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Job search secrets from a top Google recruiter

Pssst. May I share a secret with you? Actually, may I share eight job-search secrets with you from a Google (GOOG) recruiter? Get the inside scoop from somebody who has seen thousands of resumes and who is responsible for hiring at the Internet giant.

The job outlook for 2012 is brighter, but high unemployment rates remain an issue. It's not uncommon for companies to receive thousands of applicants for a single position. When you're one applicant out of thousands, how do you make your resume stand out? How can you get prospective employers to notice you? What does it take to get hired in 2012?

If you're a frustrated applicant, there is hope. The top 25 companies to work for (at least as adjudged by the media) have more than 56,000 available jobs. At Google, which topped the list this year, there are 701 openings. If you're ready to apply for one of these coveted positions, how do you ensure your resume isn't deleted, sent to the recycle bin, or trashed?

Bryan Power is a hiring expert who has worked in various areas of recruiting at Google for more than six years. In my recent interview with Bryan, he discusses what major companies look for in applicants and how you can make your resume stand out from the crowd.

Whether you're unemployed, a recent college graduate, or unhappy at your current position, you can learn what it takes to get hired with these eight job-search secrets and then listen to the full Google job search secrets interview:

Secret #1: How to stand out from the crowd

Robert: Share with us some of the things that you've seen job applicants do to break through the noise. You always hear about a company posting a job, and they get thousands and thousands of resumes. So how does that person stand out from the crowd? What have you seen that worked in the past?

Bryan: It's a great question. One thing that has changed a lot with the the Internet is you feel much closer to a lot of information that's out there about jobs. If you just look at how things have changed with companies that have been able to post all of their openings online, this was information that was much harder to come across 10 to 15 years ago. And so there's this idea that you can send your resume out to a thousand companies in one day where, again, 15 to 20 years ago you would have been sending a thousand envelopes.

It's a different feeling today -- it's very easy to click "send" and get your resumes out. People can spend a lot of time doing that over and over and over again, sending their resumes to every job that is posted on the Internet. I think that's a very difficult strategy.

People who I've seen "break from the crowd," as you put it, focus far more energy around a smaller set of opportunities. The way to think about it is that there's a certain group of companies or specific roles that you're probably really good for, and you want to spend more energy around that smaller group of roles and companies than on trying to make yourself attractive to a wide range of people.

To take it back to the real world if you take it offline, I live in downtown Manhattan. If I were a job seeker and I knocked on a thousand doors, I don't know if that would be a good strategy to get my foot in any one of those doors. But if I identify 10 to 20 companies that I could inform myself about -- roles I felt strongly that I would be a good fit for -- and spend more time trying to get in just those organizations, that would be a much better and more efficient use of my time than trying to cover as many companies as I can.

Secret #2: How to network

Robert: A company like Google or other large enterprises have entire departments of job recruiters. But let's say I'm interested in working for a smaller company, and through my research I learn that they are not currently hiring and that they even lack a recruiting department. Would it make sense for me to reach out to someone within that organization -- take them to lunch, say -- to develop some kind of a relationship even though they're not hiring?

Bryan: You want to be thoughtful about people's time and attention. People who are at a company that might not be hiring are probably busy doing things. If you can get a lunch or connection through your personal network, that will be much better. The challenge is if you don't know anybody there, how do you develop that personal relationship? That's a common question.

Thankfully, with the Internet today there is a lot of information out there. It's rare these days that an organization isn't going to be involved in some type of industry event. You can go there, meet people in a different setting, make that first connection, and follow up from there.

Generally, you also want to focus as much energy as possible on the things you can control. When people start networking, a common mistake is to say, "I don't know anyone who's going to get me a job," so why bother? The problem with that thinking is that it's typically not that one person you know who is going to help get you a job -- it's going to be someone connected to them in a way that you can't anticipate.

For example, say your neighbor is a professor and you say, "I don't really want a job at a university, so why would I bother telling him the type of opportunity I'm looking for?" In fact, though, that professor's spouse or their neighbor might be just the connection you're looking for. You don't know where that connection is going to come from. So as a job seeker you really want to make sure to talk specifically about the type of opportunity you're looking for and put it to all your connections. Because they're going to take that sound bite or that snippet of what you're looking for and give it out to their networks, and that's where the opportunity will come from.

Secret #3: Quality vs. quantity

Robert: A lot of people have been unemployed for a long time. It's easy for job seekers to get frustrated. They send out hundreds, if not thousands, of resumes, but they aren't getting any response. At that point, there may be this compulsion to try something different. Is that wise?

Bryan: Well, let's talk about that for a second. You know that if you're going to send one resume to a wide range of prospective employers, then that resume has to be generalized. You're going to talk about things in a way that is aimed at getting lots of different people interested. And to get back to the earlier point, I've seen people who manage to stand out from the crowd by focusing on making their resume  interesting to a smaller group of people. And there's just no way to do that if you're going to blanket an audience of thousands.

Think of the letters that you get in your mailbox, the ones that are addressed to thousands of people. The letter that is addressed to you with your name on it with a personal message is the one that you actually read. So if you're putting a resume together for one opportunity or five opportunities, that comes through because you're going to focus on the details that matter to that smaller group of companies. But if you're going to use the same cover letter and resume over and over, you have to water it down in the hope that it'll be interesting to a wide range of people. The trouble with that approach is your resume is probably not of enough interest to them to make it work.

If you're going to spend three or four hours working on your resume and looking for job opportunities, it's better to narrow the scope. If you're spending five to 10 seconds just emailing resumes for four or five hours, that's going to come through. But if you spend two or three hours learning as much as you can about the company and really try to figure out who you know who can help you get that first introduction, that's hard work and takes a long time. Ultimately, though, it'll be more productive.

Listen to the full Google job search secrets interview

Secret #4: How to effectively sell yourself using a resume

Robert: After looking at thousands and thousands of resumes, what would you want to share with job hunters out there to improve their resume?

Bryan: Regardless of the size of the company or the size of the applicant pool, you need to look at your resume and ask yourself if it contains the right information. That gets back to why it's so important to be specific on your resume. If your resume is very general and it reads like a job description, that's not going to look as compelling as someone who's able to articulate their accomplishments in detail.

For example, on a resume you usually start by putting down what you've done and some kind of job description. For instance, I managed 10 people. I was responsible for the sales territory. I was responsible for this product line. But if you stop there, you're not answering the much more important question: What was achieved through your having those responsibilities?

So if you manage eight people, what did that team actually accomplish? You oversaw a particular sales territory -- how much where you able to grow revenue? It's that level of specificity that most people fail to provide. Start by saying what you're asked to do in your job. If you're in that position for a year or two, or even six months, what did you accomplish during that time frame given the challenges you faced and the available resources?

Again, as a job candidate you're going to be much more interesting the more specific you get in describing what you do, including your accomplishments and strengths. The truth is that the more you try to be interesting to as many people as possible, the less interesting you become.

Secret #5: Avoid these resume mistakes

Robert: What mistakes do you see applicants make on their resumes?

Bryan: There are two common mistakes I see with resumes. One is that people want to put down everything that they've ever done. Their resume turns into this laundry list of responsibilities and how you spend all of your time. What really differentiates you are your accomplishments, right? So if your resume reads like a job description, you have to understand that there's probably a lot of other people that have similar jobs. That's not going to help you stand out from the crowd. If you focus on your accomplishments -- and the most important way to do that is to quantify what you were able to accomplish -- that is what will differentiate you from people in similar roles.

For example, salespeople are sometimes afraid to put down how much revenue they generated or what percentage they earned each quarter. They think that their "number" is too small. The problem is that leaving that sales number out prevents the person looking at your resume from deciding whether you fit or not. And what you want is for your sales number to be of interest to a small group of people. Say that you generated $1 million in sales, but you're afraid that $10 million is what the group is looking. But someone who's looking to a hire a salesperson who generates $500,000 to $1.5 million in revenue is going to be very interested in that number. And that's exactly what you want.

You only need one job, so focus on the groups of people who are going to be more attracted to your set of accomplishments.

The second kind of mistake I often see on resumes -- and this is a point of frustration across the board -- is around the basics. You have to understand that at the beginning of the process, the company doesn't have a lot of information about you. Your resume is the only thing they have to go on. Little things like typos, grammatical errors, formatting -- it's just totally inexcusable. In the absence of any other information about you, a typo can indicate other trouble-spots. It can indicate sloppiness or attention to detail. Maybe it was just a simple mistake, but perhaps it indicates a bigger problem. And to be honest, having someone else review your resume for basis errors is simple. The basics are critical.

Listen to the full Google job search secrets interview

Secret #6: How to nail the job interview

Robert: Once a job applicant lands the interview, what should she be thinking at this point? How should she prepare?

Bryan: The most important thing is getting the basics right. That means being prepared. With a site like Google Maps, for instance, there's no excuse for getting lost. You should know in advance how to get there, and you should show up on time or slightly early.

The second point is similar to the resume. You want to be yourself. You want to put yourself in the best light possible, showing confidence in expressing, "This is who I am." It's a mistake to try to figure out what the interviewer is looking for and then try to represent yourself in that way. It's difficult to try to anticipate what someone is looking for. Interviews are hard enough in terms of simply representing yourself in the best way possible without obsessing over what a company is looking for.

Robert: How should candidates handle the "weakness" question that many recruiters seem to ask? The gist is, "What are your biggest weaknesses?" or, "What have your biggest professional challenges been?"

Bryan: One way to handle it is to just name what you think the weakness is and how you are able to address it within the context of your team. For some people it might be, "I'm not much of a numbers person, so I made sure I had someone on my team with that expertise. That way, I made the team stronger by addressing my weakness within the group."

If the conversation is framed around your failings, that's a difficult spot in the interview. But if you talk about it like this -- these are the challenges I faced and this is how I was able to overcome them -- you can get the discussion to a constructive point. It shows that you are not only self-aware, but also that you were able to address your own weaknesses while strengthening your team.

Secret #7: Can you be too confident?

Robert: Is it possible to project too much confidence in an interview? Say a candidate strolls into the room projecting a sense that the job is his for the asking. Turn-on or turn-off?

Bryan: Nobody likes that sort of attitude. You want to project confidence, not arrogance. No matter how qualified you are, or even if you know everybody who works there and you feel like the job is in the bag, you can ruin that by projecting a sense that the job is yours even before the company is ready to make a hiring decision. A little humility never hurts.

At the same time, it's important to be comfortable with yourself and represent yourself confidently, to suggest, "This is a job I'd be really good at." The line there is knowing that you can do the job well versus feeling like the company should already have decided to hire you. You need to honor and respect the hiring process.

A question I often get from people is, "How do I become confident when I'm in an interview and I get nervous?" You want to be prepared and do your homework, but you also want to give yourself some time and space to get comfortable while you're preparing for the interview. It's often a bad idea to be researching the company right up until the minute you walk through the door. That last hour or so, you're better off going for a walk and getting your head together so that when you walk in, you're ready to go. 

Secret #8: The most important advice.

Robert: Any other tips that will help job hunters land a job? 

Bryan: You want to make sure during the interview that you take a deep breath before you answer a question. That's probably the best advice I've ever given to anybody, because it's such a stressful environment. You're going to be wound up, you're going to be running on adrenaline, and they're going to ask you a question. If you take a breath, it'll help you to give a better answer. It will calm you down. Your blood won't be flowing so fast and that will come across as more confident and more poised. And that's actually more important than making sure you've got exactly the right answer.

If you're stressed out right before the interview, listen to some music, go for a walk, go get a cup of coffee, say hello to some people. Get into a mode where you feel good about having a conversation. That's the most important first step.

Listen to the full Google job search secrets interview