“What do you look for in an employee?” I asked my co-founder, Drew Reggie.
We were sitting on his balcony porch, poring through job applications. It was almost midnight. Our feet were kicked up on the wooden table between our chairs and the string of porch lights, while we both held our phones and refreshed our emails.
We were hiring.
It was a strange question to be asking, considering every other job application I’d ever looked at was with hopes that someone would choose me. Now, 27 years old, we were the ones deciding who to hire for our first successful business venture.
And it made me think: shouldn’t other Millennials looking for jobs get a glimpse of what was going through our minds?
Here’s what we, as Millennial founders, look for in potential employees:
1. If there is no cover letter, the application is thrown away.
“That’s the first thing I look for,” said Reggie.
“If the application doesn’t have a cover letter, it immediately goes in the trash. Because without that, I know the person doesn’t really care about the position. They just want a paycheck.”
For any growing company, your initial hires are arguably the most important ones.
If you’re a Millennial looking for that “perfect startup job,” you should know what startup founders like us are thinking about. And what we’re most concerned with is being able to take one of the fifty hats we wear in a day and hand those responsibilities over to someone else who will deliver on them even better than either of us could.
A copy/paste job application does not exemplify the type of person that will do that.
2. If the cover letter is not personalized and doesn’t explain how/why the person is the right fit for that specific job, it’s ignored.
“The second thing I look for is whether or not the cover letter is personalized. If it says things like, ‘I would be a great fit for this company and its responsibilities,’ with no mention of anything specific, I throw it away,” said Reggie.
“We can’t afford to bring someone on who just wants a job. We need someone who can take their role and run with it.”
The truth is, most people just write a standard, an all-encompassing cover letter that they can copy/paste to hundreds of applications.
I’m letting you know, from the inside, that nobody is reading those.
The people that stand out to us are the ones that write a cover letter or send an email with an explanation with the following:
How they found out about the job. What enticed them enough to apply. What experience they have that proves they have what it takes to run with that particular role. How they feel about the job and what mission they want to drive toward.
People get so caught up in trying to make their cover letters sound “professional.”
Honestly? I delete those emails. I don’t even read them, because the person isn’t speaking from the heart. They’re just academically trying to submit the right answer.
As a founder, I don’t want the right answer.
I want to see how much you care, and how far you would be willing to go in order to make something successful.
If your cover letter or resume has spelling/grammar errors in it (especially if you’re applying for a writer/editor position — I mean come on), it’s immediately thrown away.
Attention to detail is crucial.
If you can’t get it right with your own resume, how am I going to be able to trust you’ll get it right for a client?
4. Relevant work experience: skills, not years.
Now, it’s important to note here that the above 3 qualifiers weed out 90% of applicants.
To anyone applying for a job in today’s economy, I’m going to go against the status quo here and say:
Work experience does not have to be with another employer.
The most impressive things on my resume (before starting my own company) were things I did on my own. Becoming a 3x Top Writer on Quora with over 20M views. Having my writing published in just about every major publication on the Internet. Authoring my first book.
Nobody hired me to do those things. I did them for myself, to master my craft.
If you want to make a career move, you don’t have to look for a new job to get your foot in the door. There are plenty of ways you can earn your own credentials.
I don’t really care where you worked before, or what position you held. What I care about is whether or not you know your stuff.
Those are the things I want to see on a resume. Not how many years you spent at a certain company. That doesn’t tell me anything about what you’re really good at.
Give me skills, not years.
5. GPA, recommendation letters, blah blah… I want to know if you’re someone who is teachable.
I went to art school and graduated with a degree in creative writing.
I truly do not care what your GPA was in college.
What I care about is whether or not you seem teachable. If you know how to listen. If you can take something, learn it, and then improve upon it.
School is a poor judge of that ability.
This is why I advocate so much for people to build a personal brand for themselves online. It exemplifies all of the above. It’s a way for you to earn your own credentials, and to hone your skills. But it also, in a subtle sort of way, means that you are teachable. It means that you’ve taken it upon yourself to step outside your comfort zone, learn things that nobody teaches you in school, and then apply them on your own.
I will take someone teachable over someone with a perfect GPA any day of the week.
As my mentors told me, “You want to hire someone who you could see yourself going on vacation with. You’re going to spend more time with them than you are your own family, so you better like them.”
My advice about this?
Just be yourself.
We’re Millennials, just like you.
This article originally appeared on Medium.