Recently I did a brief interview with the Harvard Kennedy School – thought others might be interested in what Harvard cares about when placing students, and how a recruiter (me) feels about these issues. I’m sure all responses will be combined as a guide for HKS students to help them find careers, but thought non-Ivy hooked-up seekers might value the same information. Here’s an excerpt of three of the relevant questions they asked me.
• What qualities or skills do you look for when hiring employees/interns?
I’m looking for someone who can walk in and do the job they’ve been hired for on day one. There are a lot of people on the market now, so even if someone went to a top school, and is capable of doing a job – we’ll still hire the person who has actually accomplished the goals we’re seeking, rather than someone we need to train.
Also I’m looking for a fit for the department they will be working in. A polite tone in their resume and cover letter goes a long way, as do manners when called about an application. Far too often people are rude or haughty to recruiters or hiring managers, and disqualify themselves accidentally.
• What kind of experience or background do you like to see in potential hires?
We want experience in the requirements for the jobs we hire for. Industry and background are less important to me when screening resumes. For example, if I need a communications writer (which I do!), I’m looking for someone who has significant communications professional experience, regardless of where they did it or which employer they did it for. Internships are not enough.
Also I work within Civil Service requirements, so our minimum qualifications are not flexible. If it says “3 years accounting experience needed” please do not waste your time & ours by applying because “My three years working in the Mayor’s office as a lawyer were sitting next to the accounting department.” Do not apply to jobs you are not qualified for. No one will hire someone to be a doctor if they didn’t go to medical school; so too no one is hiring someone to be an Accounting Manager if they’re never done accounting!
• How can Kennedy School students set themselves apart in the job search process?
I find a lot of top school graduates expect their school name to get them a job – but there are a lot of top school grads on the market. I want to see a brief yet targeted cover letter to a position. Use similar terminology from the job description to parallel the job skills you offer.
Yes, write that you worked as a communications writer for 4 years prior to going to grad school, that writing is your expertise, and that is why you want my communications position.
No, do not write a typical cover letter that tells me nothing about what you’ve done or can do. I’ve gotten the below cover letter, and multiple variations of it more than once:
“As you can see in the enclosed resume, I have a very strong professional background. I know that I could make a significant and valuable contribution in your company. My interest is to be a valuable employee on your team. I am confident I can make an immediate contribution to your team. Enclosed, please find a copy of my credentials. I understand the level of professionalism, excellent communication, and appearance required for success in your company. I would appreciate the opportunity to discuss how my education and experience will be helpful to you. An interview would be greatly appreciated at which time I could elaborate on my background as well as acquire further information about how career services provided specific responsibilities. Thank you in advance for your attention and consideration.”
Also, if a candidate has an interview, write a thank you note the next day – again not one from google that I’ve received more than once. Genuinely thank the person you met for their time and consideration.