Tailoring your resume to each role to improve response rates with Justin Flynn of Formstack

10x response rates by tailoring your resume to each role with Justin Flynn of Formstack


As the Manager of Talent Acquisition at Formstack, Justin Flynn has seen a lot of hiring from the business side as well as the candidate side. Listen to his tips on setting yourself apart from thousands of other candidates during the application process and showing your engagement in a remote work setting.

You can find Justin on LinkedIn.

Photo of Justin Flynn
Justin Flynn

The Talent Acquisition Manager of Formstack, which is a workplace productivity platform designed to streamline workflows.

Maren Kate 0:00

So Today my guest is Justin Flynn. He's the manager of talent acquisition at formstack. He also works with career development culture initiatives and diversity and inclusion. Focusing in the organization. Justin, we spoke a little less than a year ago and I'm super glad to have you on the podcast. Thanks for joining us. Absolutely. Thank you for having me. Happy to be here. So my first question is, what was your first job? Like? What was the first job you got paid for?

Justin Flynn 0:29

Yeah, it was right out of college. I was a public relations associate out of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. So I graduated college knowing sports was going to be my thing. I was going into sports and was dedicated to working the Indy 500 right after graduation and the Brickyard and then realized, you know, I wanted a family as well and spending the night at the track during 500 and Brickyard was not always for me. So kind of went into some different things.

Maren Kate 1:01

After that, how, what was that journey? Like? Like, how did you go from that job to where you are now?

Justin Flynn 1:07

Yeah, so really left that job and not knowing what I wanted to do besides people, something with people talking to people being involved. So actually, just as I was looking for something, I don't want to ever just be sedentary doing something. So picked up a part time job at GNC selling, you know, supplements and kind of took off one of the managerial side there as I was still figuring out what I wanted to do. And then a friend of mine, start got a job at a recruiting firm in Indianapolis, and said, I think you'd be awesome at this. I said, Yeah, I think so too. jumped in, got hired there. And, you know, eight years later, I'm still in the same field, just second company. So it's been pretty cool.

Maren Kate 1:54

How did you like, was there any formal training around recruiting, like how did you learn the ropes so to speak?

Justin Flynn 2:01

Yeah, you know it, a lot of it is training, you know, my first recruiting job. I was an indie, but it wasn't an national company. And so they actually flew everybody in for a week of intensive, most of them recent college grads. And so it was a week of getting to know what the real word will world was maybe like, as well as knowing what recruiting is like and knowing some technical terms and knowing how to communicate, carrying the word no 90% of the time, when you're cold, calling candidates for a job that you can't always describe in detail, who it's going to be with. So it was it was training and then it was another few months of, you know, call shadowing and understanding what the jobs actually were understanding what the companies were that we were recruiting for. So it was a staffing agency. And so it was it was definitely a lot on tan training and then kind of go out and figure it out on Your own once you kind of had a month or two under your belt, it was kind of catching the groove pretty quick for me.

Maren Kate 3:06

And so first of all, just for our audience who doesn't know, can you kind of explain what formstack does and your role there?

Justin Flynn 3:14

Yeah, absolutely. So formstack is a workplace productivity platform, really amplifying the way that you bring data in and put it to work across your workplace, whether that be collecting, you know, forms, hence the name formstack. But also really putting that into practice across your different data points that you might have, whether it's analyzing the data that you have, or even signing things and putting a product in place from the data you've collected. So we're a SaaS company and have been doing pretty well for 15 years now. And then, yeah, and then my role there. I am the talent acquisition manager and I've been doing that for a little over three years. Leading that talent team different touch points here and there. But really in charge of working with the team of recruiters that we have, and onboarding specialists, and in our HR operations team to ensure that we hire the best talent, the most diverse talent as we possibly can, as well as just really amplifying employee engagement, where I can and pushing forward cultural initiatives and changes that we inevitably see with a, you know, 1415 year old scale up, you know, mid sized company now.

Maren Kate 4:35

So, you obviously, you've seen a lot on both the business side and the candidate side. Oh, what, what is the biggest mistake that candidates make? Both in the initial application, but then also later in the process? So it's kind of a two parter.

Justin Flynn 4:53

Yeah, absolutely. So I think you know, in the initial application process, a lot of what I see is is not tailoring your resume to what the job description or company is really saying. You know, we take time on the talent acquisition or hiring manager teams to write a job description that hopefully evokes what we are as a company, but also what we're looking for in the role. So people that kind of just have a blanket resume, just say, here's what it is that I've done. Maybe it's not an order, or maybe nothing is really tailored to what we're looking for. It's hard for yourself to set apart from the other, sometimes hundreds, maybe thousands of applicants that we might be getting. So that I think is the initial piece of it is no taking the time, tailoring your resume to, you know, hey, you see a phrase or a word come up multiple times in our job description, or in a job description. That's likely intentional. So maybe throw that or put that to the top of what you're doing. By no means do I want you to lie because I'll find that out pretty quickly if I talk to you but I do want you to be able to express how you've done the job or maybe looking for involved with that, and kind of in that same, that same tone is throughout the process. It's just not doing the research on the company, or the team, even. You might get an initial interview with me or my team, you know, from, hey, I think this is a good resume or, you know, you've taken the time to fill out our application questions. And it's okay if you don't know everything about our forms to heck or x company are applying to, but as you get through the process, do the research, find out a little bit more about the space that you're going to be potentially working in and want to work in. Hopefully, your recruiting teams have potentially given you names of who's going to be on the interview, do a little research on those individuals as well. Anytime that you can find commonality, it's going to give you a leg up on the competition and and similarly on the company is the more you know The more you can speak on your effective role in that spot.

Maren Kate 7:05

Yeah, absolutely. So what is like, what is your general application flow look like if someone is applying for a job that form staff, what can they expect?

Justin Flynn 7:14

Yeah, so our initial application process is resume. But we also have application questions that are pertinent to the job, as well as formstack. You know, we might throw in there some fun questions. What do you know about formstack? What's your favorite GIF? You know, why should we hire you? But there's also probably some technical things in there as well. Again, relevant to the job. So you're going to apply for the role. And that hits our applicant tracking system, depending on the role, what do you guys use? We use jazz HR. Okay. And we're really happy with them. They're definitely cater to the small medium sized business, and we're definitely on the larger scale of what they probably cater to. But with the functionality of formstack, shameless plug we In have really amplified how we utilize it and make it work across and automate through our workflows. So, but you're going to hit, you're going to hit our application pool and you're going to hit kind of that that pool of candidates in a job. In a specific job, myself or my team, most of the time it's going to be my team is going to look through those applications and potentially request a phone screen. We always like to at least get a person in front of a recruiter or a talent acquisition person before they really jump into interviews, get some a little bit more comfortable. Hopefully, we can teach you something about formstack and see if you're a fit equally as you being a fit for yourself too. After that, you're either going to be put into a first round interview with the hiring manager to one on one, usually 30-45 minutes, and then you'll be put into a project. We'd like to do some on the job assessments. Usually they don't take you more than a few like eight Half an hour or so, but you're going to definitely have a few days to knock that out. Depending on the role, you'll be able to kind of flip flop between those. And then from there, we typically pick our top two, three finalists and move them to a panel interview. And typically, that's with a combination of people, that you'll your peers on the team, but also our culture champions, as they call them, or culture, interview champions. Those are people that understand what form sex culture means to formstack. And also can find those individuals that really are going to be those cultural additives and enhancements to what we're trying to do. Because you can kind of be blinded by some of that when you're just in a pure technical interview as a as an interviewer. So we like to have that person that is maybe just outside of the team. We don't want to bore a marketing specialist in a development interview, or vice versa. But we want to at least have a piece That can say, hey, yeah, this person I caught this and I was really impressed with the way that they kind of did that I think they really adhere and, and really add to this team really, really excitingly.

Maren Kate 10:11

Interesting. Do you guys do any test projects or paid projects after the panel interview? Or is it straight to a offer?

Justin Flynn 10:19

Typically, after that, it's an offer. Again, we vary the, you know, I always say this, our ops team might not be as interested in living in a gray space, but I always live in the gray. So our our processes is pretty standard, but we always make adjustments here and there. You know, depending on the role in who it is, there are times that higher level roles you might get through a quote unquote, panel final, and then you have to have, you know, a presentation or something like that afterwards, depending on the video, the level of the roles itself.

Maren Kate 10:51

Yeah, that makes sense. I mean, you guys are you guys have been mostly remote team for a while. Yeah. Have you noticed? Oh, go ahead.

Justin Flynn 11:00

I would say we're about, you know, 75 80% remote most of the time. And how big is the team total? Right now? We are just at 240 individuals.

Maren Kate 11:10

Dang, that's a lot of people. Okay, so have you noticed in the last few months with, with everyone now working from home and obviously with the economy kind of taken a nosedive? Are you seeing a lot more competition for for the roles you're posting?

Justin Flynn 11:26

Absolutely. Absolutely. You know, I think this is something that I was not surprised by is seeing a lot more competition on people applying for roles, whether that's they've been hit by COVID. You know, the the COVID layoffs or they just said, hey, I've started working more remotely. That or something I thought I'd want to do it again. Yeah, I like it.

Justin Flynn 11:48

I don't know how my company is going to do after COVID Are we going to go back and so they kind of poke around? So we've certainly seen an increase in applicants per role and in the competition is just more fierce than ever. Whether that be sheer volume or dollars.

Maren Kate 12:05

Yeah, and I think it's like one of those things where this is why people that are looking for roles today or even thinking about going remote really need to, I mean, set themselves up for success in every way they can. Because you're, you know, there's maybe 500 people now at the top of the funnel versus 200. Speaking of that, what are some of the the top skills that you look for in a candidate today both kind of soft skills and hard skills?

Justin Flynn 12:34

Absolutely. And I think the remote piece really plays a part into the first one that I always look for. And that's just clear and concise communication. Whether that be of the experience you've had as an as an employee, or the needs of what formstack is, if you feel like you've done the research on a company, say it and talk about it with confidence, but be clear and concise with it. Typically, you're only going to Have 20 to 30 minutes with me or an initial conversation if that's sometimes, so, so make sure that you're clear with that. Because that translates really well into how working remotely plays a part of it, you don't always get a chance to show your work face to face, or you know, even zoom to zoom. Sometimes you have to just be able to concisely communicate via slack or, you know, teams or anything else that you might have. So I think communication is a big one. And then the other one that I always like to see is adaptability. That's definitely a soft skill. That one, it's tough to put your finger on sometimes, but especially in today's environment, and especially in the software world, at least I know in our space. We're changing a lot. Whether it's COVID or not our product changes, you know, our needs change, our focuses and clients might change. So, a lot of that I look for in people's backgrounds. I'm not too shot off by job hoppers, the quote unquote job hoppers Cuz that's kind of the world we live in today a little bit. And a lot of this can just be, hey, I've done this role, but I understood that that needs, maybe just outside of what my day to day was needed to be touched. And I did that. And I took that upon myself. So to me, that's adaptability. But that's also a quality we look for in all of our leaders here. Or just anybody that wants to grow is becoming dangerous enough, just outside of your day to day because the more you can become aware of what you're doing, how it affects what's around you, the more comfortable you're going to become in what you're doing or as you grow. And then lastly, hopefully, as you see this come through and maybe or how I communicate or my team communicates his passion, energy or even maybe excitement about Yeah, what you're doing, or what you want to do. I don't mean you have to be, you know, Mr. jovial or miss exciting all the time that you want to do all these things, but as long as You have a passion for what you're doing. And that comes across, it's really easy to tell in a tone in a conversation. And you don't have to be in the public speaker of the year. It just has to come across that you're interested in what you're talking about, or what you want to do. Because that helps me understand engagement, how you can stay engaged in a remote working environment, or, you know, understanding that you might not talk to people for a week sometimes and you don't realize it but you're still wanting to be engaged because you're just passionate about what you're doing.

Maren Kate 15:33

What do you see like kind of the in this, this flows in but like, especially if you think about like the last year or two, what do you see the best candidates doing that most others overlook throughout the process, like you know, the top 5%.

Justin Flynn 15:50

Yeah, I think a lot of it is just putting the time into the application or the role itself from the onset. I know that sounds kind of cliche, but one of the By that, it's just, you know, some people maybe put together a little presentation about themselves or a presentation about the role. And maybe that's something that you do, maybe not on the initial onset of when you apply, but maybe when you get in front of maybe hiring managers or something is saying, Hey, I threw this together, or, hey, I put this brand new has such an impact.

Maren Kate 16:22

And it might not take you that much time. Right? I mean, it really, maybe it's every morning, you might have a template, the tweak per company, absolutely, it makes such an impact, because so few people will do it.

Justin Flynn 16:34

I totally agree. And those are, I mean, those are some of the memories that I have of our top candidates in the last year or two. It's people that have, you know, come really prepared branded materials, or colors, maybe it doesn't have to be like our formstack brand package specifically, but that's easy to find online because you just type in formstack brand package and it's there. You find the color codes and everything. So You know, just putting something together, whether it's, hey, I'm interviewing for a sales training manager role. And I put together just as quick understanding of, even if you don't know what we do or not, it's really cool to see, hey, this person put the legwork in on the onset, they're probably going to be able to implement that pretty quickly. Developers, especially, you know, people that put together some really cool projects or said, Hey, I was clicking through your, your job, your job board and saw this one, you know, it took maybe five or 10 seconds longer for this link to hit than the other links that I looked at. So maybe just made a quick tweak here and there. And those are really cool things that might not take a lot of time. But again, especially for development roles, or the software space, however, you're looking for jobs, I might have 1000 applicants to a front end developer role. I'm not looking at all thousand of those people, but I do skim through them all and something jumps out at me like that. You're going to get a conversation.

Maren Kate 17:58

Absolutely. And I think it No matter what the role is, I think it takes it's up to you as the professional to figure out how you can be creative about showing, showing your work showing an example of what it would be like to work with you, whether it's a presentation, whether it's fixing a bug, whether it's being like, Hey, I went on your, you know, instant chat on your website, and I saw XYZ and, or even like some things people have done whatnot that I always love is Oh, I found a typo. And you're like, oh, especially for roles that are detail oriented. Like that's not super hard to do. I think sometimes. One of the like, the downside of just so many job opportunities being online and remote and all this stuff is that I think the candidate the applicant gets overwhelmed, they feel like they have to send out 100 applications and hit this number versus doing 10 that are they really take the time and our tailor And I think in the future to when you're gonna, it's better to, instead of, you know, throwing everything at the wall seeing what sticks getting more specific. Absolutely. The shotgun application. Exactly. It just doesn't, it doesn't work and you see it, we see it all the time. Or when you have a specific question and somebody just puts in a or something and you're like, I just immediately like there's now with ATMs, you can actually filter those out. So I think if somebody cares enough to apply, they should care enough to to go through the process. But the the flip side of that is companies have to companies have to put in the time and effort to care enough about the candidates and that doesn't happen a lot too.

Justin Flynn 19:48

So it's like, you know, there's there's faults on both sides, I think, especially on the sides of the companies and a lot of times, yeah, I'll take the blame on the company side all day, every day. Yeah, it's about my job. And my team's job is about making your experience as a candidate. The best it possibly can be as much as it's representing formstack on a day to day basis, exactly that second nature for us, we need to tweak our lives every single day to make your experience the best. And nothing irks me more than getting a bad candidate satisfaction survey, or an interview feedback survey. Because I feel like we've done a disservice this to, to you as a candidate. And, you know, the least we can do is reach back out, again, with thousands and thousands of applicants, let's just say for 10 roles at a time, we're only going to hire maybe 10 to 15 people for those 10 roles. I might have 5000 applicants for those roles. You know, the least we can do is reach out. If even if you get what seems like a canned email, at least we're trying to get in touch with you that said, Hey, this role has been filled. And that's a process we just put in place this year. Because of the increase of applicants we've had, as well as theirs. fact that we understand people's lives are completely and forever changed during what is 2020? So, it definitely, hey, I it's a full time job to apply for a role. I get that.

Maren Kate 21:13

Yeah, it really is. It is. I tell people that all the time, I'm like getting a new job is your job when you're doing it?

Justin Flynn 21:21

Absolutely. And the longer you take, hopefully those those pay off. But again, what I see is people that I talked to and counsel and career advice of, Hey, I applied to 100 jobs. Well, it's really hard then to start to stick in, say, Oh, I'm actually really passionate about this one. So I get an interview for this job. But I'm still thinking about 15 other jobs that I've applied for waiting to hear back. Whereas if you apply to what you were saying there and tend to go jobs, hopefully those are ones that you've put the time into to say, I know about the company, I don't have to frantically do research. say, Okay, this person could only interview me this afternoon. You're gonna probably be on Yeah. Yeah, no, I totally agree. And I, I second that wholeheartedly, is take the time. I as a person who manages the process, try to think about how much time it takes. I know I've gone through this before. I don't like spending more than, you know, 3045 minutes. I'm like, Okay, what can I do to help here but it's worth it like, it absolutely is worth it. Fill out the questions. They're easy sometimes. And, you know, be unique.

Maren Kate 22:34

Yeah, that's so true. Okay, so So my final questions what product or tool Do you use the most to do your best work obviously, remotely.

Justin Flynn 22:46

Zoom and slack. I know I'd come back with two there, but slack to me. You know, I think it it's our lifeblood of formstack. You know, we've always been remote in most ways, whether it's We have a few physical headquarters. But for the most part, it's it's fully remote, I would not be able to be productive on my team alone or on the HR team as a whole, or talking to anybody. If it wasn't for just the use of slack, we have a lot of integrations involved with it, whether it's, you know, this applicant applied, or this person was referred. And so it really is our PSA, first thing we look at when we get up and start working. And it's probably the last thing that we have, and we say, See you later for the day. And then it's probably the last thing you look at when you are in bed scrolling through Instagram, watching an episode of Netflix and your then your life. I just check slack for like two seconds.

Maren Kate 23:40

I know it's kind of it's kind of bad. It's funny, I think back in the day and like early like 2012 I used to at my one of my last companies virtual we had a bunch of people at the time, and we actually saw it was like wasn't far right and we would use a Google Hangout. In Google Chat, and you just have all these little chat box pop up in between. I can't I don't understand how he did that. What's your favorite podcast or book from the last quarter?

Justin Flynn 24:17

Ripple effects, two really cool podcasts that formstack puts Oh, listen to all those. So ripple effect. It is a formstack podcast, but it's great. I will just plug that one because it's the one I've been listening to the most. And, and that's been really, it's been helpful. And then, honestly, some of the sort of books and more articles that I've been reading are a lot more going to be related to the Diversity and Equity and Inclusion front right now. How can we enhance that? You know, I think we at formstack always have a unique opportunity. We don't have any physical barriers of where we can or cannot hire, which Yeah, it allows us to hopefully be able to focus on any group that we may or may not want to, or you know, any group that we really want to put, put our focus on at any given time. So a lot of things have been more around more around that, you know, diversity, equity, inclusion fronts, whether that's sharing them with other peers or, or getting involved with things. So those are a lot of what I've been doing right now.

Maren Kate 25:29

That's awesome. Well, this is great. And it's just such such good knowledge for people to have, as they, you know, as they think about a career change or as they're actively looking for work. So how can people find more about you and formstack online?

Justin Flynn 25:43

Absolutely. So I mean, it's LinkedIn, I'm pretty active there. So just Justin Flynn, on LinkedIn there formstack you go formstack.com a lot more about our careers will be formstack.com slash careers. There's a lot about what we're doing. Obviously, all of our careers Are there but there's also a lot of a video of about us, but what we're doing what we're trying to focus on. So really LinkedIn and formstack careers are big places that you can find me and always happy to connect with anybody, whether it's about a specific job or just saying hello and wanting to connect.

Maren Kate 26:15

Cool. Thank you so much, Justin. It's been great. Absolutely. Thank you so much.

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