5 Honest Hiring Tips From Someone Who Hires

After being an employee for as long as I can remember, a few years back I gave that up and started my own law practice.  The result was I have now seen literally over a thousand resumes and have interviewed countless people from assistants to actual attorneys.  I just finished attending a law school job fair where students constantly approached me for potential jobs, so I thought this would be a good time to share some of my thoughts.

There are millions of articles out there on how to prepare a resume, get ready for an interview, send follow-up notes and so forth.  Some of the following will overlap, but hopefully the rest will be advice you don’t normally hear.  In any event, since I don’t give a shit about appeasing any editor or worrying about what my legal counterparts may think, here are five tips on presenting yourself as a legitimate candidate:

1.  Know Your Target

The desired employee of one field of work can be completely different than another field.  Take for example, an attractive girl applying for a job as a hostess at a top end restaurant versus the same attractive girl applying to be a pharmaceutical sales rep.  For the former, aside from her looks she has to be extremely nice, understanding, pleasant, and able to handle complaints and concerns gracefully.   A pharma girl on the other hand has to be able to flirt, sell, schmooze, and make the doctors want her around.  If the same girl is applying to these two jobs, she better put on two very different personalities in the interview.

Even within the same field of work, specific areas vary.  I litigate for a living – I’m constantly in court, in depositions, arguing with people and writing a lot.  When looking for potential law students to hire, if they (1) cannot keep a conversation, (2) have me bored within seconds, (3) struggle to form sentences, (4) seem overly timid [but see below, nerves are not necessarily bad], or (5) have a ridiculous accent, I’m passing.  Yet for a tax attorney or other transactional attorney that doesn’t engage in much client or court interactions, these “deficiencies” can be overlooked especially if they possess absurdly high intellectual skills.

At my old firm, there was a Vietnamese attorney who had the thickest accent one can imagine.  So much so that I understood less than 20% of what he said.  The result?  As a litigator he was never sent to court whereas even though I had no idea what I was doing as a first-year attorney, I was sent to court.  Say what you will, but if the Judge can’t understand what you are saying on behalf of your clients, then the firm you work for has no desire (or right, frankly) to send you out as the face of a client’s case.

When I meet potential candidates for the first time, I judge them immediately.  How was their handshake?  Can they keep eye contact?  Do they speak eloquently?  How does the suit look on them?  These are important to me as a law firm employer.  If you are applying to be a fireman, that’s a different set of traits the employer will be looking for.  Same for doctor, bank teller, valet, and so on.  Know your field and play up the characteristics of a successful employee in that field, even if you have to fake it.

One more thing – have different resumes for different employers.  Applying to someone that focuses on minority legal aid in California?  Better mention you can speak Spanish.  All the hiring partners attend the local synagogue?  Probably a good time to note you worked at the Law Offices of Schlomo Hebrewberg last summer.  I had several versions of my same resume depending on who was going to be reading it.

2.  Be Genuine

At this job fair I spoke to probably over 100 students.  The one that stood out provided the most genuine and honest response to my initial question of anyone there.

I greeted everyone with “How’s it going?”  Responses varied from “I’m doing great” to “Just loving every second of my torts class!”  In other words, at best it was a standard retort to at worst a feeble attempt at displaying fervor for a field few actually desire.  However, one young lad had the following response:

To be honest, I’m scared shitless.  We have finals coming up, then the bar exam this summer which I’m not sure what to make of.  I can’t wait for this all to be over.

It was so refreshing to hear an honest answer after hearing the same script over and over again.  Another girl, after two sentences stopped and said this was her first real interview of any kind and she was very nervous and asked if she was doing alright.  I appreciated her honesty, we joked and had a great conversation.

3.  Appearance

This relates to #1, so know how to dress for what you are seeking.  Nobody wants an attorney that shows up in jeans for an interview.  Make sure your suit fits, have your hair in check, no bad breath and so on.  If you can’t spend some time and effort into presenting yourself as best you can for your potential employer, why would you do the same for a big court hearing or client meeting?  There’s literally thousands of you out there and unless you have some sort of unrivaled skill or talent that is so desirable everything else can be overlooked (and guess what, 99% of you don’t), then I’m passing on you.

Also, I prefer attractive people.  It’s the cold truth.  Jurors, clients, and even judges subconsciously tend to give more credence to attractive people.  I almost hired an intern on her looks alone, because she was tall, blonde and downright beautiful.  I knew taking her to client meetings with me would seal the deal with various older businessmen.  Unfortunately she was dumb as bricks, yet I almost justified the hire.

Also, the no fat chicks policy applies to my office.  I refuse to hire someone I have no respect for and my business partner fully endorses that belief.  If your aesthetics are lacking, maybe it’s time to stop being so lazy.

4.  Know Something About The Company

See if you can tell which one of these law students I preferred.

Student 1:  “So…what do you do at your firm?”

Student 2:  “I just wanted to come by and say I think it’s very cool how you just left a big firm and started your own.  I know many attorneys think about it but never do so.  I’m hoping to do that myself.  But let me ask you, do you think it helped that you worked for a firm for several years first?”

Student 1 was dismissed before he even said another word.  He didn’t even know what type of law I practice, much less anything else.  Student 2 on the other hand, presented himself nicely and I’ll admit it’s a little flattering to hear someone hold your actions in high regard.  I realize that what Student 2 said was likely entirely bullshit.  Does he really care that I undertook such “cool” actions and started my own firm?  Fuck no, he just wants a job.  But he put in the effort to bullshit, and guess what—as a litigator I applaud that.

I’m not saying you need to research my mother’s maiden name, know about my proclivities towards considerably thin women, or that my favorite cheese is goat.  But know something, anything.  Show me you care just a bit.

5.  Paperwork

When I put an ad on craigslist for an assistant position, I got 300 resumes in one day.  So I had to really filter through these things, and quickly.  And realize this is common for many employers—they will get inundated with resumes for any position and you have maybe 5-10 seconds to get your resume in the next round.  So what’s the result?

  • Any mistake, no matter how small, and you’re done.  If you can’t bother to proofread your resume a few times to ensure it is error-free then I don’t want you.  As I mentioned above, there are thousands of you and you are easily replaceable.
  • Be interesting.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen the same cover letter and resume bullshit, whether it be that you “are looking forward to being an integral part of the company” or that you “place teamwork and productivity ahead of your own personal goals” and whatever other standard template language you’ve stolen from monster.com.  Congrats snowflake, so does every other candidate out there.

Here are some excerpts from an actual email I received today:

I particularly enjoyed your real world advice for me in stressing the importance of keeping things in perspective if I don’t get the particular firm job that I want.

Huh? My head hurt reading that.  Plus I never gave him such advice, he confused me with someone else.

I was really intrigued by our conversation and have more questions especially concerning any advice you may have for me going forward.

First, this email contained no questions.  Second, how can he have questions about future advice I have not given yet?  Fatal flaw there Mr. Logic.  I’m guessing this was a poor attempt at asking me if I had any more advice for him.  I’m not going to sit around and try to decode this generic verbiage.  On to the next guy.

Let’s go back to the resumes for a second.  The first thing I look at before I check out the credentials are the skills/interests section at the bottom.  I realize this is very subjective, but I want to see something interesting and frankly, a little out there.  Show me you’re creative and that I’d actually enjoy being around you in an office.  Give me something to talk to you about.  Saying you like to travel doesn’t mean anything.  Saying you spent a month in the favelas of Rio gives me glimpse of who you are.

Here’s an excerpt from one of the recent resumes: “Interested in animal psychology, aquatic life, and jigsaw puzzles.”  Not exactly my cup of tea, but at least he’s interesting.

But there is a limit to everything.  Don’t be that guy that provides a link in his cover letter to his own personal website, which discusses all his achievements in the third person as a musical ensemble plays and his name dances across the screen in florescent colors (true story).

* Bonus Tip For Employers

I unintentionally developed a great date routine from having to hire an assistant.  I had a date scheduled and was falling behind going through so many resumes.  So I asked my date if she wanted to just come over and help me sift through the resumes and find a good candidate.  She jumped at the chance, we sat on my couch together and it was a great date.  Made for easy chats, playful flirting all over a few glasses of wine.  Simple, fun, cheap and you don’t even have to leave your home.  Let’s just say I’ve reviewed the same set of resumes on first dates many, many times.

Read Next: 8 Essential Rules To Surviving The Workplace

35 thoughts on “5 Honest Hiring Tips From Someone Who Hires”

  1. Very interesting article. You wrote: “Interested in animal psychology, aquatic life, and jigsaw puzzles.” Not exactly my cup of tea, but at least he’s interesting.”
    Are there any hobbies or interests that would automatically raise a red flag for any future employer, besides being a great admirer of Hugo Schwyzer (as long as you don’t want to work for jezebel and the likes) ?

    1. I can give you one example, although it will likely not apply to most of the readers of this site. For any sort of subordinate role (i.e. assistant), I’m never hiring another person who lists any type of women’s studies or women’s anything on there. The last assistant we had was one of these girls, and while she was an absolutely amazing assistant in terms of work product (the reason we hired her), her always conflicting personality made her impossible to work with.
      Generally speaking, tailor the items here based on #1 above. If you are applying to be a graphic designer, throw in some items that display your creativity. If you are in private equity (where cold-calling is important), saying you love to sit at home and play video games implies a reclusive nature that cuts against what employers in that field would want. Whereas the same item for an actuary may be considered desired.
      The kid’s use of “jigsaw puzzles” above is actually quite ingenious. Litigation involves a lot of putting together logical arguments, which can be seen as a derivative of puzzle solving. Smart kid.
      It’s hard to say what would turn me off until I see it. Here’s another girl’s verbiage on the same topic: “Restores antique furniture, and recycles and reworks unusable furnishings into usable items.” The first one is unique I guess, although not that interesting. My main problem lies with the latter two. Honestly who gives a shit if you recycle – I’m here to make money not save the world. The latter is too generic for it to mean anything. So she does not achieve the purpose of this portion of a resume – which is to provide me with a view into her personality based on specific, unique things she does.

      1. Ha, I credit my women’s studies minor for always getting me the interview. Everybody always wants to know why. Then I get the job.

      2. Thank you very much for your answer. The reason i asked is because one of my hobbies is learning new languages. That led to quite some interesting interviews. I learned Latin in school. Where i am from it is considered a part of a classical education, but some considered me to be an extremist catholic. I have a basic understanding of russian, that makes me a closet communist and in one interview they looked at me like i would start to wave a red flag and start to sing “The internationale” at any given moment. Knowing how to speak dutch makes me a pothead…I could go on and on… 🙂

        1. I’d suggest you learn to speak “liberal douchebag.” Sounds like you’re stuck on the coasts somewhere, so I can Sympathize – NJ born, worked up and down the coast. But in IT, there’s a lot less concern with politics. 😉
          Especially once the boss realizes you can make the machine stand up and dance, bark like a seal, and prepare sushi, simultaneously. 😉 He’s afraid you might also make it [email protected] in his lap if he’s a douchebag… 😉
          Maybe a different format, listing the languages you know in a block?

      3. Serious question, does this primarily apply to the legal field, say, or to new / younger job seekers?
        I’m an IT pro with 20 years experience now. In my first position, I had that “social” BS (hobbies and interests). For me, it hasn’t mattered since – the question is, can I make the tool do what is needed. Can I add to the company’s bottom line? Am I a capable programmer?
        Then again, I speak english GOOD (intentional of course), and just in talking I usually convey a decent sense of who I am. I hate shoddy work, I hate the “quick and dirty” when an elegant solution adds an hour or two, and I despise people who just DON’T WORK. (Dealt with all of them.) But we aren’t “talkative” so much as “goal oriented” in this field – meetings are anathema to productivity. For law, meetings ARE work. (Father was an expert chemist and frequently testified in forensic capacity.)
        So, are these suggestions for the younger, newer, less-experienced type? Or more managerial types? All of the above plus?
        Because when I’ve reviewed resumes, and had people list publications or hobbies or interests, I tend to ignore that, go for WHERE they worked, and WHAT they accomplished, and HOW. Being published in a tech journal for computers for an abstruse mathematical theorem is meaningless if you can’t also do the programming required when TSHTF in a project that’s SUPPOSED to be simple. We can’t hand it off to a para to go research; WE do the research. WE integrate Perl into an ANSI-C framework to handle string manipulations and spit out a value to the overall program. (And then we get to re-learn it the next time that problem comes along, say, 2 years.)

    1. …skiing, tennis club, ballroom dancing, karate outfits, and finally enough dope to kill his kooky ass….what the hell did this guy need with a job anyway?

  2. …yeah, I have the same issue too, with tall blondes showing up unannounced, college kids jockeying for a piece of my hard-earned, they even hunted me down at my hideaway in Boca….don’t know why I even bought the place.
    I will be looking to implement your “resume-review” dating concept though. Since I’m sleeved up and bearded I might have trouble passing as a lawyer, or anything really that involves wearing a necktie, maybe I can download 100 or so resumes from Munster and pretend to be screening for a drug-mule. ….glass o’ wine my ass.
    …just fuckin around, good article.

  3. Can someone help here, some advice besides changing fields as its what I went to school for and already have 5 years behind me and a solid CV and resume?
    In my field, trade union representation and internal organizing, the HR is entirely run by females. Liberal-Left females with axes to grind. Now they aren’t even doing in person pre-lim interviews, only doing phone interviews first. I think this is weird because the work itself is ‘in person’ and not ‘phone sales’ or ‘cold calls’. Its based on relationship building, site visits, and having a lot of charm, presence, and ‘gravitas’.
    What’s up with this? Anyone with HR experience have any idea what the logic here is?

    1. If someone from HR does the initial interview, they arent serious about hiring you.

    2. in that field, you should probably be doing a lot of political volunteer work and going to lots of political events, to meet the union higher-ups.
      With good connections, you can bypass HR.

      1. Thanks, and yes you’re right. That’s what’s worked for me in the past too. My problem now is that I moved to Belgrade and I’m trying to do the near impossible of lining up a job in the US from here.
        I have some connections and also former co-workers, and I use FB to stay on their radars and be social.

    3. 1. HR is garbage. They are part of the employer, they are the worker’s enemy. Sorry.
      2. ALL women have an axe to grind these days, I wish I knew why. I’d help them bury the hatchet, in their own skull. Gratis.
      3. I guess if the filthiest sewage pipe cleaner STILL won’t touch you, you might get a little… Angry and frustrated. 😉
      4. IT has moved to phone interviews, too, nothing unusual. After initial screenings, you get to demonstrate your ability or come in for an in-person. Current job I got sight-unseen, based on my coding abilities via a WebEx.
      5. Women think they are the experts at building relationships. Most are probably just padding out the resumes until they find a controllable beta or a woman. Think ghettoization. (Little Warsaw, Germantown, as well as Compton.)
      6. There is no logic, they are women and ideologues. Game them, treat them like shit (they are). Unless YOU want to work there, don’t take it seriously. If you want to work there, you’ll need to STFU when they shoot their mouths off, or… Give a demonstration. Talk them into a corner where their lies and contradictions are out for everyone to see, or use gun control or abortion or similar divisive issue to make them have an aneurism. (Have a new place lined up already.)
      I’ve debated going the gun control route more than once, with my CONSERVATIVE friends… No worries about the gun, I despise the CONTROL. It only stops ME, not the CRIMINALS. And when TSHTF, I know how to use a knife. And disappear. I know armor, I know basic fighting skills, I can get around. My IT friends think I’ve got a few screws loose; they might be right. But with a knife and a one-way transport somehwere not TOO brutal, I can survive JUST FINE. They can do quite well in World of Warcraft… But can’t run more than to the liquor store, in a car. 😉 (I can’t run again until I get a knee fixed, but could run a mile no problem before injury. Now if I could run a San Fancisco mile, we’d REALLY have a brutal comparison…)
      Try a demo: They have a marker or highlighter in their pocket, as a gun & holster. They have about 21 feet to stop their attacker with a knife. They will almost always lose, BADLY. And then you can talk the whole POINT of self defense, of situational awareness, and how the movies won’t teach them sh!t (‘cept how to get hurt very badly.)
      That can then go to knowing enough to GTFO on their part: why women go to the bathroom together, partially – strength in numbers; to training, learning how to move and use their body (think dance; martial arts are similar in many cases, like Judo, jiujitsu, tai chi, some kung fu); learn why they MUST push away the donuts / pudding / ice cream, get out from in front of the TV, keep fit. NOTHING makes a woman recoil like (a) slapping her in the face with her own logcial inconsistencies, or (b) demonstrating just HOW unequal you really are. (For example, let HER be the attacker in the same demo you just did – and just control the knife hand and take it away, draw a moustache on her for emphasis…)
      But then, I’m a racist white middle-aged IT geek with an axe to grind, what do _I_ know? 😉

  4. As an engineer, I always keep on the resume my brief consulting jig for Industrial Light and Magic on special effects for “Star Wars” In a galaxy far away a long time ago. It has diddly to do with the job at hand but most interviewers’ eyes sparkle when they see it. They often open nicely upon seeing that and gets the conversation rolling.

  5. I liked your post, caught a couple errors (below):
    “…give a shit about appeasing any editor…”
    “…here are five tips…”

  6. I liked your post, caught a couple errors (below):
    “…give a shit about appeasing any editor…”
    “…here are five tips…”

      1. *poke poke*
        Maybe we should’ve tossed the article because of the lack of care in proofreading? 😉

  7. Thanks. Goes to show the extreme entitlement mentality of employers these days. Boy am I glad I am a bureaucrat and am an unapologetic leftist who believes in bigger government. I liked how you tried to rationalize hiring some dumb blonde as somehow helping your business haha.

    1. Entitlement? It’s HIS company… I’d say that entitles him to hire who he deems fit for the job…even if you don’t want to agree

    2. Dumb blonde: Head Cheerleader? Plus eye candy, always good in an office…
      Employers right now can HAVE an “entitlted” (not entitlement) mentality. Unlike government, private sector needs to produce something.
      I do believe you were trying to be funny… 😉

  8. Have you ever hired someone who has networked their way into your circle? How do you feel about candidates that prefer to use networking compared to the usual jobhunting strategies?

  9. i loved this article. well presented, interesting and a lot of good advice. Good work.

  10. I got my first ever job after graduation for my interests, last on the page: “DIY, making trousers, and dancing at the disco-oh” 🙂

  11. ‘Also, the no fat chicks policy applies to my office. I refuse to hire
    someone I have no respect for and my business partner fully endorses
    that belief.’
    Ha, that made my day.

  12. Very useful info. I would like to add that being ready to answer the two following questions at the interview is what it likely comes down to more often than not: 1. Why you? 2. Why us?

  13. Very useful info. I would like to add that being ready to answer the two following questions at the interview is what it likely comes down to more often than not: 1. Why you? 2. Why us?

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