Lessons from hiring a new intern

Ramit Sethi

Last week, I posted a want ad on my blog for a Content Curator position.

As expected, I received a TON of applications for this…and while I was sifting through them, a number of fascinating insights emerged about how to get your dream job.

I’ll be brutally honest here because many hiring managers won’t tell you this stuff.

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  • After reading 10-15 applications, it became easy to spot the worst applications. In fact, so many apps came in that I could only afford to spend about 15 seconds on each one — and my first objective was to DISQUALIFY people so I could move through the huge stack of apps. Think about that mindset of your hiring manager: 15 SECONDS PER APPLICATION. It hurts to hear, but it’s true. Whiny candidates will say, “Waa…you should spend more time to be fair” but the winning candidates know this is how the game works, so they spend their time making sure their application stands out immediately.
  • All it takes is one bad line to disqualify yourself. For example, when I asked if the applicant was a self-starter and resourceful…. one candidate said:

“For one, I am filling out this survey for the curation position, usually I would have glanced over it, thought to myself “wow, that seems like a cool job” and then tell myself “I’m not qualified for it”. Yet here I am, wanting to learn and put myself out there.”

Your application is not a place to have a therapy session. It’s a place to highlight why you’re the best for the position.

  • The biggest key insight: Every finalist, plus the winning candidate, DID THE ACTUAL JOB instead of just talking about how good they were. They built an actual system and sent me a link to the system or a video so I could see for myself. Now that’s a great way to stand out.

I point these things out not to mock my readers but more to illustrate what separated the successful applicants from the unsuccessful ones.

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  1. James Lett III

    Ramit, did you create the job opening with a 48-hr window to further narrow the amount of possible candidates? I imagine such a time limit would stop a lot of people from applying.

    The nature of the questions on the application, and possibly a bit of intimidation considering the hiring manager, probably scared away some applicants as well. Anyone who reads your blog would know you expected some kind of portfolio or example of the system. For myself, Irene got in the way of any time spent doing that; I had trouble getting internet access to apply in time! I’m curious as to how many of the finalists put something together specifically for you, and how many of them pointed to systems they had developed in the past. I’m also interested in how many “The ideal candidate has…” points your winning applicant touched on or used in their example organization system.

    Out of the finalists, did you hire the candidate with the most experience?

    Applying was a rather intellectually enjoyable experience, I appreciate that your questions actually made me take time to think on my answers. I also appreciate the insight you’re providing us with this post; you were under no obligation to do so. Thanks, Ramit!

  2. Paris Hunter

    I am seeing opportunities where I can implement things like the briefcase technique effectively. As I am trying to sign my first freelance client for web/pc support, I see many examples where I can make some changes to streamline their website.

    I am working on a mockup right now to present to them in a week (when they get back from vacation). And regardless of whether or not I am actually chosen for the position is irrelevant to me. I can use it as an EXAMPLE for others opportunities going forward and include with before and after photos and explaining my choices.

    The biggest hurdle I am facing Ramit is how do i demonstrate these qualities for jobs with non-technical results (such as customer service). I list my customer service-related accomplishments but I feel that isn’t enough sometimes. I personally prefer tangible items.

  3. Doug

    We never did this, honest.
    First collect all the resume and randomly shuffle them. Divide the pile into two equal piles, then throw one away.
    Repeat once more.
    Now, find your candidate in the remaining 25% of resumes.
    Would you hire someone who is not lucky? Would you?

    • Michael L

      Honestly, I don’t recall ever reading a comment on any website and laughing so loud and so long…

  4. Phil K

    @ParisHunter – Customer Service jobs are very metric-friendly. If your company does not already track results of the CSRs, do it yourself. How much time were you spending on calls? Did you figure out tactics to shorten those times? How about your efficacy as a CSR? Were you effectively solving issues? Did you figure out ways to improve solving customer problems? There are almost always hidden numbers in seemingly non-technical job duties. You just have to re-frame.

    It goes back to the Drucker What-Gets-Measure-Gets-Managed idea. Just my thoughts.

    Incidentally, I think that measurement/performance items on resumes are miles beyond listing what your responsibilities were. i.e. – “Increased sales 20% after implementing X strategy, etc.”

    • Paris Hunter

      I agree with you Phil. My company do keep metrics but they don’t provide me all of the information. ( I get information every other month, maybe things like number of calls and hold times, call scores but nothing that would place me above the other million phone reps out there). And I definitely list the performance items I have on my resume (awards and recognition, etc).

      My issue is that I can’t list things like “increased sales X% because after implementing strategy x…” I do not have those metrics, nor I am in a sales position. My current position is a ‘warm-body’ position. I answer inbound calls that come in to me by phone only (procedures, balance, things of that nature). So my position is a reactive sort where if I try to innovate or suggest, my suggestion is squashed. I decided to focus my energy on external opportunities (such as freelance pc repair, etc).

      I know $,# and % really light up a resume. I decided to branch out to freelance skills I want to use, because I do not want to be in CS (or Corporate America) anymore.

  5. Nathan R

    That’s an old Economist’s trick. Way to take credit for a stolen story, Doug. Sometimes you need to give credit where credit is due (sometimes=all the time.)

  6. Pepper Potts

    This is a great post. Although I have a career job established already, in the spring I plan on trying to make a somewhat lateral career move (same pay scale for now, but different job). I am going to network in person at a job fair, but this is a good reminder that my personal appearance plus my resume better be good enough it beyond a 15 second glance from the hiring people. Even though I will be an internal candidate I’m still going to treat it like it’s my first job ever.

  7. Dan - BankVibe

    You make an excellent point, although I wouldn’t even ask for resumes. That’s a bit old school and kind of a waste of time IMO. I was recently in the market for a part-timer and received a decent amount of ‘resumes’ as well. Personally, I hate them. All this BS about why you think you’re a good fit bla bla bla. Just send me a blank email with 3 links to related projects you’ve successfully performed on and the job is yours. It’s pretty simple. Think of it as if you’re a writer and looking for freelance work. You don’t need a resume you need 5-10 links of your best work on prominent blogs or media outlets. That’s it, I really don’t even need to know your name.

  8. osoriasoria

    15second is plenty of time to create lasting impression, every moment much count.

  9. Tam

    Ramit – now that you’ve shown an example of a bad answer, could you please show an example of an answer that caught your eye?

    @Dan – BankVibe: that’s an interesting suggestion. Noted.

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  11. Tim Rosanelli

    Before I was a business owner, I worked as a Regional Customer Service Manager and had to hire many people. The best resumes were action/ results oriented over job responsibility oriented.

    Job responsibility oriented is saying I managed 12 people in customer service, worked with sales representative in client relations, etc.

    Action/ results oriented is stating the results you experienced. For example from my former resume, Created a upselling program in customer service that added $250,000 in additional sales per year. Developed a new system of filing in customer service saving 12 hrs of non-value time for our agents per week and saving the company $15,000 per year in overtime.

    Anyone can develop a resume like this. I suggest first that you always have a resume already made and saved to your home computer. As you do things, measure them. If you make improvements, write them on your saved resume. Translate all your actions into dollars earned for the company, dollars saved for the company, or time saved.

    I can guarantee it will put you to the top of the pile every time. It will also help in the interview, because you will be asked about this points. Of course, you will have a well developed story built into each one. By focusing on the story, it will keep you from babbling and saying anything stupid.

  12. Ben - BankAim

    When we post jobs, we make people send us examples of work. If we need an article written, we make them send us a 150 word article that is completely unique (we test these articles to make sure they are unique). That will get rid of 90% of applicants. You put that ‘test’ at the bottom of your post.. so you know those who send you the ‘test’ article actually read your full job posting, or at least most of it.