I have been involved in recruiting my entire career, from university admissions to hiring people for my own company. With certainty, I can tell you that every recruiting process -- even mine -- has some level of bias. 

That shouldn't be news, since companies have for years been attempting to eliminate bias in order to create more diverse teams. And while diversity in the workplace has proven benefits, qualified candidates are still being overlooked because of negligent and implicit biases. For instance, a series of studies demonstrated that individuals with "white sounding names" had to send out fewer applications and resumes compared to equally qualified individuals with ethnic sounding names.

To reduce this problem, some advocate implementing a "blind recruiting" process, through which signaling information, such as name, zip code and school, are eliminated. Sounds like a decent solution, right? Maybe, but you can't eliminate bias completely, especially when most companies interview candidates at some point in the process.

While bias in recruiting is disheartening, I continue to see (and coach) highly qualified young professionals take control of the situation by simply making themselves so qualified as to be impossible to ignore. How do they do this? By clearly demonstrating what I call the two "mad skills" that every business needs: initiative and effort.

So, regardless if you are looking for your first job or changing careers, here are a few simple tips to differentiate yourself from the crowd.

Be More Qualified (Have Mad Skills)

On the surface, this sounds simple, but I am still shocked at how many young, aspiring professionals still think that past experience or a college degree alone will land them the job they want. 

The problem is that highly ambitious individuals from anywhere in the world can learn the same skills as you simply by having internet access. Instead, what is going to set you apart is what you have done with those skills. Demonstrating that you can take on new challenges, handle ambiguous situations, take responsibility and ultimately solve problems is what recruiters seek and companies need.

Communicate Your Effectiveness (Communicate Your Mad Skills)

Understanding how to communicate your skills in a manner that stands out from other candidates is always a challenge, especially since many recruiters want a single page resume right from the start.

There are countless resources on how to craft (or what to avoid in) a great resume, but I will tell you that the three things I look for are:

  1. Proper formatting, spelling and grammar
    Yes, this is a shallow qualifying criteria, but when you have hundreds of resumes and only a handful of interview slots, you tend to look for those who at least pay attention to the details.

  2. Information pertaining to the job
    If you are interviewing for a tech job, then your experience as a bartender probably won't help (unless it does, see below). Read the job description for which you are applying and tailor your resume to speak to the specific skills and qualifications sought.

  3. Highlight initiative and achievements
    Don't waste your value resume real estate describing your previous job description, especially if it is already in your job title. "Full-stack JavaScript Developer" tells me what I need to know, so instead tell me what you accomplished in that position.

And, yes, this absolutely means that you cannot work with a single, generic resume in your search. Sorry, that is just part of "mad skills" skillset.

Stand Out in the Interview (Demonstrate Your Mad Skills)

Lastly, when you get through the recruiting process and land that interview, be prepared. There is no level of practice that is going to get you ready, but with absolute certainty I can tell you that the interview you have with a company you respect should not be your first, fifth or even tenth interview. 

Like anything in life, practice makes perfect, and candidates need to be ready to answer basic interview questions as well as be able to think on their feet. Candidates need also to be ready for in-person interviews as well as video interviews, which have grown in popularity.

Most important, candidates need to nail down their ability to stand out among a competitive field of candidates, and that is not going to happen without practice.

I believe that we should all do our best to eliminate bias in recruiting. And while we all have some level of bias, even if as innocent as a university we don't like (I'm looking at you, Buckeyes) or a name that spurs bad memories (why did you never call me back, Gertrude?), the most effective way to overcome this from the candidate side is to demonstrate that the value you bring to an organization makes the heartache of not hiring you far outweighs that of doing so.

Published on: Jun 30, 2019
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