did, by the way).

2) Don't apply to 50 jobs at the same company. It's discouraging to see an applicant record where the person applied to 50 different positions (especially if the roles vary wildly like Administrative Assistant and Strategy Director) . I know I said that we don't expect candidates to self-select based on the interests of the employer, but don't let it get out of hand. We do track how many jobs someone has applied to and a very large number does raise some red flags. To some extent, selectivity equates to desirability. When someone tells me that they don't care what job they get at Microsoft because they just want to work here, that actually concerns me. To be in-demand, you need to be somewhat selective. When I hire someone, I want to be excited about them working at Microsoft and excited about the fact that our competitors didn't get them first.

3) Don't let what I've said keep you from applying. Saying that candidates don't generally do a good job at self-selection is not a criticism of candidates in any way. Candidates are motivated by what is best for them. Recruiters are motivated by the interests of the company. Where those 2 things come together is where there is mutual interest (duh) and where we have a hire. Plus, there's an awful lot of knowledge that recruiters have that is not in the job description. In the same way that a resume does not define everything about you, a job description does not define everything about a position. Things like group culture, team skill gaps, management style...those are all things that recruiters consider when selecting candidates that would not be appropriate in a job description.

4) If you don't see a position that's a direct fit, but you still dream of working at the company, apply to something. Most companies will give you an option of applying without a specific job code. I can't tell you how many times I've been searching in our database and have come across a candidate that fits a role I know is opening in the near future (for example, a role we hire frequently but don't have a position open at the moment). Again, it's key just to have the resume in there.

5) Key words on resumes are important!!! Very, very important. Say it again.

Comments (17)

  1. David Smith says:

    Interesting. Good tips. I’ll keep them in mind when I apply to MS. =)

  2. SuperJason says:

    So if we optimize our resume for Google PageRank, we should be all set?

    Seems like the same concepts as search engine optimization.

  3. Christian says:

    Heather, has someone badgering you today? It comes through. But great post.

  4. Ck147 says:

    Good info & reality check Heather…. question though – how often do you guys engage an outside executive recruiter firm to fill certain jobs? Maybe it’s just me – but getting that type of direction from other resources and interested to know if that is important at Microsoft… I am not a fan of those type services, but will consider it if that is what it takes to get the right job…

    Realize you have some level of confidentiality ‘code’ you have to follow, so just ballpark it if you have too.. (sorry, just wanted to squeeze the word code into my note!)

  5. I would so much like to agree with you.

    However, I’ve been told so many times to be as specific about an application as possible and that a generic, unsolicited application is considered harmful. I spent hours setting up job search agents and weeding through the results.

    Hey, may be that were the 90s.

    But then again, why is Microsoft’s career site still so focused on specific positions?

    It makes an applicant search for entries and then figure out whether her skills match.

    If you’re not deriving information about the applicant from the positions she applies for, this is more in vain than doing a Tickle test.

    There you get a score at least.

  6. Shriraj says:

    Hi Heather,

    I have been reading your blogs since past week. It just popped in some search that I gave, and I really liked the way you explain each and every point so widely. I had something puzzling me about the search that works at employers end.

    "To do that, I search based on keyword matches between the resume and the job. For this, it does not really matter what job you applied for. The most important thing is that your resume is in the database with key words indicative of your skills."

    So does this means that if the job is of Marketing: Product Manager, then you search for those words in the resumes you are matching the job with? I mean when you say "Key words on your resumes are important!!!" it means that if I liked a job that I want to apply for then I should have the keywords mentioned in the job description, somewhere in my resume, so that my resume pops up when you search the right match. Am I right by saying so?

  7. Heather says:

    SuperJason-yes, many of the concept are the same. Candidate tracking systems use the same type of boolean logic. But with databases usually storing a .txt copy of a resume, there are some visual differences. Where an html resume is graphical, a .txt resume isn’t. So your resume definitely has to make sense left-to-right. So, I’d say that using SEO concepts when putting together a resume makes a lot of sense.

    Christian-nope, nobody badgering me…until now, that is ; ) I guess I wouldn’t recommend my blog for anyone that doens’t enjoy sarcasm. It’s just part of my personality. Trust me, this isnt’ meant to be a "corporate career site". What you get is me…for better or worse.

    CK147-great point. On the marketing side, we don’t often engage an agency. I should do a blog post on this though because you are bringing up something I think a lot of people are wondering about. In general, I’d say we have an agency engaged on a small handful of roles and most recrutiers aren’t using agencies at all. It tends to be the more nichy stuff though. I would never recommend a candidate go the agency route instead of sending in their resume. But if you work in a niche area and there’s a firm that works with Microsoft a lot, you should think about it. There are also firms we work with on a project basis. I’ll definitely elaborate on this more in a near future blog post. I would guess that agencies account for less than 5% of our hires overall, but that is totally a guess. I don’t have any data on that (we usually do that kind of tracking at year end). It’s not really that confidential of a matter so if I come across any more info on that, I’ll let you know. But again, great idea for another blog post and I’ll put some thoughts together. Thanks!

  8. Ck147 says:

    cool… thank for the info Heather……

    oh yea.. btw.. how about those Trojans?! (wow) that was a smoker!

  9. Heather says:

    Shriraj-yes and no (but mostly yes). The keywords are important. The title of the job isn’t necessarily a key word (we realize that a product manager at one company could be a business development manager at another company, which could be a Director or Product Innivation at another company, etc.). So it’s more about the terminology used to describe the work and results you are driving.

    The right keywords will get your resume noticed. But it’s the overall content of the resume that causes you to get the call from the recruiter. So you have to have a match in other ways than just key words in that regard. Scope of work could be important, industry space, results driven, etc. A lot of those things are hard to define by keywords. So we spend a lot of time reading through resumes to make that judgement call on whether that person could be a good fit.

    So the short answer is yes. But your question reminded me to let people know that titles of jobs aren’t necessarily key words.

    By the way, the flip side of this applies to writing job descriptions. If hiring managers want a certain kind of individual to fill a position, they should think about the key words that would appear on that person’s resume and include them in the job description. The boolean approach we use to search for candidates is the same methology for searching jobs.

    Thanks for asking Shriraj!

  10. Heather says:

    CK-yeah…I am trying not to let myself get all crazy here about the football thing. I tried to get it out of my system as much as possible last night but that was an amazing game. Makes me anxious for next year too. Pretty sure Leinart is coming back. I went to SC during the Larry Smith era and suffered through some pretty bad seasons so this is extra sweet! Next year…three-Pete!

  11. Heather says:

    Henry-you make a good point (sorry I am publishing comments out of order here guys…still trying to get through mail). Let me clarify that I am strictly talking about how we SEARCH resumes is our database. I think I mentioned that we do often look at what positions a person has applied to, but it’s often AFTER we find their resume through keyword searching. That is why I mentioned what I did about not applying to a zillion jobs and to make sure that the positions you apply to make sense for your background. So if a recruiter is working on a position and does a keyword search and finds you resume and looks at the positions you applied to, it’s great if you happened to apply to the position they are working on. But if you didn’t, they will still give you a call. I think that is a good thing.

    I think the benefit of having the candidates search based on keywords for specific jobs is more about educating them on what is available. Hey-if you find something that matches your background perfectly…apply for it! I honestly don’t know any recruiters that do searches based on what position that the person applied for though. And if you are applying to jobs on a job board and the submission alias appears to be a person’s e-mail address, it matters whether you apply because it goes directly to their inbox so do it (but don’t apply to all 15 jobs that recruiter has listed because they will get 15 e-mails from you)…I should have made this point…I was talking about career site usage. I guess the bottom line that I should have made clear: good recruiters usually search based on resume key words, not the jobs candidates have applied for.

    I realize that my view of recruiting from the recruiter’s perspective may not align with the conventional wisdom on career search practices. People make a lot of money giving advice on how to find a job. Me…I can only tell you what I see from the standpoint of someone who has been doing this for a while. As with any advice, I am sure you think it over, decide what parts you can agree with and use and reject the rest. I don’t have any ulterior motives here. So take it for what it is worth. I usually try to share what I think *good* recruiters do. That doesn’t really mean I know what every recruiter is doing.

    Thanks for bringing this stuff up Henry…gave me the opportunity to clarify.

  12. Shriraj says:

    Thanx Heather

    Pleasure was all mine to discuss my doubts with you. That will be very usefull to me when I apply with MS.

    Well I have one more question.

    You have mentioned in one of the blogs to go and check out the "carriers" link on the MS website. Well I have been going through the website where I saw this link that said MBA Carriers, wherein I saw Jobs for MBA -> full time positions -> Product manager (this was the basis of the first question) and then on the MBA Carriers page I also see a link saying Join Us, where I can submit my resume for the full time position.

    Now my question is that : Is this a page from which a fresh MBA can apply for a job that matches his/her interest? Or do you still advice me to go to the carriers page? Will the resume submitted here will end up in the same database?

  13. Heather says:

    Hi Shriraj…our MBA recruiting team does on-campus interviews. So if you are still in school or up to a year out, I would recommend using the MBA site and the link is the best way. Otherwise, I would use the regular careers site. Either way, though, your resume goes into our system and is searchable by all recruiters. It’s just that a separate team works with the new MBAs.

  14. Shriraj says:

    Thank you Heather for the information.

    This will again help me a lot. Thanx again.

  15. I know she wrote this a few days ago, but it’s resonating with me loudly. The quote is that "candidates are not good at self selection." It’s an amazing concept. Almost spiritual. Let’s take the cases that could arise from…

  16. Anonymous says:

    I guess the general lesson, as always, is to try to write in a way that will make sense to your audience

  17. Found by way of "faster pussycat… type" Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments This feeds directly into Heather’s theory that job candidates are perhaps not the best at self selection…

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