To Get Hired, Think Like a Hiring Manager

Want to know how to impress hiring managers? It takes one to know one, as the saying goes. So the best way to understand hiring managers is to become one. You may be able to do so by volunteering to help screen résumés at your current job. (Contrary to popular belief, the “Human” hasn’t yet entirely been eliminated from federal Human Resources offices. Sometime during the federal hiring process, hiring managers do personally review a pile of applications that have survived preliminary screens.)

If you do so, you will be shocked, outraged, entertained, horrified, humored, impressed and enlightened by how job seekers present themselves. And as you do, you will gain insider insights about how hiring managers think and why job seekers fail and succeed in their job quests—information that will likely help you land your next job.


One of the important lessons I learned by serving on federal hiring committees is how fast hiring managers review applications. Indeed, hiring managers don’t read applications as they read suspense novels—savoring every word while cuddled up with their cat, sipping wine, beside a cozy fire.

Instead, they race through applications solely to whittle down the pile (which they invariably should have finished reviewing yesterday) so they can get back to their “real work.”

My observations about the speed of hiring decisions have been corroborated by more than 100 interviews I have conducted with hiring managers about their hiring decisions. Typical was the answer of a hiring manager to my question, “How long do you usually spend reading a résumé before deciding whether you should seriously consider it.” He said, “Ten seconds at most.” I chuckled in response. So he emphasized, “No really; I’m impatient and busy—always. So that’s all the time I can give. Plus, I can tell almost instantly whether an applicant has what I’m looking for.”

The lightning speed of hiring decisions means that to be successful, your résumé—your personal marketing document—must serve as a verbal one-two punch that knocks out hiring managers within about 10 seconds.

Craft your résumé to pass the 10-second test by doing the following:


  • If the application for your target job accepts a WORD résumé—as most federal applications now do, upload to the application a well-formatted, fast-read WORD résumé that includes all required information—rather than submitting a USAJOBS résumé. Why? Because USAJOBS résumés don’t accept formatting features such as bold and various font types and sizes and have a rigid format that makes it impossible to format important information to stand out. Therefore, they are harder and slower to read than well-formatted WORD résumés.
  • Print your name at the top of your résumé in a large, bolded font, and immediate below your name identify in large, bolded font your job title—which does not necessarily have to match your current job title, but should be relevant to your target job. For example, call yourself an “Expert in…” or a “Specialist in…” or an “X with Advanced Expertise in Y.”
  • You may include at the top of your résumé a “Career Highlights” section comprised of several bullets that quickly summarize your best professional and academic credentials that are most relevant to your target job—such as “10 years of supervisory experience.”…”Published five articles on XXX in top publications such as X, Y and Z.”…“Excellent Reputation: “Consistently receive outstanding annual evaluations.”…“M.A. in Public Administration from Smarty Pants University.”
  • Use bold type and other formatting features to make your current and former job titles, employers and degrees stand out.


  • Interpret the job description of each target job as a question that asks, “Could you do this job well?” Answer with a big “YES!” by showing that you have already done your target job—and have done it well.  Do so by describing in your résumé: 1) your academic and professional credentials and achievements that parallel the demands of your target job; and 2) the positive feedback and objective validation you generated—such as your promotions; merit-based step increases; outstanding annual evaluations; awards; oral or written praise you received from you supervisor or other managers; as well as large crowds, positive evaluations or positive press drawn by your events trainings or other projects, to name just a few examples.
  • Recent grads: include in your resume your GPA if it is impressive, and list your relevant courses (and associated grades if they are impressive), and your relevant academic papers and projects.
  • Customize each component of your application of your target job.   For example, if your résumé for a government job includes an objective that states you’re seeking a job in a corporation, it will thereby announce that you’re carpet bombing employers with the same résumé without devoting any particular thought to any of them. Therefore, recipients of your résumé will unfortunately probably devote just as little thought and consideration to your résumé.


  • Don’t expect hiring managers to look for a needle in the haystack in your résumé—they won’t. So just give them the needle without the haystack. Ask yourself whether each of the credentials and achievements included in your résumé mirrors the demands of your target job and whether it would realistically help you land the job. If not, purge it—no matter how personally significant it is to you.
  • Craft each job summary on your résumé to review your achievements on that job—not to inventory your assigned duties and responsibilities. After all, reading a series of job descriptions is just about as interesting and memorable as reading someone else’s “to-do” list. (Snooze!) What’s more, your job descriptions only reflect what you were supposed to do (Who cares?), rather than what you achieved (Yes!).
  • Structure each job summary as a set of snappy, fast-read bullets that will send your hiring manager’s eyes flying down the page. Begin each bullet with an action, achievement-oriented verb, such as led, developed, initiated, managed, presented, created from scratch, designed, researched and wrote key sections of X, trained, streamlined, organized, saved or supervised.
  • Eliminate mealy, vague verbs, such as helped, participated in and contributed. Instead, explicitly state what you actually did to help, participate or contribute. Find lists of action and achievement verbs by Googling “action verbs for résumés.”


  • Sequence your job summaries in reverse chronological order. And unless you’re a recent graduate, position your work experience before your education. Why? Because hiring managers are most interested in your current/recent activities rather than your ancient history. If you want to position some particularly relevant “old” experience high on your résumé, mention it in your “Career Highlights” section before providing details about it further down in your résumé.
  • Sequence bullets in each job summary in your résumé according to their relevance to your target job—not according to how much time you spent on the achievements they describe. By doing so, you will hit hiring managers with your best shots up top and thereby maximize their “wow” power.
  • Assuming that your current job is the most relevant to your target job, devote more space to it on your resume than previous jobs. Break up the bullets in the summary of your most recent job under bolded headings that correspond to the required qualifications for your target job identified in its vacancy announcement—such as “Communication Skills”, “Strategic Planning” and “Leadership Skills.


  • Write your résumé for lay people who have no prior knowledge of your field and previous employer.   Why? Because hiring managers and Human Resources officers won’t be impressed by your credentials if they don’t understand them. What’s more, even if they’re familiar with your field, they probably won’t know the ins-and-outs of your current employer. So assume no prior knowledge!
  • Your résumé should not have any unexplained jargon, acronyms, concepts, long sentences or long, dense paragraphs.


  • Repeatedly proofread and spellcheck your résumé.
  • Check that your résumé will pass the 10-second test by giving it cold to a trusted advisor for 10 seconds and then asking him/her to cite your best credentials—and explain them. If he can’t do so, keep crafting your best credentials leap off the page and lodge into the brains of readers like verbal Velcro.   Remember: It’s better to solicit friendly fire on your résumé when you still have time to improve it, rather than to risk setting up it up to be shot down by hiring managers for unknown reasons.


Whether or not you get an opportunity to help screen applications, here’s another way to gain insights on what works and what doesn’t: Whenever your office hires a new employee, ask the appropriate hiring manager why s/he rejected and selected the applicants s/he did.

By Lily Whiteman, author of How to Land a Top-Paying Federal Job.  Trainer on career issues.  Twitter: @Lilymwhiteman

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Hannah Moss

The 10 second test is such a good idea! I’ve never thought of it, but I’ll definitely use it in the future. Thanks!