We’re all familiar with the phrase “It’s not what you know, but who you know” when talking about job hunting. In many (maybe even most) cases, people get jobs based on knowing someone in the organization, having someone with influence speaking for them.
But a word of advice (at least when it comes to large organizations) – no matter who you know, your resume still matters. Do not neglect your resume. I recently made a hire, a hire based very much on a “who you know” situation, and yet, the candidate almost did not get the job because his resume could not make it out of our HR system.
Let me explain. My department had a position open. We had interviewed two people and were not super excited about either. College norms say we need to hire at least three people, so we were looking for a third person to interview. Enter my candidate.
He was a former student employee in our department. He was interested in the position and qualified. However, our recruitment at the time was limited to current employees only. Based on a (unanimous) staff vote, we opened the position to non-employees specifically so this candidate could apply.
Then, due to some staff vacations and tight timelines, we set up an interview for this candidate the day the position officially closed, without ever having gotten his resume through our automated hiring system. (We only get resumes on the day the position closes.)
We had the interview. I will be honest. It was not a great interview, but it also was not awful. It certainly was not worse than the previous interviews we had done for the same position. And I was willing to give this candidate some leeway as this will be his first post college graduation position. He has only ever been a student employee or intern, so he does not have a lot of practice at interviewing.
After the interview, the hiring team sat down to make our final decision. We chose the candidate, based, honestly, more on the excitement of the rest of the staff to bringing this person on board than the actual interview. (Please note, I am not saying the candidate is not qualified or cannot do the work. He is, and I believe he can. But if the rest of the staff had not been excited about working with him again, his interview was not good enough for me to have been excited about making the job offer.)
I contacted him and got his references- two former employees of my department (including my predecessor) who were both very complimentary and thought very highly of the candidate.
Then, the resumes got pushed through our HR system. His was not among them. I contacted my HR person, saying, I know this person applied, why don’t I have his resume.
My HR person said he had gone through all the resumes and sent me anyone with any scheduling or academic experience at all. I responded that based on academic experience, I knew this person qualified because he had worked for our department for two years as a student. My HR went back and reviewed his resume again.
And still, based on what was submitted into our system and the fact that this was a union position, he could not forward the candidate on to me, because the experience was just not reflected in the resume.
This left me with a candidate my staff very much wanted to have hired, that I absolutely could not hire, because he could not make it past our HR screens.
Again, this candidate was lucky. Because my staff (and, I should add, faculty) all liked the candidate, I went back to my HR representative to ask what we could do. And my HR representative, knowing that our college has a bias toward employing our own graduates, agreed to give my candidate a second chance.
He would have the opportunity to go back into our hiring system and update his resume and the rep would then re-review it- all this despite the fact that the position was now closed. My HR rep even gave me some general guidelines about what needed to make it on the resume.
I then contacted the candidate and told him, in general terms, what the situation was. I explained that I knew he had the needed experience from our conversations and from his previous job duties with the department. I made very specific recommendations for what needed to go in the resume.
In the end, the candidate updated his resume. My HR rep approved the new resume, and I was able to make the hire.
Did who this candidate knew make a difference? Absolutely. In every step of the process, from being even being able to apply to the job all the way to the moment I was able to officially make an offer. He never would have gotten anywhere without WHO he knew.
At the same time, his resume MATTERED. Mattered to the point that without people really willing to go to bat for him, he would not have gotten the job. Without knowing people in the department, I would never have even known he had applied.