5 tech recruiters for companies like Tesla, Google, and Amazon share how candidates can stand out in a more competitive job market and the qualities they look for in hires

We’re in the midst of a flipped labor market, and tech talent hasn’t been spared from layoffs and stiffer competition. According to the latest numbers from layoff-tracking website Layoffs.fyi, over 590 tech startups have downsized since the start of the pandemic, resulting in more than 80,000 individual job losses. 

While only 15% of tech leaders surveyed by the social network Pulse, a platform leveraged by executives at Netflix, GE, Facebook, Clorox, Google, Amazon, and more, listed hiring as a top priority in the latter half of 2020, several recruiters specializing in technical hires who spoke with Insider reported seeing an uptick in activity.

There’s been “extensive growth” after an initial lull between the end of the first quarter and beginning of the second quarter of 2020, Jona Jennings, a senior technical sourcer at Terminal.io who’s worked in recruiting for Microsoft, Wayfair, and Tesla, told Insider.

Here are the best ways candidates can stand out in a more competitive market, according to experienced recruiters.

Network, be among the first to apply, and consider applying to multiple relevant openings within a company

There’s a reason asking your network for referrals to job openings works: Employers are often able to save time and money when they can hire candidates that come recommended, explained Brianne Thomas, head of recruiting at recruiting software company Jobvite. 

Candidates that don’t have a direct connection to a company should reach out directly to recruiters or other decision makers on LinkedIn, Jennings said. She added that she receives requests daily from job seekers within the tech space. 

Jona Jennings.

“Oftentimes, they end up being the perfect candidate for a role I or someone on my team is working on,” she said, adding that she’s hired candidates who reached out to her personally after initially being overlooked by applying directly on the company website.

“Reaching out directly to sourcers, recruiters, or decision makers can be the difference between getting lost,” she said, and “getting into the company you’ve wanted to work at.”

“Don’t be scared to reach out to that C-level executive or anyone else at a company when you’re interested in that company or a role,” she added. “It may just work.”

Referrals are a nice-to-have, but not a must, Thomas noted.

“Apply quickly and get your resume at the front of the line,” she said. “You can always reach out and gain a referral connection after the application is complete.”

Brianne Thomas.

While it may seem like applying for multiple positions could be a detriment, Thomas said that doing so can actually be a benefit — as long as candidates make sure they’re really qualified for each role they apply for.

“Competition for jobs is fierce, so it’s important to emphasize your strengths and accomplishments in a thoughtfully tailored cover letter that shows you’ve also done research on the company,” she said.

Complete your LinkedIn profile with a memorable story, your accomplishments, and strong recommendations

Recruiters said they look for detailed LinkedIn profiles that tell a complete story.

“Listing specific skills and detailed descriptions of results and outcomes will help them get featured over candidates who don’t share any information,” said Rohit Srinivas, a recruiter at Getro.org, a new tech job search platform that matches laid-off talent with companies that are still hiring, who helps curate talent recommendations for startups like Asana, Barkbox, and Carta.

Because of how online algorithms work, candidates need to include relevant words on their profile to be discovered by the right hiring manager or recruiter. For instance, a senior software engineer may be a strong fit for a fullstack developer position, but not if they only list frontend skills from when they were a junior developer, Srinivas said.

Jessica M. Gutierrez, a technical recruiter at Wealthfront who previously worked as a technical recruiter at Google, recommended candidates round out their profiles with their top 10 skills and seek out endorsements for these specifically.

Jessica M. Gutierrez.

Srinivas added that he spends time reviewing recommendations from former teammates and managers, who often reveal details about the candidate’s strengths and value.

Including relevant keywords is important, but recruiters may be put off if a candidate’s entire profile is stuffed with them.

“When I am reviewing any candidate, a great summary or objective section stands out for me as well as really taking the time to highlight what their skills and accomplishments have been rather than just focusing on adding a lot of buzzwords or skills that are irrelevant to their career,” Jennings said.

“The best summary I have come across was of someone who is a huge X-Men fan telling his career story — including proficiencies and what he is actively learning — in the format of an X-men comic,” she added.

Great summaries should include proficiencies, including skills, frameworks, and languages, as well as what candidates are doing to improve their skills (such as ongoing education they’re pursuing), the types of projects they like to work on, and a personal element (such as being a fan of X-Men). 

“This not only helps candidates stand out from those who use a lot of buzzwords that may not be relevant to their experience, but also allows for more personalization in messaging, which is the start of a great candidate experience,” Jennings said.

Storytelling and personality are two differentiators that can help applicants.

“Is there a clear story for how your career has evolved over the years?” Thomas said. “If you made a big industry or job shift or had a significant gap, find a natural place to explain that part of your career journey so recruiters don’t have to try to guess.”

“Your personality should shine through your materials — the right company will value the unique things that make you, you and want you on their team,” she added, noting that there may be exceptions to this rule, such as when applying to buttoned-up companies like a leading research organization.

Ultimately, recruiters are looking for results. “What were you responsible for, and was it successful?” Thomas said. “Metrics are where great ideas and great execution meet. Share facts and figures that show how successful your work has been in previous roles and on a variety of projects.”

Candidates who can highlight how their accomplishments impacted the business, “using metrics and data to quantify,” are a plus, Gutierrez added.

Demonstrate passion for tech innovation and continuous learning 

Nearly every recruiter Insider spoke with said they check candidates’ activity on GitHub.

“There is an increasing number of hiring leaders who include some form of ‘active and contributing on GitHub’ in their must-haves for finding the right candidate,” Jennings said. She added that she takes a look at how candidates contribute to others’ projects as well as items they’ve initiated on the platform.

Jennings said she also wants to know how candidates are furthering their education, such as pursuing a nanodegree in frontend development when they’re a backend developer or teaching themselves the latest framework in their free time.

Jamini Pulyadath.

Jamini Pulyadath, senior talent acquisition manager at tech recruiting startup HackerEarth, a tech recruiting firm that’s helped place hires at over 1,000 companies including Amazon, PayPal, Intuit, Walmart Labs, Wells Fargo, and Barclays, said her company prioritizes candidates who share their participation on competitive coding platforms (like the company’s own as well as on others like CodeChef) as well as participation in hackathons, tech events, and developer groups and authoring tech blog posts.

Highlight soft skills in addition to in-demand technical skills

In a virtual working environment, recruiters are looking for candidate profiles that highlight their ability to work across multiple locations and offices, manage employees across time zones, and work independently, said Kerri McKinney, the director of global sourcing for Terminal.io who’s placed candidates at high-growth companies including Indeed.com, PayPal, and Amazon.

“Flexibility, being adaptive to change, and hyper-organization are key skills needed in tech companies right now,” Thomas said. “There are continued unknowns in this market, and employees that can demonstrate they can pivot and adjust to change — while keeping their goals and deliverables on track — are critical right now.”

Coming to interviews prepared shows

When candidates take the time to prepare by doing mock interviews ahead of time, it shows, Pulyadath said.

Gutierrez recommended candidates ask what coding language their interview will be conducted in. 

“Candidates can also undertake coding challenges and practice tests to brush up their coding skills,” Pulyadath said.

Beyond being prepared on the technical side, candidates should also make sure to know what the company does, what their mission is, and what their products and services are, added Gutierrez.

Ahead of upcoming interviews, applicants should review information about the individuals they’ll be interviewing with on LinkedIn or the company’s website to have more engaging conversation and ease any interview jitters.

This article was originally published on Insider January 11, 2021.