Get the interview: Seattle tech recruiters reveal their top resume tips

by Quinten Dol
September 26, 2018

The job hunt can be a lonely road — especially when you’re shooting applications into the ether and wondering whether you’ll ever hear back, let alone land a job. Silence can be worse than rejection, and it’s hard to know what you’re doing wrong, if anything.

So how do you make yourself stand out on paper? We spoke with recruiters at four Seattle tech companies — which are all hiring, by the way — about the green and red flags they look for in the applications that cross their desks.

Key takeaways: Learn what each company does, and tweak your documents accordingly.

 

yesler team outing recruiter advice
photo via yesler

Named after one of Seattle’s first entrepreneurs, who gave the city its first water system in 1854, Yesler seeks to combine technology and creativity to create effective B2B marketing campaigns. The company takes a holistic approach to its work, diving deep into project management, infrastructure and operations along with the marketing staples of forming strategy, creating content and measuring results.

Senior Recruiter Lisa Semerdjian likes to see a candidate’s personality shine through in their cover letter, and stresses that a resume should only highlight experience that’s relevant to the position you’re applying for.

 

Have you seen any successful applicants with a particularly creative resume or cover letter? What made them stand out?

In addition to tailoring his resume for the role and company, I had one candidate who followed up with a short PowerPoint presentation after our interview to show why he was the right person for the position, and gave examples in a case study style. It was so refreshing to see someone show authentic passion and enthusiasm.

My favorite cover letters show the candidate’s personality in some way.”

What’s one resume writing myth you wish would go away?

That your resume should include all your work history, or that it must go back a total of 10 years. Although it’s a good idea to cover your career correctly, the truth is no one is going to read all that. A resume should be concise, highlight your most relevant experience to that specific job, and not be longer than two pages. Most people skim a resume in a few seconds and look for the key points that stand out — once we have that, we’ll dig deeper. Your resume is your tool to get you noticed, and the rest is for you to expand on in person or over the phone.

 

What are the red flags that you see too often from candidates?

Often, candidates will apply to every job they see on a career page. We have access to that information. It’s completely fine if you want to apply to more than one role where your skill set is applicable. However, submitting your resume for positions that have nothing to do with your experience makes us think you’re not reading the job descriptions.

 

What makes a cover letter strong and memorable?

My favorite cover letters are the ones that show the candidate’s personality in some way. Be professional, highlight why you think you’d be a good match for the role, but feel free to inject your personality into it, too. It’s your one opportunity to write in your voice.

 

karat recruiter advice seattle engineering tech
photo via karat

Karat is literally in the business of hiring engineers, conducting technical interviews on business' behalf for these critical roles. Once a business has sourced their potential candidates, Karat schedules and conducts interviews on their behalf, using data-driven insights to inform their strategy and become more predictive with each interview they conduct.

Recruiting Manager Cate Connolly says it’s important for applicants to include team accomplishments as well as individual successes, adding that it’s not necessary to limit a resume to a single page.

 

Have you seen any successful applicants with a particularly creative resume or cover letter? What made them stand out?

I love seeing a good distribution of individual and team accomplishments on resumes, especially for technical candidates for roles in engineering, project and product management. This is often something potential teammates and the hiring manager will be looking for.

I want to know that someone is genuinely excited about the challenges and space we operate in.”

What’s one resume-writing myth you wish would go away?

Condensing your resume down to one page. With nearly all resume review happening through the applicant tracking system, it’s no big deal to have a longer resume. Don’t cut your work history and accomplishments short.

 

What are the red flags that you see too often from candidates?

Speaking negatively about past employers or coworkers. While everyone has a range of experiences throughout their career — and yes, sometimes bad things happen — it’s best not to focus on those when getting to know your potential manager or teammates.

 

What makes a cover letter strong and memorable?

I’m always looking for folks who are intentionally targeting our company. Excitement for our mission, values and product is a great sign and gets me excited to talk with that person. I want to know that someone is genuinely excited about the challenges and space we operate in.

 

realself recruiter advice seattle tech
photo via realself

RealSelf provides an online community hub and learning resource for people thinking about undergoing cosmetic surgery treatments so they know what to expect before and after a procedure. Users can compare notes with their peers and review individual physicians and treatment providers.

RealSelf’s recruiting team understands that parking is tough around their Pioneer Square offices — just give them a heads up if you’re going to be late to the interview.

 

Have you seen any successful applicants with a particularly creative resume or cover letter? What made them stand out?

Not necessarily a “creative” touch to a resume or cover letter, but reading a cover letter that shows alignment with or understanding of our values is always refreshing. Finding the correlation between what you’ve done professionally and how that can be related to who we are as a company is a good way to catch our eye.

It is always a bit of a buzzkill when the first line of the cover letter reads, ‘Dear Amazon.’”

What’s one resume-writing myth you wish would go away?

That a resume can only be one page. If you have relevant experience that elevates you in the candidate pool, we want to see it. Of course we don’t want three long, wordy pages of past experiences, but if you need more than a page to show us your skills, please feel free.

 

What are the red flags that you see too often from candidates?

First off, not following instructions. For several of our technical roles, we ask candidates to complete a coding or analytics exercise. Occasionally, the candidate fails to read the directions all the way through and submits the exercise incorrectly. These mistakes are easily avoidable, and can sometimes taint our perception of the candidate’s ability to be detail-oriented in their work.

Second, showing up late to an interview. We understand, finding parking in Pioneer Square is certainly not easy, but being late to your interview is never a good look either. Simply providing the hiring team with a heads up that you’re stuck in traffic or running late can make a world of difference.

 

What makes a cover letter strong and memorable?

A strong cover letter is one that illustrates the candidate has clearly done their research about RealSelf. This doesn’t mean pretending you’ve been a lifelong fan of our brand, but making sure to articulate why you’re drawn to the specific role or company is important. It is always a bit of a buzzkill when the first line of the cover letter reads, “Dear Amazon.”

 

xinova inventor seattle tech company
photo via xinova

Xinova leverages a global community of inventors to solve business challenges. Companies come to Xinova with problems, while inventors rely on the Seattle company to help them patent and commercialize their creations. Xinova has worked in a wide variety of industries, from multinational credit card and food-and-beverage companies to startups and regional small businesses.

Xinova Recruiter Evan Seguirant recommends applicants treat their cover letters as opportunities to express themselves, rather than to rehash their resumes.

 

Have you seen any successful applicants with a particularly creative resume or cover letter? What made them stand out?

A recent graduate reached out a few times, even though there weren’t any relevant openings posted on our website at the time. After his third attempt, I reviewed his submission again. He included two attachments that caught my eye: one was a video from his entrepreneurship class of him pitching a startup idea; the other was a slide deck that evaluated his startup idea in great depth, highlighting strengths, risks and areas of opportunity. His tenacity and willingness to learn were readily apparent, so we brought him on as a post-grad intern. He immediately provided value, and we’ve worked together for the past two years.

Keep it short, focus on why you’re passionate about this opportunity and why you’re a good fit for the position.”

What’s one resume-writing myth you wish would go away?

It isn’t common practice, but I’m not a fan of skill-based resumes, in which all detail is focused on skills and none are attributed directly to the positions that a candidate has held. A skill-based resume makes it difficult to determine a candidate’s growth from role to role, or to understand why people make important career transitions from position to position.

 

What are the red flags that you see too often from candidates?

Struggling to articulate their thoughts and communicate effectively will always be a substantial flag. A candidate doesn’t need to be the most nuanced, sophisticated speaker but if they can’t communicate efficiently, that’s almost always going to be a non-starter.

Avoiding certain questions and offering safe, canned responses often lead to unnecessary mistrust. Authenticity is important, even if it isn’t the candidate’s most proud moment. If someone can reflect on past mistakes honestly and demonstrate how they improved from those experiences, that impresses me more than a candidate pretending they’re a flawless performer.

 

What makes a cover letter strong and memorable?

Your cover letter is the ultimate opportunity to express why this particular position is meaningful to you and why you’re an excellent candidate. Regurgitating your resume in paragraph form is wasteful. Keep it short, focus on why you’re passionate about this opportunity with this specific company and why you’re a good fit for the position.

 

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