Once upon a time, I went to college…and then I applied for this position. The end.

A lot of the things we do in Staffing have to do with judgment calls; professional ones. Not very different than a lot of other positions too (or personal life…syrah or chardonnay?). Who doesn’t have to make decisions that don’t come out of a manual? We, in Staffing, look at resumes and have to assess whether 1) we think the person could be a fit for the position and 2) whether the hiring manager will agree with us. In my own case, I am looking at whether the person could be a fit for “marketing at Microsoft”, so it’s a bit different, but the general idea is the same. We cannot pass all the candidates through the process so decisions have to be made about candidate engagement. Realizing that there is a real-live person on the other end of that resume (OK, so there aren’t ends of resumes but you know what I mean), it can kind of be a little gut-wrenching. By declining to engage with a candidate about a position, I am impacting their chances of getting the position significantly. At the same time, the recruiter’s credibility with the hiring manager is on the line every single day. You never want them to open an e-mail with resumes for their position and say “What was the recruiter thinking? Why did they send these to me? They are not a fit at all.”. So the weight of the decisions around moving people through the process isn’t lost on me or my peers in the staffing industry. Know that.

There’s also another complicating element: volume. I get lots and lots of resumes and that’s just one part of my job. I put them in a folder in my inbox and go through them regularly (usually daily). There simply isn’t time to linger for significant amounts of time over each resume so I need to look for the information we want off the resume, make a decision and move along. It’s kind of like the act/delete/file rule of e-mail: touch it once and only once (in my case) and then move along (of course, line recruiters would spend more time with the resumes). Only, it’s not that easy (there’s the “making the call on the resume” part and the gut-wrenching part, like I said). So sometimes I have to let a resume sit for a day or two and come back to it. Look at it again as if I am seeing it for the first time; try to have an easier time of the decision to engage the second time around. It’s totally inefficient but it’s the only thing that keeps me from feeling like a careless ogre sometimes.

See, working in a staffing role at a well-known company has it’s pros and cons. You certainly don’t have to explain who you work for and people will generally assume you are smart (unless or until you prove otherwise, which I may or may not have done on certain occassions…no examples please). On the flip side, many more people will apply than you will engage. So you (the recruiter and, more specifically in this case, I) set up little internal methodologies for yourself (myself) to help you (me) decide whether you (I) can move forward with a candidate. You have to do this or you will have no life outside of your inbox and also your hiring managers will stop trusting you to advise them. To be quite honest (and optimistic), every time I open a resume, I assume the person is a potential Microsoft hire and as I read the resume and notice some things that could be red flags (to me or the hiring managers), I take note. I prefer doing it that way than the other way around. There comes a point where you have enough info to decide whether to engage or not. This is when you are done with the initial resume review (all the resumes go into a database to be accesses by other recruiters, by the way).

Some of the things we look for on a resume are really more clear and obvious than others. “Hiring manager says she wants a minimum of 5 years in Enterprise software” is an example. I guess you can try to creatively interpret “enterprise” or “software”, but you pretty much know it when you see it on the resume. Other things that we look for on the resume can be calls that recruiters have to make in order to select the “best fit” candidates for the position. There’s a difference between matching the minimum qualifications and being the “right person for the job”.  We look to the reputations of previous employers with regard to investing and growing talent, the scope of work, innovation. We care about your career progression and how many times you have changed positions and why. We look for large unexplained gaps on the resume. We look for individual experience that is about results and innovation; about getting stuff done. So aside from what you are doing right now in your position, we are using the resume to get a snapshot of you and your potential as a new employee at Microsoft (or wherever the recruiter is working).  I know I give lots of resumes advice and there are others out there that do the same. But one thing that I think I have forgotten to emphasize is a focus on the “big picture”; as a person and a set of experiences and talents, what are you offering the company and how well does your resume represent that? And will the recruiter get the point quickly when they open your resume? With regard to that point, it’s really hard to give little snippets of advice like you would about resume formats and bullet points and where to include your education and one page or three.

So I guess my point in bringing this up is to help people think about the big picture that your resume is painting about you (by the way, I stink at writing my own resume so easy for me to say). To anticipate some of the concerns that recruiters could have about your background, address them in the resume and have a sound byte about them if you are asked. Let me give you a personal example: before I worked at Microsoft, the longest I had been at a position was 2.5 years. I had a couple jobs for 1.5 years in between. A recruiter could absolutely see this as a red flag and, since I was a recruiter then as well, I know I had to be able to address it. So when I wrote my resume, I made sure that it was clear that my moves were orchestrated to give me exposure to the technology industry (since I started in finance) and exposure to work of greater scope (moving up to larger and larger organizations and more responsibility). So when I wrote about my path of positions, I made sure that this point was clear. It was a narrative (a story, if you will…hence the blog post title…get it?), not just a random collection of bullet points.

So I don’t know if there are any tips here I can give other than to think about how the recruiter looks at, and thinks about, your resume. Should I have warned you that it gets scary when you get inside the head of someone in the staffing industry? Nah, if you have been reading my blog you knew that already ; )


Comments (8)

  1. Patrick says:

    Another insightful look into the inner-workings of what exactly happens to resumes when submitted to a top shelf, global firm.

    As a TPR, the same decision making applies. Fantastic article Heather. I love you.

  2. search.net says:

    I like to read whenever you blog. Somehow I enjoy it since I always wanted to work for MS. The couple of times I’ve sent my CV for developer jobs at Microsoft I’ve not had much success. The first time was way back in 1998 when I had a telephonic interview with the NT team’s manager whose name I don’t remember. I did not progress beyond that stage. The second instance was recently when I was really not that well prepared to apply, but did anyway and hence messed up the application. It was quite embarrassing, obviously I did not even get an interview. Now my question is: What are my chances if I decide to apply again? Would I be considered or would my past attempts make a good candidate for disqualification? Please be frank with me, I’m ready to accept anything.

  3. How did you indicated, in your resume, the logic of your moves. It’s a good idea but I’m curious about the details.

    Was it a "Reason for Moving" line at the end of an entry or a "Reason for Joining" at the start?

  4. HeatherLeigh says:

    I indicated company size/industry and scope of responsibility at the top of each entry. People could also use their "objective" at the top of the resume for the same thing. My intent was to make each move look like an obvious step up (which they were).

  5. D-Wang says:

    Really liked your thoughts, especially the "narrative" portion. I think that people (myself included) have been taught in school to answer in ‘bullet points’… this is certainly true in technology because the simple question at the end of the day is whether the lines of code worked or not.

    The approach that you are taking is very similar to the essays where the art of story-telling compels you to read further. That makes me think that we should do more in understanding how to tell a story!

    Now… to find someone who will actually listen….

  6. Buddy123 says:

    I have been reading this blog for some time now. I work at Microsoft in product development (software engineer) .My education and skills are also technical. I wish to transition to a career in marketing and would like to know how to plan that transition? Does Microsoft have anything internally that can help me in doing such a career move?  Thanks.

  7. HeatherLeigh says:

    Buddy123- this is definitely something that your HR generalist could be helping you with. An idea that you might want to think about is working with your gen to identify someone who has made a similar transition and meeting with them to get feedback and advice. Another thing you might want to thikn about is the type of role that could facilitate this kind of transition gradually. For example, a technical product planner role could get you closer to marketing without having to abandon your current skill set.

    i hope that helps!