What Hiring Managers Look for in Experienced Workers

Northrop Grumman manager explains how to stand out from the pack.

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It will be difficult for any laid-off worker to find a new job in this economy. Older workers have the advantage of experience, but the challenge is how to expertly package and convey the value they bring to a company. To find out what employers look for in experienced job candidates, U.S. News talked with Ian Ziskin, chief human resources and administrative officer for defense contractor Northrop Grumman, which plans to hire 15,000 new employees this year. Here are his tips on how to impress a hiring manager. Excerpts:

What makes a résumé stand out from the pack?

I always encourage people with their résumé to use it as an opportunity to pique someone's interest or curiosity rather than to try to summarize their entire life story in a page or two. Once you have the interview opportunity, you can get into more detail of your full life's achievement. What makes you unique in terms of specialized skills or experiences that are relevant to the job? How have you demonstrated that you actually get things done? Have you developed a track record of growing responsibility in your career? I always try to encourage people to demonstrate leadership roles that they have had. Also, mention other things outside of your immediate career that give an idea of what kind of person you are. These may be professional organizations, hobbies, religious organizations, or volunteer activities, which also show a more complete picture of the individual and willingness to give something back to the community or to other people. What qualities do you look for in experienced workers?

The things that we look for are really the same things that we would look for in any employee, no matter where they are in their career: A combination of experience, a track record of achievement, and a good fit with the culture and ways of operating of our company. Is Northrop Grumman currently hiring older workers?

We hire about 15,000 people a year, and we will hire about that number again in 2009. Of that 15,000, there will be a couple of thousand who will be what I would call more entry-level college hires. The vast majority of the 15,000 will be mid-career professionals with 5, 10, or 15 years of experience already. What should you be careful not to do in an interview?

Emphasize how you can contribute to the company rather than focusing your first attention and questions on what the company is going to do for you. When you are trying to sell yourself and sell your skills, you need to demonstrate how your presence there is going to make the company a better place. Don't spend all of your time in the interview talking. There are times when individuals come in for an hourlong interview and talk for 58 straight minutes, barely coming up for air. What that tends to suggest to an interviewer is the person doesn't listen very well and they are not interested enough in the company and the interviewer to learn what the person had to say. Oftentimes, an interviewer will evaluate a candidate more on the questions they have than the speech they have. Don't spend all of your time simply talking about I or me. I think it's very important to say what you can do that you have done in the past. But don't lead someone to believe that everything you have done in your life is a product of yourself without any help from others. What are your favorite questions to ask at interviews?

A couple: If I went around and took a random sampling of people who know you at various walks of life—professionals, peers, and others—what would they tell me about you? It always tends to yield very interesting answers. It gives you a sense of whether people are self-aware and have had conversations in the past when they have received feedback. Another one: If you were in this job for six months or so and you come to the conclusion that you have made a bad decision to join Northrop Grumman or take this job, what would have had to happen to have you come to that decision? It tells me if there is a disconnect between the job and what they think the job might offer them.

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