At our last AMA meeting, a fellow UW alumnus—Travis Jensen from Zillow—enlightened us with tips straight from his experiences and insights in the marketing industry. He was a Foster student as well who graduated in 2010 as a business major with the marketing and entrepreneurship options. With nine years in talent acquisition, he knows what it takes to get noticed as a recent graduate intimately. He began in agency recruitment before he worked in sales for eight years; a process which gave him the psychology needed to transition easily into the world of recruiting at Zillow. During this session, he shared with us the insights he wished he knew before he went into the professional world.
Travis admitted he hated the phrase, “getting your foot in the door,” but he shared a few tips to help us stand out during the job application process:
Resume + First Steps
Travis: “Don’t use a generic resume for all roles!”
While it is surely tempting to use the same resume for every job you apply to, it is easy for your resume to get lost within the other potential 296,000 resumes (like with Zillow) and become just another one in the stack. Instead of having a blanket resume for all your applications, customize your resume to cater to the role you are really interested in and get help from the experts! Especially in Foster, where we have access to plenty of resume reviews and mock job interviews, there is no excuse to not use resources to your advantage. Nowadays, recruiters may spend on average, less than six seconds on every resume! Your resume might not even be reviewed by a person, and instead may be subject to an initial resume parser that narrows down the applicant pool based off key words that match the job description.
There are other small details that you want to make sure you do not miss during the review process either:
Keep your resume two pages max, but ideally, under one page.
Bold key words in your resume to make it easy for recruiters to see the important details at first glance.
Don’t forget to change out the name of the company you’re interested in (How embarrassing would it be to give Zillow an application with Amazon’s name still on it)!
Leverage the group projects you worked on if you do not yet have work experience and tie these experiences into the job description.
It’s a “Who You Know” World
Companies typically aim for 30-40% of their hires to be through referrals. Why?
When hiring, it is safer for your hires to come through those who already work for you and you know are good workers. Travis says, “this works,” but also caveats this practice with “get in, but work to change this and make the workforce more diverse.” While this may be a reliable method, it also tends to attract similar people, instead of encouraging a well-diversified workforce. Those that get referred tend to think in the same way, instead of creating an environment where differences in opinion work to better the company overall.
Even if not always guaranteed, referrals are often prioritized by hiring managers, especially since there may be a financial benefit attached to referrals by current employees. So how do you make sure you’re a part of that network that recruiters look to? Use LinkedIn, attend networking events, and go to career fairs. In all these locations, you will get the chance to know those who work at the company more intimately as well as getting a chance to talk to those who are looking for candidates. If you feel like you can fit in with a company’s values, don’t just ask if you can send in your resume—ask to chat and learn more about the company! Recruiters are human too, and they are passionate about what they do, so have conversations with them about it. The added benefit of this method is that it also gives you valuable insight into a company, such as whether there are any red flags you should be concerned about. After all, while you are the one applying to the job, it’s a two-way interview process. You are also interviewing the company to see if they are a good fit for you based off whether your core values align. If a recruiter is not passionate about what they do or the company, how can you be?
Now you’ve impressed a recruiter or got to the top of a resume stack and managed to land an interview. What do you do next?
Travis: “Recruiters are real, human-beings, who may have up to 10 calls a day. Keep it casual and professional at the same time by having a genuine conversation. After talking to candidates all day, they may be burned out, so talk about the specifics. Talk about what you do, not what your team did. If you were a part of a project, talk about specifically how you contributed to the end product or how you helped accelerate progress. The interview may be thirty minutes, but with all the questions that may need to be asked and answered, you may really only have less than twenty-two minutes to talk, so try not to be too verbose and tie your experiences back into the role.”
Show that you are passionate about what you do and that you genuinely care about the role and the company. If you come to an interview and don’t even know what the company does or how to pronounce the name of the company properly, the recruiter may not think that you care about the job. Omit the phrase, “I’m just looking to get my foot in the door” from your vocabulary because it shows that you don’t really care about what role you wind up in. Instead, show that you want that role and to be in that company. Make sure you show excitement and answer the questions asked, because these are ultimately the questions that the hiring manager (who is making the final hiring call) needs to make a decision on whether to bring you on as an employee or not.
Outside of the interview, there are also little factors that may make or break your chances. Your social media presence is one of these. More and more companies are running social media checks, since you represent the company’s brand once you’re a part of it. How you present yourself both in person and online affects the perception of the company, so it’s important for them to decide whether you would be a good ambassador for them.
Even before the interview, if you are able to get the recruiter’s information ahead of time, look them up on LinkedIn! This gives you the opportunity to ask them a more personalized question during the interview process, which helps you stand out from the other candidates. This also will help you show that you did your research and care enough about to company to take the time to get to know them. After the interview, make sure you follow up with the recruiter and thank them for both their time and the opportunity. This is a show of common courtesy and can give the company the sense that you are professional and may be worth considering again later if another opportunity comes up or during future hiring rounds.
General Career Tips
Don’t be afraid to start small and earn it: Your first role builds a foundation for the rest of your career. Don’t have an ego by thinking you know everything and making it look like jobs are beneath you. If you go through your career like this, you may wind up burning your bridges and destroying the opportunity to use these connections later. The experiences you have will help you build the skillset you need to progress in your career.
Ambiguity leads to opportunity: Find a “gap” and own the fix. If there is something that is not being worked on but could be improved, don’t ask if you can work with or twiddle with it—just do it! If you have this mindset, you can show others what you are capable of doing, even if it may not seem like it is in your wheelhouse.
Say yes: Unfamiliar and uncomfortable situations foster growth. When you take risks and spend time taking on projects that may not be normal for you, you’re allowing yourself to learn something new. As soon as you say no to an opportunity, people will stop asking you for help in the future.
Career development: It isn’t a ladder, it’s a jungle gym. At Zillow, career growth isn’t seen as a process where individuals should “check the boxes” and where development should be silo-ed into one path. Instead, think of it as a toolkit with skills that are additive. This allows you to build more skills over time in many different areas, giving you the chance to do things you might not have imagined doing in the past.
Thanks Travis for all your great advice! Now, we don’t have to learn these tips the hard way!