About half of the career advisors out there will tell you that your resume is the first thing that a hiring manager looks at; the other half will tell you the cover letter is the first thing a hiring manager looks at. The solution? Cover all your bases and create both a rocking resume and a killer cover letter.
The truth is, you can never predict what a hiring manager prefers when it comes to anything. After all, hiring managers are individuals who have their own set of experiences that color their perceptions like anyone does.
There are a few commonsensical facts that pretty much go across the board, like don't have typos in your cover letter or resume and don't light up a cigar during an interview. But be wary of all advice, including mine.
I am a case in point. While there are a boatload of resources out there that will tell you to greet an interviewer with a handshake that could crush walnuts and to hold eye contact for 7.3 seconds, as an interviewer, I would be put off by that. I'm sorry, but I would be wondering what's wrong with the product if the presentation of it is so over the top and rehearsed. I know that I will be assailed with angry comments from Dale Carnegie graduates who will want to slap me around for saying that, but that is my perception. One of my fellow managers might react differently. The point is, you never know.
I would appreciate a sense of humor in a job candidate but that can't hold across the board. The next person you interview may have just gotten out on parole after physically assaulting a job candidate who told a knock-knock joke. I'm being facetious, but I'm just trying to make a point.
There are two tried-and-true methods for great interviewing:
- Be yourself. After all, if you get the job, you don't want to have to continue occupying the marketing persona you created for yourself in the interview.
- Learn to read people. If you are able to detect boredom in the eyes of an interviewer, then you know you should be winding up that 30-minute discussion of a certification course you once took. Some people have terrible poker faces, and their expressions can serve as an EKG for the interview. I've been asked if the ability to read people can be learned or if it's just an innate skill; the jury's still out on that one. I'm sure there is somebody somewhere who has built an entire business around teaching people how to read visual clues from other people. I think half the battle is learning to pay attention to the person you're talking to and to the clues that are all around you. And I think that some people are better at this than others.
All in all, you can't apply every piece of advice across the board. Every person and every interaction is unique. Take all career advice as a guideline, and then use common sense.
Toni Bowers is the former Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.