An employee whose company has a selective interview process shares his best tips for hopeful job applicants.
It’s harder to get a job at my company than it is to get into Stanford. I was one of the first three employees at Help.com. We’ve since received over 500 applications and interviewed about 150 total candidates. We ultimately hired five of them.
Our team takes hiring seriously. We interview frequently and hire rarely. Our acceptance rate for new hires is 1%. That’s lower than the acceptance rate of Stanford (), Harvard () or Columbia (). Our benchmark is not intentional — we just insist on hiring awesome people, and it can take several rounds of interviews to find the right fit.
After well over a hundred interviews with people of all ages, I’ve realized a few things Millennials in particular can do to stand out interviews. Since I’ve spent so much time speaking with prospective employees, I’ve learned a great deal about what it takes to stand out in the interview process.
Here are my top five tips for Millennial job seekers during interviews.
1. If it doesn’t make you look awesome, don’t include it
Only include resources that actually enhance your qualifications for a position. The kitchen sink approach will get your — not get you hired.
When trying to land that first job, you may be inclined to read every article in existence about what you should include in your application. Don’t try to squeeze all those things in, then send me an application that actually would be stronger without most of it.
For example, imagine how it looks if you include a link to your personal blog with one measly post from a few years ago or a GitHub with a two-day streak and no contributions from the last eight months. I’m left unimpressed. Attaching those resources won’t enhance your likelihood of an interview with anyone.
If you have an awesome GitHub, a killer website highlighting cool projects you’ve done, or a robust with updated experience, testimonials and lots of helpful info, by all means include it. Those all will help the recruiter learn more about you.
At my company, we spend much more time exploring a candidate’s website, GitHub or LinkedIn than we do their resume. This can work for candidates — or against them depending on the quality of their site or profile.
If you don’t have a blog, GitHub or LinkedIn, don’t sweat it. We’re happy to look at the rest of your application and make a decision on whether or not to move forward from there. Better to play it safe and only include what you know makes you look good.
2. Research stands out
Research EVERYTHING: The founders, the company, the person or people interviewing you and the industry.
I’ve had a number of people come in with thoughtful questions for me about our founders, my background and our industry. They showed me they’d done their research.
Those people impressed me.
Do enough research to stump me and I’ll like you. Come in confident enough to challenge me and I’ll love you.
To figure out if you want to work for these people, you’ve got to interview them, too! If you know your stuff, it’s not creepy. It’s impressive, and it’s as simple as a Google search.
3. Cover letters are worth the effort
Take the time to write a great cover letter.
Help.com’s CEO Douglas Hanna says the thing he notices first in a good application is a good cover letter.
Before your resume or any of your other application materials, this is the first thing many employers look at. If you’ve researched the company and know exactly why you’re a good fit, you’ll stick out to your prospective employer as you go through the interview process.
If you’ve done your research, it should be easy to write a great . Avoid the templates, which will make your cover letter feel manufactured. Someone who clearly puts thought and originality into their cover letter will jump off the page. I can instantly spot someone who has thought out a few compelling reasons for applying and can speak to how their unique skillset will mesh with our project.
4. A “don’t mess up” mindset can get you in trouble
Millennials often come into interviews seeming nervous and tightly wound. Don’t try to give me the “right” answer. It’s no fun. Also I don’t believe generic, mostly insincere answers and can spot them a mile away.
Have some fun. We liked you enough to bring you in. That’s a good sign. There’s a pretty large space between unprofessional and robotic, and we want candidates to be in a place where we can still get a sense of your personality and who you are. ( to tweet this recruiter’s quote.)
Once a candidate told me I was wrong. I loved it! Someone willing to go head-to-head with me in an interview? That’s what I want. The deer-in-headlights stare doesn’t look good on anyone.
Ask questions. Think about your answers. Don’t come in with the mindset “don’t mess up,” because that ensures you’ll bore me. Take a risk, have an opinion and make it so that I remember your thoughtful answers at the end instead of how scared you looked.
5. Applying to two great jobs is better than applying to 20 random jobs
Job searching is hard, and it’s so rare to find a perfect job. Sometimes it seems better to take a shotgun approach to job applications to maximize the likelihood of “something” working out.
As someone who spends a lot of time interviewing, I can tell you that success by volume is a myth. It’s far better to put ten hours of work into one or two phenomenal applications than to blast out twenty identical applications to jobs you’re not actually interested in.
Invest in your happiness. Know what you really want in your career so you can find a job that excites you. Then, pour everything into that application. The people reading the application and interviewing you will be able to tell you went all out. When you interview with genuine enthusiasm, you’ll set yourself apart.
Be patient. Job hopping is no fun. Be confident in yourself and find a job or two that you love, then blow those applications out of the water. It will benefit you in the long term.
Enough preaching. Act on these tips and go show everyone how awesome you are!
Are you a millennial with a tip about interviewing for jobs? Tell us about it!
works in Business Operations and runs the blog at , a software company where they are rethinking customer service. You can read his other work at .