An Interview with a Hiring Manager

November 18 2011

Kathy (name has been changed) is the front-end manager of the downtown location of a well-known hotel chain. She is responsible for hiring all front desk staff, including receptionists, and concierges, among other positions. She has been a hiring manager for more than ten years in a variety of fields, including retail, hospitality, call center, and other customer service industries.

1. What are the first things you look for in a potential employee? 
First impressions are absolutely critical. If I’m reviewing a resume, I look to make sure that everything is spelled correctly and professionally presented. If someone is applying in person, I look for them to be dressed appropriately, polite to the receptionist or front-line employees, and prepared to speak with someone immediately. I firmly believe that if you’re applying in person, you should be ready to interview then and there. The positions I hire for are typically hourly customer service positions, so I look for good eye contact, a friendly demeanor, and the ability to react appropriately to the surroundings. For example, if an applicant is coming by in person to apply, I look for them to be aware of if the employees are busy with customers and to act accordingly. There are a surprising number of people who see nothing wrong with interrupting a busy employee to demand an application. I also look to see if the applicant can follow directions. Our ads generally ask people not to submit email resumes, since in a customer service setting, it can be nearly impossible to sit in front of a computer and sort through emails all day long. I still receive dozens of email applications for each position, even after specifying not to apply via email. To me, this shows a lack of initiative and an inability to follow clear directions, neither of which are characteristics I’m looking for in a potential employee.

2. Do you prefer working with recruiters or with applicants themselves?
Applicants, absolutely. Recruiters have their place, but I’m looking for personalities. Recruiters can only get me qualifications, and honestly, sometimes the best candidates aren’t the ones who have the best qualifications on paper. I find that working with recruiters tends to not only slow down the hiring process, but also results in fewer viable candidates. Recruiters don’t know the atmosphere of a workplace; they don’t know who will fit in, or which particular skills or experience I place the most importance on. Working directly with applicants saves me a lot of time and energy. Recruiters also delay the immediacy of hiring. There are always extra steps and wait time when you’re filtering through an additional party in the hiring process. In customer service industries, when you have an open position, you generally need it filled quickly, and waiting for a recruiter to compile resumes and submit potential candidates to you can cost you valuable time.

3. What five points do you check when scanning a resume?

  • That the resume has been proofread, has no typos, and is professionally presented. Even in creative industries, standard white, off-white, or gray paper with a traditional font is still considered appropriate. I prefer a one page resume, unless your work experience is so vast and detailed that you need a second page. Cutesy, “creative” resumes just make me roll my eyes. If you aren’t serious about your resume, how serious will you be about the job?
  • Relevant work experience. If a previous job is not related to the one that’s being applied for, I still would like to see applicable skills or achievements that can be applied to the position I’m hiring for. If you’re applying for a customer service oriented job, but your work experience has been in other fields, I want to see examples of how you’ve interacted with various people (clients, management, vendors, etc.).
  • Clear, easy-to-read bullet points explaining job duties and achievements in previous jobs. I have little patience for “resume-speak.” I’d like to see what you did, how you did it, and what you accomplished. If you’re applying for a job outside of your previous field, which is happening more and more these days with the unemployment levels being what they are, make sure your resume is understandable to someone who may not be familiar with that field.
  • No added nonsense. In most fields, an objective isn’t necessary, and, for the most part, the “objective” section of a resume is fairly redundant. All it tells me is that you’re looking for a career in which you can utilize your skills. There’s an underlying understanding that this is the case for all applicants. Also, I don’t need to know about your hobbies on your resume. Unless your hobbies are somehow relevant to the job, don’t include them. If they are relevant, you’ll usually be able to work them into your experience somehow. Additionally, I always assume references are available upon request. Save that space for your work and educational experience.
  • Additional skills that may not have been listed under work experience. If you’re an expert with certain software, that’s a good thing for me to know. If you’ve completed work-related education or gotten certifications, list those.

 4. How should a potential employee dress for an interview?
Applicants should aim to be one level dressier than current employees in that workplace. If you have the opportunity to observe the workplace before your interview, try to be a little dressier than the people who work there. If you don’t know what the dress code or culture is before your interview, always aim for too dressed up rather than underdressed. No hiring manager is going to fault you for being overdressed, but being too casual or underdressed can certainly count against you. For women, you can’t go wrong with a skirt or pair of dress pants, a nice top (not T-shirt material), a blazer, if appropriate, and closed-toe shoes. Pantyhose aren’t necessary except in the most conservative of workplaces, but make sure your hemline is work-appropriate and that your shoes aren’t too casual. For men, a suit isn’t always necessary in non-executive roles, but dress pants, a button-down shirt and tie, and a jacket are appropriate. If it’s a very informal workplace (the employees are wearing jeans or other casual clothes), resist the urge to dress to that level. A nice pair of pants and top would still be the best choice. In a more casual or creative workplace, you can take a little more liberty with your accessories, but if you aren’t sure, err on the side of conservative.

Another thing to keep in mind is to dress up a little if you’re going into the place of business to drop off a resume or fill out an application. You don’t need to be as dressed up as you would if you had a formal interview, but business casual makes a good impression. You never know if the person you’re handing your resume to is the hiring manager, so it’s always a good idea to try to impress them even before they read your resume.

5. What’s the difference between a well-prepared interviewee and one who isn’t well-prepared?
A well-prepared interviewee has done at least basic research on the company. They know, in general, what the company does and what it’s all about. They know specifically what job they’re applying for. They have an extra copy of their resume on hand (in case more than one person is interviewing them), and come with a page with their references’ names and contact information. They anticipate standard interview questions, and are able to think on their feet for unexpected ones. They have specific salary requirements in mind, and have at least two or three questions of their own for the interviewer.

6. How many interviews and meetings do you need to decide on a candidate?
Generally, I like to do a phone interview or in-person screening, which lasts only a few minutes. From there, if the candidate is promising, I’ll set up a first interview. I try to do at least ten first interviews for every open position. These days, it’s far more, as we can receive hundreds of applications for one open position. After I’ve done the round of first interviews, I call back the top two or three candidates for a second interview, at which point they may also meet with another member of management who will be interacting with them. The second interview is generally longer and more in-depth than the first. After the second interview, I’ve usually made a decision, and will contact the candidate to extend an offer. In some positions, we do offer a “shadowing” meeting, in which the candidate can observe what the position actually entails by watching someone already in that position. This can be useful for jobs such as the front desk, where people often don’t have a good idea of the level of multi-tasking involved.

7. What’s the worst interview question response you’ve received?
“Tell me why I should hire you.”
”Because I really need a job.”

 And I hear that one a lot.

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