How to Get a Recruiter’s Attention, with Samantha Kennen

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Find Your Dream Job, Episode 263:

How to Get a Recruiter’s Attention, with Samantha Kennen

Airdate: September 30, 2020

Mac Prichard:

This is Find Your Dream Job, the podcast that helps you get hired, have the career you want, and make a difference in life.

I’m your host, Mac Prichard. I’m also the founder of Mac’s List. It’s a job board in the Pacific Northwest that helps you find a fulfilling career.

Every Wednesday, I talk to a different expert about the tools you need to get the work you want.

Our show is sponsored by Top Resume. Top Resume has helped more than 400,000 professionals land more interviews and get hired faster.

Get a free review of your resume today. Go to macslist.org/topresume.

You’re about to hit the send button on a job application. But you worry that dozens of other people may apply, too.

How can you stand out once a hiring manager starts reviewing a tall stack of resumes?

Samantha Kennen is here today to talk about how to get a recruiter’s attention.

She’s the human resources director at Grand Central Bakery. Her company’s hand-crafted breads and pastries are beloved locally and recognized nationally.

Samantha joins us from Portland, Oregon.

Well, Samantha, here’s where I want to start, you’re a recruiter, you hire people all the time; do you find that many applications don’t stand out?

Samantha Kennen:

I really do. I think one of the biggest problems, when people are submitting their applications, is they’re really generic and so they create the same resume and same cover letter for every job that they apply to, and that really comes across when a recruiter is looking at it on the other end.

Mac Prichard:

Why is that a turn off for recruiters? Because you’re laying out all the facts, you’re applying for the job, there’s your resume; why can’t it be generic material?

Samantha Kennen:

I think that having a generic resume might get you through the first pass, the first dispositioning that a recruiter is doing. Or they’re going, “Does this person meet the MQs? Or the minimum qualifications that we asked for?”

But to get beyond that first section of review, you really need something that’s going to grab that recruiter’s attention. If you’re competing against a hundred other equally qualified candidates, the recruiter’s looking for that spark. They’re looking for something interesting that makes that candidate stand out from all of the others.

Mac Prichard:

I want to talk about that spark, but before we move on, aside from generic cover letters and resumes, are there any other common mistakes that you see applicants make that turn off recruiters, like you?

Samantha Kennen:

Oh my goodness, so many. I think one of them is not editing your resume or your cover letter. For example, I was once hiring for an administrative assistant position and I was going through resumes, and I had one that looked pretty good and I went to the cover letter because I wanted to see what this candidate had to say and it was for another company. That kind of lack of attention to detail can really turn a recruiter off. I think that making sure that your resume and your cover letter, or your application if you’re filling in a web form is accurate and has the right information is important.

Another example of common mistakes are misspellings. Now, I try to be thoughtful when I’m reviewing resumes and give a little bit of grace to the candidate, but I had someone once who applied for a position at an organization and misspelled the organization’s name. It was all over the job posting. I would have hoped that they had paid attention to that and caught it in the review, but what I think probably happened was that that resume and cover letter were rushed.

Mac Prichard:

Why do you think these errors happen, Samantha?

Samantha Kennen:

I think people are really afraid that if they don’t get their resume in on the first day that a job posting goes up, that they’re not going to get noticed, and that’s not at all the case. Most companies, when they’re doing recruitment, have a defined time frame, usually, a couple of weeks for higher-level, or more complex positions, that could be months, that they’re looking at resumes for. And if you take more time to get your resume right before you submit it, you are more likely to be seen than if you rush to get a half-prepared resume in on the first day that a job has opened up.

Mac Prichard:

So, avoid generic resumes and cover letters, proofread and catch those typos, and pay attention to detail, make sure that you’re actually writing to the company where you want to work. Any other tips here regarding common mistakes you see applicants make that turn off recruiters like you?

Samantha Kennen:

Yeah, absolutely, there are also good things that candidates do too. But things that are a common mistake can be having a resume that’s too cluttered, someone who is very graphic happy, for example, so there’s lots of pictures, there’s lots of charts, maybe there are 3 or 4 different kinds of fonts. They go a little crazy with the formatting.

Recruiters are looking at, sometimes dozens, or even in certain positions, hundreds of resumes, and they really need to be clean and easy to read. While you might be someone who’s really into graphic design or things like that, when it comes to your resume, simple is usually better.

You want to make sure that you’re posting the minimum qualifications of the position, that you have something that’s easy to find all of those knowledge, skills, and abilities that you’re bringing to the job, and that you’ve taken the time to draft a cover letter that is really specific to the position that you’re applying for. Something that shows your excitement and your enthusiasm.

Mac Prichard:

Why does that excite recruiters, when you see an application and a resume that has clearly been targeted to the company where you work?

Samantha Kennen:

Oh my goodness, you know, it’s so exciting for a recruiter to see a beautifully done resume and cover letter. One is because we go through dozens and dozens of them, and it often feels like you’re reading the same thing over and over again with no variation. But more than that, for myself, and I know for many of my colleagues, when you see a candidate that’s excited about the position, that knows what the company does, that has read the mission, vision, and values, that maybe has something in common, either through a hobby or volunteer work or past experience, and they’re sharing their joy and excitement with you, even if that candidate isn’t the most qualified person that you have, that excitement really comes through.

Those are the kinds of people you want to hire. You want people who are going to come to your company and be excited to contribute and be excited to be part of the team, and I think that rings true for companies of all different industries.

Mac Prichard:

Why is that attractive to a recruiter, that excitement? Because some candidates might have the excitement but perhaps not the formal qualifications or many of the skills that you need.

Samantha Kennen:

Sure, I think there’s a lot to be said for transferable skills, and I think the other piece of it is learning agility, the desire to come to a company and learn more about it and to be willing to put in the work that’s needed to get all of those additional qualifications. There’s a lot to be said for the skills that you hire for and skills that you can train for and develop afterward. It’s really hard to train somebody to be enthusiastic. It’s really easy to train someone to do a pivot table in Excel.

From a recruiter’s perspective, if someone maybe lacks some of those Excel skills but they demonstrate through their resume and their cover letter, or even their educational experience or volunteer work, that they’re a strong learner and that they’re excited to learn to do this job, that is such a valuable thing to bring to the table.

Mac Prichard:

Well, let’s talk about those applications that are attractive to recruiters like you, and you mentioned customizing your application, and obviously you need to be careful that you’re addressing the right company, but when you look at applications that have clearly been customized, what are those applicants doing? What kinds of changes do they make?

Samantha Kennen:

One of the things that they’re doing is they’re using the keywords from the job posting in their resume. If you have a job posting that’s hiring for an administrative assistant, and they’re looking for attention to detail and those Excel skills and outstanding customer service, you’re going to want to see those things reflected in the resume.

I think another thing that a lot of candidates do in the cover letter or sometimes in an objective or goals statements, which are often placed at the top of the resume, is they really talk about how this job is going to help them meet their personal goals, and what they’re going to bring to the table or offer to the company. Those kinds of customizations can be really helpful.

I think also, when you go through some resumes, people take the kitchen sink approach, so they’re to put as much detail as possible on their resume and that reflects itself in maybe 10 to 15 years of job experience, and every skill that they’ve ever gathered. A really customized resume isn’t going to include everything that person knows how to do; what it’s going to include are those things relevant to the job that they’re applying for or clearly transferable skills.

If I worked in a call-center for the last 10 years, I’d probably have really phenomenal customer service skills over the phone. What I want to see on that resume is that that candidate has customer service experience and that they’re going to be able to transfer that into a face-to-face cafe position, and that they’re going to have great face-to-face customer service as well, and you can really call that out in a resume if you customize it for the job.

Mac Prichard:

What does that look like? Tell us more about the example you just shared for someone who’s coming from a call center and has applied for a counter position at a bakery like yours. What are they saying on their resume that is going to impress you?

Samantha Kennen:

Sure, I would love to see something in either the resume or cover letter that says, “I’m a professional with 15 years of customer service experience. I’ve completed telephone doctor training. I understand the customer service philosophy. I have gone through these educational courses.” I would love to see somebody say, “I have a 95% customer approval rating.” So, someone calling me from a call center, for example, likely has had some sort of software that has tracked that for them over the years; it’s really common.

I’d also love for them to say something like, “I enjoy working with customers. You know, my favorite customer experience is…” And really telling a story about their customer service experience. I think those kinds of things on resumes and cover letters are incredibly valuable, and that does show that that candidate could then move into this role and be successful.

Mac Prichard:

Why does sharing numbers, as you just mentioned, like a customer satisfaction rate, why does that matter to a recruiter like you?

Samantha Kennen:

It’s really easy to list a skill. So, sometimes at the top of resumes, what you’ll see are a couple of columns and it’ll say, “Applicable Skills,” or just, “Skills,” and you’ll just see bullet points. It’ll say Excel, or Word, or Microsoft Office suite, for example, customer service or things like that, but that doesn’t tell you what a person’s proficiency is in that skill. It just says that they have it and to what extent they have it is often unclear.

If you are going into your resume and you’re listing out your work experience or your volunteer experience, which is incredibly valuable as well, and you list your accomplishments, those accomplishments are able to tell a story of what you can do. “Met customer service goal of 90% for 3 years running. Named top customer service representative in August, September, and October of 2020,” things like that. And a lot of candidates, when you get past the application stage and through the resume, you’re going to go into an interview process. You’re going to be interviewed, often using behavioral interviewing, which is asking about how you’ve handled a situation in the past or something you’ve done in the past because it predicts future performance.

You can get in front of that, on a resume, by listing those accomplishments. Rather than just what’s on your job description, which is often bullet points of tasks and things that you can do.

Mac Prichard:

You mentioned a moment ago how you look for stories. Can you give us an example, Samantha, of the types of stories that have impressed you that people have either shared in their application materials or in interviews?

Samantha Kennen:

Yeah, absolutely. I’m trying to think of something to bring forward. I work with some really amazing people and while I haven’t interviewed them, they were there before I started at my current organization.

One of the people that I worked with wanted so much to be a part of the company that they started off actually working in janitorial and worked their way up into the role that they wanted. And being able to tell a story like that about perseverance or a willingness to gain skills in an industry that’s unfamiliar is incredibly impactful.

In another instance, I hired someone who was doing a major career shift after being out of work for several years, and having a gap on your resume can be really challenging to overcome, but this person had been doing volunteer work along the way and that volunteer work was really applicable, work sustainability and in the food arena, which is really applicable to the company that I work for. They were able to tell a story about what they did during that time when they weren’t in a formal job but were doing volunteer work, and that enthusiasm and that experience was incredibly relevant and really caught my attention when I was going through the recruiting process.

Mac Prichard:

Well, I want to pause and we’re going to take a break, Samantha. When we come back, I want to talk about something that you recommend people do, that I know many job seekers struggle with, which is to actually reach out to recruiters.

Stay with us. When we come back, we’ll continue our conversation with Samantha Kennen about how to get a recruiter’s attention.

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Now, let’s get back to the show.

We’re back in the Mac’s List studio. I’m talking with Samantha Kennen.

She’s the human resources director at Grand Central Bakery.

Now, Samantha, before the break we were talking about how to get a recruiter’s attention and you had terrific advice about cover letters and resumes and sharing accomplishments and stories.

I know another step that you encourage candidates to take is actually reaching out to recruiters. How do you recommend people do that, Samantha?

Samantha Kennen:

It can be really challenging, and I say that as someone who probably has a little of my own anxiety doing that, and I have the inside scoop o what that process might look like. I think that one of the best ways to find a new position, or even just explore a career change, is to reach out to a recruiter proactively, and there’s a lot of different ways you can do that.

You can always contact a recruiter that is listed on a job posting, and I think that’s just fine. People are fearful sometimes of doing that and doing a cold call but I always ask myself in those situations, “What’s the worst thing that could happen if I did this?” And the worst thing is that you might not get a callback, or you might not get an email back, or they might say, “I’m sorry, I can’t talk to you.” There are a lot of reasons for that; it doesn’t mean that the recruiter just doesn’t like you, they could just be phenomenally busy. Which is very true of a lot of recruiters.

It could also be that they also have a company policy of not talking to candidates before an interview. That’s true of a lot of organizations, especially those that are highly regulated, like government agencies. So, if a recruiter doesn’t get back to you, it doesn’t mean that your application has been disqualified, but if they do get back to you, you now have the opportunity to ask all sorts of interesting questions of that recruiter, and it’s a way to get your name and your resume to stick in their mind.

Questions that are really common that you can ask include, “Tell me more about the culture of this company and how does my role fit into it?” “Can you share a job description with me so I can see more fully what this position is?” “Is there something that you’re looking for in a candidate that you can share with me that might help me determine if this job is a good fit for me, or not, before I apply?”

That’s when you’re reaching out to a recruiter that maybe is attached to a job that’s already been posted. But I think, too, there’s so much to be said for networking with recruiters all the time. Even if you’re not actively job searching.

Mac Prichard:

Okay. I want to talk about networking with recruiters. Let’s step back and talk about that approach to recruiters for a job that you’ve seen posted. When you’re getting ready to either make a phone call or send an email, what do you recommend people ask for? Is it a phone call, or an exchange over email? What works with you when you get requests like that, Samantha?

Samantha Kennen:

I think for me, I generally prefer email but that’s because recruitment isn’t my full-time job, so I am often off doing other things, and so it’s easier to get back to somebody with email. But I think leaving the door open and really going with what you’re comfortable with. It’s going to be really hard in many circumstances to have a face-to-face with a recruiter, even more so now with the current situation with the pandemic, but I think saying, “I’d really love an opportunity to talk to you by phone, or if we could have a quick email exchange, that would be great too.” Giving the recruiter the ability to reply with a preference is really effective.

Mac Prichard:

How do you, as an applicant, know this is a successful exchange? What is it you hope to get out of this after you have this phone conversation, or that email exchange comes to a close?

Samantha Kennen:

I think there’s a couple of things. One, you’re hoping to make a positive impression on the recruiter. Recruiters are generally really dialed in to what’s going on, not just at their organization but at similar companies in the same industry, so if you’re able to make a connection, then hopefully that recruiter is someone that you can reach out to for advice if you’re applying for a job somewhere else. Most people in the recruitment or HR fields are more than happy to share their experience with you. I mean, we love what we do, so we want to help people find those dream jobs.

I think, also, if that recruiter is hiring for another similar position, hopefully, they’re going to be keeping your resume on file and they’re going to give you a call or give you a heads up when another similar position is posted. Really small companies that maybe don’t have as formal of an application process might even pick up the phone and just say, “Hey, we didn’t hire you for this senior data analyst position, you weren’t quite qualified, but guess what? We just opened up a junior data analyst position. We’d really love for you to come in and interview for this.”

I think that you can really network in that way, so that you’re creating a group of people that can help you with your job search, any time that job search might happen.

Mac Prichard:

You mentioned some organizations have very formal hiring processes and won’t speak to a candidate after a position’s been opened, and I’m curious, if you see a posting and it says, “No calls, please.” Does that mean no calls, Samantha?

Samantha Kennen:

It usually means no calls, and there’s lots of reasons for that. If somebody is part of an industry that maybe has some federal regulations, so they’re a federal contractor, a lot of times those recruiters simply can’t have conversations outside of the process because they have to have highly documented recruitment processes. If it says no call, I would respect that, but it doesn’t mean that you can’t get information on the company or the position.

That’s where using your social networks really comes into play. Using networks that you’ve built up on LinkedIn or through professional organizations to get the inside intelligence on that company, and maybe still get your questions answered can be really helpful.

Mac Prichard:

What are your thoughts about persistence? If you reach out to a hiring manager at a company that has a position that you’re interested in, how many times do you recommend following up? Or following up at all if you don’t hear back?

Samantha Kennen:

Oh my gosh, Mac, that’s a really tricky question because it depends so much on the person on the other end. If you send an email or you call somebody, and you don’t get a reply at all, but you haven’t had any indication that they’re not accepting calls, trying again in about a week or so, I think, is just fine. If you’re still not getting a response after the second reach out, it might be better just to let that one go. Sometimes those conversations with recruiters, or lack of conversations, can tell you a lot, too, about the company culture and, again, the recruiter just may be incredibly busy and unable to return a call because that certainly does happen.

A poor interaction coud also be an indication that this position isn’t a good fit for you. Especially if you are a person that wants a really high-touch experience.

Mac Prichard:

Follow up once, but if you don’t hear back, it might make sense just to let it go.

Okay, let’s talk about networking with recruiters. You touched on this at the start of the conversation. How do you recommend doing that? And when we’re talking about recruiters, we’re not just talking about executive recruiters, of course, but hiring managers like you? Do you all hang out in some secret club, Samantha, that people can find? Can you share that with us?

Samantha Kennen:

We sometimes do but I don’t think it’s a secret. There are lots of different ways, so of course there are executive recruitment agencies and there are a lot of phenomenal ones in the Portland area, where that’s what they do full time, and they’re specialists. Certainly, reaching out to those groups is one way to network. Another way is putting out a call on something like LinkedIn saying, “Hey, I really want to find out about the bakery industry. Can I meet with someone who has experience?” And then, hopefully, someone will bubble up that you can talk to who’s a recruiter or hiring manager in those industries. But professional organizations are so amazing for being able to network.

For example, I work in human resources, have for years, and I have a really phenomenal, local, professional organization, and they even offer an active transition special interest group, so if you’re looking to switch careers or make some sort of a transition, they have resources there to help you do so. A lot of professional organizations offer that.

I think networking that way is a really good way to start to meet up with recruiters. Going to other industry events, so trade shows; you’ll generally have company representatives at tables and you can just leave them a business card. I know business cards seem really old-fashioned, right, handing out paper, but if you’re going to a big trade show or an event where they have lots of people that you can talk to, having something with your email address, maybe your LinkedIn profile, and your phone number on it that you can just hand to that person is a good way to make a connection when you can’t have a deep conversation.

Then, of course, there’s always job fairs. There are, of course, the big job fairs that end up at the expo centers and there are hundreds of employers. But at any given time, there are tons of small job fairs where you can meet up with recruiters. State employment departments often have lists of these with calendars, so that you can plan which ones you want to go to and you can pick and choose the ones that make the most sense for you.

Mac Prichard:

How are you seeing candidates network with recruiters now, during the pandemic?

Samantha Kennen:

My goodness, it’s much trickier, although I have seen a huge uptick in the number of virtual job fairs. I haven’t had the opportunity to participate in one yet but I do see that people are doing more and more of the reach out that we were talking about before, of calling or emailing because it’s harder to get face-to-face time with someone when you don’t have in-person networking events happening.

Mac Prichard:

The people that you see, the candidates that network well with hiring managers and recruiters, what are they doing well? Because I’m sure many listeners have gone to job fairs, they’ve dropped off their business cards, and they haven’t heard back. The people who do hear back, what are they doing, Samantha?

Samantha Kennen:

I think they’re taking a little bit of time to make a connection while they’re there, and that can be really hard to do. We all have different communication styles and not everyone’s going to be comfortable walking up to somebody at a table and having a conversation. But if you’re being strategic about it and you’re really thinking about, “What do I want out of my next job? Where do I want to work?” Then, maybe if you were at a job fair with a hundred employers, you’d target 10 that you really care about and you’d take some time to stay at those tables.

One way that has been effective and that I know I’ve used in the past is that you go and talk to somebody at the start of the day, and maybe give them your card, and find out a little bit, and then circle back around at the end of the day and say, “Hey, I would really like to connect with you. Can we get something on the books? Can we schedule something, or can I follow up with you in a few days and see if we can follow up on the resume I submitted?”

And I think that follow-up phone call or email or touch point can be really impactful, because remember, if you’re at a career fair, chances are the person that you’re talking to, that recruiter, is talking to hundreds of people in the course of the day. Even the most brilliant recruiter is going to have a hard time remembering who they talked to and what they talked to them about.

Mac Prichard:

Well, terrific. It’s been a great conversation, Samantha. Now, tell us, what’s next for you?

Samantha Kennen:

I have so much going on. It’s been a really incredibly busy year; one in which I think I’ve learned a lot and I’m spending a lot of time, myself, listening and learning and identifying my own areas for professional and personal growth.

As an organization, I’ve been working with Grand Central Bakery as part of their leadership team. We’ve been working really hard to make our processes as efficient and safe as they can be for our employees and our customers and I’m really proud of that work this year.

Our company promises to be the best part of our customers’ day. How we do that has changed a little bit with COVID-19, but we’re still doing everything we can to fulfill that promise. That’s really my focus this year.

Mac Prichard:

Well, terrific. I know people can learn more about you professionally by visiting your LinkedIn profile, and more about Grand Central Bakery by visiting the company’s website.

Now, Samantha, given all the great advice you’ve shared today, what’s the one thing you want a listener to remember about how to get a recruiter’s attention?

Samantha Kennen:

I really think I want them to remember to show their enthusiasm and show why they’re excited about this position. And the best way to do that is to really customize that resume, customize that cover letter, and make sure that you show a little bit about who you are, and why you’d be a great addition to that company, so that you stand out to that recruiter.

Mac Prichard:

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Next week, our guest will be Anuja Sinhan. She’s a human resources generalist at Boys & Girls Aid. It’s a foster and adoption agency in Portland, Oregon.

You’re ready to make a big change. You not only want to switch jobs; you want to reinvent yourself.

Anuja says before you make this leap you need to get clear about your purpose, reach out to your mentors, and network with others.

Anuja will share these and other tips when she and I talk about if it’s time to reinvent yourself and how to do it.

I hope you’ll join us. Until next time, thanks for letting us help you find your dream job.

When you submit a job application, you’re adding your resume to a stack of resumes. Is there any way to make yours stand out to a recruiter? According to Find Your Dream Job guest Samantha Kennen, the answer is yes. Samantha suggests beginning with enthusiasm. Show your excitement for the position by being specific about what you would bring to the job. Samantha also recommends sharing numbers to quantify your skills whenever possible, as well as listing clear objectives or career goals near the top of your customized resume. 

About Our Guest:

Samantha Kennen is the human resources director at Grand Central Bakery. Her company’s hand-crafted breads and pastries are beloved locally and recognized nationally. 

Resources in This Episode: