If you’re trained and certified in cloud computing, cybersecurity, database management, or half a dozen other IT fields, the world should be your oyster. After all, employers are desperately seeking enough people with up-to-the-minute tech skills. Two-thirds of IT decision-makers are adding headcount in 2019, and a whopping 89% of them say it’s hard to find the right talent, according to a new poll by staffing firm Robert Half Technology of 2,800 tech hiring managers across the U.S.
So why is it still so hard to catch a tech recruiter’s eye?
One big reason: Despite the best efforts of campus career centers (not to mention well-meaning advice from anxious parents), most new college grads lack basic job search skills. So do recent alumni of other tech training programs, like boot camps and online courses. “There’s a real disconnect between employers and young tech workers,” notes Caitlin Cooke, “especially when it comes to people in underrepresented groups, including ethnic minorities and women.”
Cooke is a career advisor at an innovative coaching firm called Pathrise that aims to close that gap by teaching young techies how to get noticed, and hired, by companies’ recruiters. Cooke knows her stuff: Before joining Pathrise, she did recruiting stints at Disney and Accenture, directed hiring at GitHub, and led Google’s talent-hunting team in the Boston metro area.
She suggests these three ways to impress tech recruiters:
Make your resume stand out. Most CVs now have to run an electronic gauntlet: A digital applicant tracking system (ATS) programmed to screen out resumes that don’t contain the right keywords. So the first step —obvious, maybe, but often overlooked— is to rewrite your resume, if necessary, so it matches precisely the keywords in the job description.
Beyond that, Cooke points out, an actual human will look at your resume for anywhere from 6 to 60 seconds. In her years as a recruiter, “I must have read 10,000 resumes,” she says. “After a while, you look for certain things and, if you don’t see those right away, the resume gets tossed.” Gulp.
The most crucial element that’s usually missing: A concise description of the practical impact of your work in each previous role, with figures if at all possible. “People often have trouble quantifying what they’ve accomplished,” Cooke observes. “But it’s really important to try.”
Study up on the interviewer, and the company culture. Looking up the person you’ll be meeting with on LinkedIn and other social media, to see if you have anything in common, can help you connect with an interviewer, and make you more memorable, too. But what if you don’t know the hiring manager’s name? “Call and ask!,” Cooke says. “Often people are too shy to do this, but you absolutely can find out ahead of time not only whom you’ll be meeting but also what the discussion is likely to focus on, so you know how to prepare.”
At the same time, find out as much as you can about the company and its culture, so you can talk in detail about how you see yourself fitting in there. “This matters to recruiters,” notes Cooke, “because the better the ‘cultural fit’, the longer you’re likely to stay —and thrive— in the job.”
She adds that more companies now are spelling out their values on their websites, and that one way to demonstrate fit is to “pick one that resonates with you and tell why.” Another approach is to talk about your enthusiasm for “the tech the company is using, one or more of their products, or what you hope to learn in the job.” In other words, you want to come across as interested enough in this employer, and this opening, to have put some thought into it.
Practice what you’ll say —but don’t over-rehearse. With all the information available now about the standard questions job interviewers ask, it’s tempting to memorize clever comebacks. But you don’t want to come across as following a script, or parroting canned answers. Instead, says Cooke, think about how to frame the work you’ve done so far to cover three types of experience: “A time when you made especially good use of your technical skills; an example of a problem you faced and how you solved it; and a situation where you worked effectively with a team to achieve a specific result.”
Talking persuasively about those three aspects of your career ” shows, for instance, how self-aware you are, and how well you communicate,” says Cooke. “Those three areas cover the main things tech recruiters want to know about you.”
One encouraging note: As intimidating (not to say nerve-wracking) as job hunting can sometimes be, it might help to know you have at least one person in your corner. That, says Cooke, would be the tech recruiter himself or herself. “The recruiter’s job is to hire you,” she points out. “Nine times out of ten, by the time you get to the interview stage, he or she is your ally.” Good to know.
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