The unemployed hiring manager

I was recently in the exceedingly ironic position of hiring  someone while unemployed myself.

The organization I volunteer for wanted to create a new part-time position (5-10 hrs/week). This organization has only 2 (now 3) paid positions, all of which are similarly part-time; the bulk of the work is done by volunteers. We talked a lot about this new position, but no one was moving forward, so I took the initiative to write up a job description, post it for free on local university career websites, and, when that wasn’t working, get approval to post a paid ad on

Our ideal candidate was someone with an interest in nonprofit management and knowledge of our specific sector. Over about a month, we received 25 applications. They came from a wide range of applicants: there were a few people right out of college, some who were very advanced in nonprofit management, and some who had a good deal of experience in unrelated fields.

I wish I could have written back to many of the candidates with my feedback on their resumes and cover letters; instead, here’s where I turn into Ask a Manager:

Most of the resumes were a mess. The messes fell into two categories (with plenty of crossover): 1) typos/spelling/grammar mistakes and 2) content.

1) I don’t think my fellow hiring managers were as picky as I was, but as far as I’m concerned, misspelling the position title in the subject line of your email is grounds for automatic disqualification (and also gets you left out of my inbox search & collation when I type “administrative assistant” but you’ve written “admiinstrative assistant.”) And while I have sympathy for the typing difficulties inherent in the distinction betweeen customer and costumer, if you can’t proofread that sort of mistake out of your resume (when you’re supposed to be on your best behavior), why would I think that you’d do it on the job?

2) Out of 25 resumes, there was only one that I could tell was tailored to this specific job. Even among our top candidates (including the person we hired) the resumes were very long and full of extraneous, irrelevant information. As a jobseeker, I wasn’t sure how big of a deal it was to include things the employer wasn’t asking for, but as a hiring manager, I can tell you: it’s super annoying. It makes me think that you’re 1) not clear on what this job entails and/or 2) more concerned about your irrelevant skills than you are with this job. Good for you for speaking Russian, but unless you can prove to me that that would come in handy in our monolingual environment, I absolutely do not care.

Most of the overqualified people didn’t bother to address the fact that they were overqualified, which led me to conclude that they hadn’t read the job description very carefully and were thinking that this was something other than entry-level. My advice: address the fact that you are overqualified and speak to why you want this job.

One candidate wrote in his cover letter that, should he be selected for the job, he would be relocating here from another part of the state. Really? How could a 5-10 hr/wk position justify this?

Another candidate wrote that his “availability” was “very flexible” for the next 6-12 months. What?! Why on earth would you mention that in a cover letter? If you’re planning a move, don’t give your notice while applying for the job. (I’m very curious to know if this person gets any response to the cover letters where he mentions this.)

Two candidates, in all their copying and pasting, neglected to rewrite the part of the cover letter that says what position they’re applying for, which resulted in the following opening sentence: “I’m applying for the [totally different] position at [totally different organization].” I don’t care how qualified you are; if you’re too busy to check your work, then you’re too busy to be considered for the job. Yes, even the most conscientious of us make mistakes (as I know well!), so the key is to catch them and do whatever you can to repair them. It would have been totally fine with me if these people had written back to apologize for the mix-up and sent corrected materials. (These applicants were coming straight out of college. I’m not sure what that means or if it makes it any more or less excusable.)

Out of the 25 candidates, we selected eight for phone screens. I didn’t want to be involved in that aspect, but I stepped back in when it came time for in-person interviews, of which there were three. And the conventional wisdom is true: chemistry/”culture fit” became a really big deal here. It was no longer about whether they could do the job; it was about how well we liked them and if we could see them fitting in to the organization. One candidate was overqualified and seemed to want us to know it. He would have been great, no doubt, at handling much bigger responsibilities, but he was virtually uninterested in the details of the actual job description. Another candidate had some great ideas and a good amount of experience, but came across as very socially awkward in ways that would be detrimental to job performance. One candidate really stood out for her friendliness, professionalism and overall demeanor. I liked her right away and we established an excellent rapport right off the bat. The other people on the hiring team felt the same way, and this is who we went with.

But my enthusiasm has turned to skepticism in the weeks since we brought this person on board. I’ve found that she isn’t as proactive and on-top of things as I’d thought she would be. In addition, it appears that, contrary to what she said in the phone screen, she doesn’t know how to use Excel. And right after she was hired, she suddenly had work conflicts with two of four very important events for our organization, events that it was stipulated she had to attend. The other volunteers seem to be taking it all in stride, but I’m really disappointed — not only in her, but also in myself. I feel like I should have been much more objective in the hiring process and not let myself be quite so swayed by personal rapport.

Nevertheless, it was empowering to be on the other side of this. I feel like I’ve had a peek behind the curtain and am a bit more aware of how I might be perceived as a candidate.


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